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Lectures on Literature
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Top Customer Reviews
The examination of the works here is purely literary. The works are examined in minute detail. For example, in "The Metamorphosis," Nabokov goes to some length to determine what insect Gregor became. Not a cockroach, as some suggest, but rather a beetle. And he draws pictures. He wants us to understand the layout of the rooms in the Samsa flat. The devil -- that is, the art -- is in the details. Some might object that there is more to some of these works than is discerned by such a point of view. Granted, but nothing precludes looking elsewhere for (say) a more philosophical treatment of "The Metamorphosis," or God forbid, thinking about it on one's own.
In his closing comments, Nabokov says, "In this course I have tried to reveal the mechanism of those wonderful toys -- literary masterpieces. I have tried to make of you good readers who read books not for the infantile purpose of identifying oneself with the characters, and not for the adolescent purpose of learning to live, and not for the academic purpose of indulging in generalizations.Read more ›
By the way, I have one reservation about this book: it has seven chapters, one on each of seven novels, and do not read a chapter on one of the seven novel until you have read the novel. He gives lots of details and it will ruin your reading experience. Just read one novel at a time and then read Nakobov's lecture notes on that particular novel. The only exception might be "Ulysses" where most readers need help and often use a reading guide. He gives a very detailed analysis of the plot and characters for all seven works, and for one book - "The Metamorphosis" - the comments are almost as long as the 55 page story.
It would be quite an experience if one could sit in on the classes of say Saul Bellow in Chicago in the 1930s and 40s when he taught literature. He recommended Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Lawrence, Joyce, and Dreiser, among others. Anyway, this is the next best thing. It is the course notes with an introduction by John Updike on the course taught by Nabokov at Cornell around 1950 or so.
He was born in Russia but learned English and French at an early age. His father was murdered in Russia, and was carrying a copy of Madame Bovary at the time of his death.
He went to university in England but then lived in Germany for 15 years, and then came to the Boston area where he taught at Wellesley College as just an Assistant Prof. teaching Russian 201, a survey of Russian literature. He worked simultaneously at Harvard for about 10 years, but not in literature. He then got a position as Associate Prof. of Slavic Literature at Cornell.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I envy the students at Cornell who had the privilege of hearing Mr Nabokov deliver these lectures in the 1950s.Published 7 months ago by Warbird
Funny, insightful, eccentric, the first book I'd turn to when studying the works and authors covered, and I've returned to it many times -- I read all the essays on reading in... Read morePublished 10 months ago by joeletaylor
It' a good book, but I didn't really like all the books he explained, some of them I knew already pretty good, and some others were not so interesting. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Gonza
This edition is shockingly poorly presented, with text running into the center so you can't read it. It's hard to believe any publisher would let this botched job out.Published 20 months ago by Kristin Ohman
Incomparable, brilliant, endlessly amusing and practical for all readers and writers. The technical insights alone are priceless. Read morePublished on June 8, 2014 by Princeton Ph.D.
I read Nabakov's essay on Dickens before returning to "Bleak House" and I got a lot more out of the book because of it. Read morePublished on January 1, 2014 by Brad Edmondson