There is something else that Old Russian literature has in common with folklore. As in folklore, recurrent themes occupy a special place in Old Russian literature. A literary work of Old Russia seeks not to impress the reader by its novelty, but rather to charm him with its familiarity. In composing his literary work the author is, as it were, performing a kind of rite, taking part in a ritual. He narrates everything in ceremonial forms appropriate to the subject. He praises or blames that which it is accepted to praise or blame, and the form of his eulogy or censure befits the occasion. Consequently the text of literary works generally lacks any artistic “surprises”. Surprises are as undesirable here as they would be in any ceremony or rite.
In studying the devices of artistic abstraction and convention in Old Russian literature we must bear in mind, however, that in almost every work there are numerous breaches of convention, “undesirable surprises”, in which the author expresses his own attitude to the subject of his work. To some extent elements typical of mediaeval naturalism find their way into works under the influence of public indignation at the princely misdeeds, hatred of foreign invaders, compassion for the hapless, love or grief.
Under the influence of these elements the literary method of artistic representation gradually changes; a personal element begins to appear in literature and representational devices become richer.