Legend, saga, myth, riddle, saying, case, memorabile, fairy tale, joke: André Jolles understands each of these nine “simple forms” as the reflection in language of a distinct mode of human engagement with the world and thus as a basic structuring principle of literary narrative. Published in German in 1929 and long recognized as a classic of genre theory, Simple Forms is the first English translation of a significant precursor to structuralist and narratological approaches to literature. Like Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, with which it is often compared, Jolles’s work is not only foundational for the later development of genre theory but is of continuing relevance today. A major influence on literary genre studies since its publication, Simple Forms is finally available in English.
“A fundamental contribution to the endless, contentious, productive dialogue between morphology and history. André Jolles, the interlocutor of Aby Warburg and Johan Huizinga, is still provoking us with his work. The long overdue translation of a classic.”
“Simple Forms can be counted among the standard works of scholarship.”
“Jolles’s versatility was an inevitable result of his extraordinary receptivity and omnivorous interest in all aspects of the study of art and culture and of his talent for absorbing and processing things, and for combining disparate material.”
“It is a cause for celebration to have Jolles’s classic Simple Forms in English … a great book, always stimulating, and exhilarating in its speculative leaps, its shrewd insights, its wilder guesses.”
“Jolles extended a formal curiosity and intellectual generosity that critics otherwise would only accord to works by established geniuses of the Western canon… A humbling account of human thought as an attempt to reach beyond our cognitive and agential limitations… Simple Forms speaks to us with surprising directness and insight.”
“The book is a wonderful example of the very possibility of doing theory—just theory, only theory—in the field of narrative, regardless of the current temptation to rethink theory in terms of easily marketable toolkits. Highly thought-provoking.”
“One central endeavor of the current interest in form is to theorize it in such a way that a concern with form need not exclude a concern with history, society, and politics. Jolles’s concept of ‘simple forms,’ which are ab ovo as social, historical, and material as they are formal, would seem to hold considerable potential for just this endeavor.”