- Series: Harvest Book
- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; 1 edition (December 16, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156027755
- ISBN-13: 978-0156027755
- Package Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 1.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #121,726 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lectures on Literature 1st Edition
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Not really essays, not genial and general E. M. Forster-ish talks either, nor stirring defenses nor rhetorical destructions, these lectures Nabokov prepared and gave at Cornell in the Fifties are just that: he talks and reads, we listen (the same general approach - heirophant picking out the mystery from the dross - that Nabokov used in his own fiction); and literature is taken apart like a boxful of toys: "impersonal imagination and artistic delight," "the supremacy of the detail over the general, of the part that is more alive than the whole." There are diagrams and drawings, quiddities made visual: a map of Sotherton Court in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park; exactly what kind of beetle Gregor Samsa turned into in "The Metamorphosis" the facade of 7 Eccles St., Bloom's house in Ulysses; what Odette's orchid looked like in Swann's Way. The more specific and crammed the writer, the more specific and crammed Nabokov's lecture: Dickens, Flaubert, Joyce. He finds Bleak House's tricks delicious, the richness and the pity; in Ulysses he swats away the Freudian interpretations ("a thousand and one nights [made] into a convention of Shriners") in favor of the devilish intricacy of Joycean synchronicity: "the hopeless past, the ridiculous and tragic present, and the pathetic future." Where sheer lush orchestration is less the thing, Nabokov falls back on thematic layering and transformation; before Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and Kafka's "The Metamorphosis" he is almost brief, enchantedly synopsizing although with microscopic attention still. In Nabokov a crankiness is always near the surface (here he rants against movies, even music); and he betrays a certain anxiety by detailing so much, as though a great work might try and fool him: there's something at the same time eccentric and regimental to his appreciation. But finally there is a personal, fussy, high rapture to these lessons and illustrations, not quite analytical (Nabokov was too defensive and contentious for analysis - maybe too brilliant, too) - more a delight in literature-as-camouflage. Distinctive and demanding. (Kirkus Reviews ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This expresses a thought I have had for decades, but lack Nabokov's brilliance eloquence.
The scattered gems that sparkle throughout this book are what kept me reading.
And now I know that the preceding is a hackneyed image, and why it is a ...
What might you be looking for that would bring you to this collection of lectures?
Like me, you want to view literature from inside the mind of a favorite writer.
You are a serious student of the written word and open to advice on how to read.
You have been assigned a paper on one or more of the following:
Jan Austin's Mansfield Park
Charles Dickens's Bleak House
Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Marcel Proust's The Walk by Swan's Way
Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis
James Joyce's Ulysses
In other words this is not a book that will appeal to many readers. Speaking as a fan of Nabokov, this fan status may not be sufficient motive to finish the lectures.
Absent a plot summery, these are lectures given by VN as a professor of European Literature at Cornell University in 1948. The above selections represent not so much VN`s personal favorites, but examples he chose to facilitate lecture points. The lectures tend to contain highly detailed recountings of each book. Within each discussion is an emphasis on the details, the geography, specific events and images chosen by each writer. His thesis seems to be that writer's use these details to specify the created universe that is their particular universe.
Nabokov believes that the writer is a creator. Readers who insist that the writer is recounting experience and retelling reality are missing the point of the creative process. That is; within a story reality is no more or less than what the writer needs it to be. Therefore details matter. Further more a real reader has a duty to reread works of art or else risk missing these details. Not only read for detail, but "fondle" them.
Against this concept, at once romantic and mechanistic Nabokov adds in another eloquent observation. A real reader:
"In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine." (Thank you [web reference removed]
For also noting this quote)
It is the tingle between the shoulders that marks a good read, and a good reader.
For all of this I have to agree with many of the other reviewers here at Amazon. There is something overly sanitized and dispassionate about Nabokov's method of literary analysis. Great themes and cosmic struggles fall away while we create maps and clock synchronicities. VN may not care about `isms' and 'ists'; but are we better readers if we see the art as so many themes and specifics?
The almost Victorian squeamishness Nabokov demonstrates on matter of sex and body functions -he is hampered in his ability to fully discuss or appreciate Ulysses may be appreciated by those who automatically dismiss books with such references. Yet this same VN is the author of the famous novel, Lolita. This is a book about a pedophile. Granted, an oversimplification, but the irony exists.
I am glad I finished this book. I am not sure how long it will be before I attempt more literary analyses by Vladimir Nabokov.
I'm not so enthusiastic about his judgment of Austen and Dickens, but then again I'm not so enthusiastic about my enthusiasms. There's a genius at work here and it's worth looking
Lynn Hoffman, author of bang BANG: A Novel
The essays in this book represent lectures that he gave at Wellesley College and Cornell University. The introductory comments note that (Page ix): "The fact cannot and need not be disguised that the texts for these essays represent Vladimir Nabokov's written-out notes for delivery as classroom lectures and that they cannot be recognized as a finished literary work. . . ." John Updike's Introduction also provides some context for this work. He notes that Nabokov's lectures provide (Page xxv): ". . .a dazzling demonstration, for those lucky Cornell students in the remote, clean-cut fifties, of the irresistible artistic sensibility." He also notes, in Nabokov's words, the truth of novels, that (Pages xxv-xxvi): ". . .great novels are great fairy tales--and the novels in this series are supreme fairy tales. . . ." Nabokov himself points out that a writer can be considered as (a) a storyteller, (b) a teacher, and (c) an enchanter (Page 5). And, above all, he values style and structure in authors' creations.
Maybe a few examples will illustrate his critical approach. First, Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park." Let me confess. . . . I'm not particularly excited about Jane Austen's work. However, Nabokov is very pleased with her work. Given his emphasis on style and structure, he details how well she constructs this work. For instance, at one point, the characters, among whom there are a variety of tensions to begin with, select a play to perform. The decision as to which of the characters in Austen's story would play which characters in the play is well discussed by Nabokov. The play itself raises questions--it was, in fact, an actual play that scandalized some of the characters in the novel. And it exacerbated pre-existing tensions among the characters. All in all, Nabokov makes a great case that Austen's structure of this segment of the novel was well done indeed. And, in terms of style, he says of Austen that (Page 59) "she handles it with perfection." As noted, I am not much excited by Austen's works, but Nabokov sure convinced me that she was a terrific technical writer, who wed her genius to technique and style and structure to create something special.
Briefly, I would also note that his examination of Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" leaves him cold. He does not think that it holds together well and that the dichotomy of the characters works well.
Finally, Kafka's "Metamorphosis," a story I read several decades ago. I recall the sense of despair I felt reading about the travails of Gregor Samsa--and a sense that, despite the awful/offal nature of the work that there was something important here. Nabokov is very positive about this piece. Much of this lecture is a simple description of the work, scene by scene, and Nabokov spennds some time noting how Kafka's work is so much better than Stevenson's work discussed above. Samsa's unexplained transformation into a beetle is the event that triggers this story. Nabokov notes how this tragedy has positive elements--a family finally getting its act together even as it abandons Gregor--and illustrates Kafka's style. Of the latter, Nabokov says (Page 283): "You will mark Kafka's style. Its clarity, its precise and formal intonation in such striking contrast to the nightmare matter of his story."
He concludes this set of lectures by congratulating his students on their work--and making a few final points. He concludes (Pages 381-382): "I have tried to teach you to read books for the sake of their form, their visions, their art. I have tried to teach you to feel a shiver of artistic satisfaction, to share not the emotion of the people in the book but the emotions of its author--the joys and difficulties of creation."
I admire his emphasis on style and structure, but I also think there is an almost sanitary quality about some of his observations. Austen? I have found it difficult over decades to get any purchase on her works. Her style and structure doesn't make up for what I feel as an overly mannered style (I expect to get hammered for saying that!). Does one really need to know about her knowledge of a particular play to appreciate (or not appreciate) her novel? I don't know. I'm a political scientist--not a literary critic. Nonetheless, this is an exciting book, as one learns how a literary critic from one critical perspective examining a series of works--Austen, Dickens, Flaubert, Stevenson, Proust, Kafka, and Joyce. If interested in Nabokov's critical perspective, this is a good starting point!