Prof. Arne Merilai, University of Tartu
Dr. Cornelius Hasselblatt, University of Groningen
Dr. Tiit Hennoste, University of Tartu
Currently, no extensive treatments exist of South Estonian literature, while some shorter ones have been initiated. The dissertation at hand observes, on the one hand, how South Estonian literary history has been discussed hitherto, and, on the other hand, attempts to find expedient ways of writing such literary histories in the future. South Estonian literature became a separate object of study in the late 1980s; before that it was mostly considered as a minor subtopic in the framework of interpreting Estonian literature. The independence of the research object presupposes a change in terms as well as in general modes of discussion. The concept of South Estonian literature has been formulated in several ways - proceeding from the language or the place, in a broader or in a narrower manner. On the basis of these definitions an insight is gained into the object of literary history. Both the use of the concept as well as conceptualisation of literary history has been influenced by the work of Kauksi Ülle. She was the first to outline a history of Võru literature in an article, also taking into consideration its background in a broader South Estonian tradition. As could be expected, it is language that has been chosen as the primary (although not the only) distinguishing feature of the literature in Kauksi Ülle's treatment. The solution proceeds from the fact that the language variety used in South Estonia clearly differs from the usage in North Estonia.
The body of the dissertation consists of seven articles that broach the subject from four different angles. Firstly, a survey is given of the existing studies; secondly, possibilities of discussing South Estonian literary history in connection with a broader context, for instance, against the background of local cultural history or the history of Estonian poetry, are studied; thirdly, possibilities of representing cultural, linguistic and literary history in literary texts are observed, and finally the history of the Karlova district in the town of Tartu is narrated as an attempt at modelling. The case study affirms the possibility of launching a place-centred literary history and highlights the relevant features, but there are certainly several additional vantage points that can be considered. The versions of writing literary history suggested at the end of the dissertation indeed proceed from different premises and are united by a preference for models that are based on a central narrative.