Lectures on Literature
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

Lectures on Literature

4.3 of 5 stars 4.30  ·  rating details  ·  1,005 ratings  ·  68 reviews
For two decades, first at Wellesley and then at Cornell, Nabokov introduced undergraduates to the delights of great fiction. Here, collected for the first time, are his famous lectures, which include Mansfield Park, Bleak House, and Ulysses. Edited and with a Foreword by Fredson Bowers; Introduction by John Updike; illustrations.
Paperback, 385 pages
Published December 16th 2002 by Mariner Books (first published 1980)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor DostoyevskyAnna Karenina by Leo TolstoyThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail BulgakovWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Best Russian Literature
209th out of 342 books — 1,333 voters
Illuminations by Walter BenjaminAspects of the Novel by E.M. ForsterThe Western Canon by Harold BloomThe Art of Fiction by David LodgeExistentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre by Walter Kaufmann
Works of Literary Criticism
17th out of 89 books — 22 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,493)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
This collection of transcribed lectures and sketched marginalia shows what a really keen reader can do, and how much they have to teach us. We are transported to the vertumnal isolation of Cornell, seated in the midst of hunched shuffling sophomores who stared in silent awe of this Vladimir Vladimirovich.

I did not read all of the lectures, but instead only those for the books I had already read. I can assume that a lot of us are familiar with Nabokov's ornate style, but here he is technical and...more
This took me several years to read, and I was very pleased with the way my approach to the lectures worked out. Having listened to very learned lectures on Literature as an undergraduate-- but laboring under the frequent interwoven influences of marijuana daze and 'haven't-quite-read-the-book-in-question' handicaps ...

I took Mr. Nabokov's course, in the nineties. Before starting his chapter on each book, I read that book, without the company, this time, of bong, coed, or Tangerine Dream Lp. Each...more
If you love classic literature, there is much to be enjoyed in Nabokov's lectures. This volume covers seven novels - Mansfield Park, Bleak House, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Walk by Swann's Place (aka "Swann's Way"), The Metamorphosis (Kafka), and Ulysses. In each case, Nabokov's erudition and unapologetic perspectives offer the reader a way to dig deeper into these classics. Time permitting, I'm looking forward to rereading these novels along with Nabokov's lectures nearby....more
Ok, so first thing: the lecture on Ulysses in here is the best of the bunch and a must for anyone who wants to read that novel, but is intimidated by its (alleged) impenetrability. I'll argue to my death that Ulysses isn't really that hard as long as you apply yourself, and it's way worth the effort, but I will admit it can be a bit tough to follow without the proper grounding. I think the main trick is to read a summary of each chapter BEFORE you read that chapter, and then you'll be able to ea...more
Nabokov wasn't just a brilliant and playful writer--he was also an excellent reader, even in a language which he pretended not to know very well. My only objection to this collection is that three of the five chapters are on writers fairly unfamiliar to me. But for the two that I do know--Jane Austen and Charles Dickens--Nabokov is brilliant. He is precise and very fair to Jane Austen, even though her interests are not his own; but his real kinship is with Dickens. He discusses Bleak House at gr...more
for a split second, this made me nostalgic for college. then i recovered my senses.
Steven Peterson
Some time back, I reviewed "Crime and Punishment" for Amazon. One of the commentators on my review suggested that I take a look at Vladimir Nabokov's critical analysis of Dostoevsky. So, via Amazon, I purchased Vladimir Nabokov's book, "Lectures in Literature." As luck would have it, this was not the volume covering Dostoevsky! The end result? A greater appreciation for Nabokov--and also a sense that I'm not apt to invest a great deal of time reading other of his literary analysis.

The essays in...more
Nov 29, 2011 Erin rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Erin by: my man :)

First of all, I felt like it was Christmas while reading these lectures; they are gifts. I feel jealous of the students who were able to take his course. However, I found his "strong," unsubstantiated opinions frustrating, and I confess that I fit more closely with his definition of a "bad" reader than with his definition of a "good" reader. I definitely appreciate style (Nabokov is one of my favorite authors because of style!), but I am also drawn to literature that, as an old friend once put...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Julia Boechat Machado
All my reviews are currently in Library Thing. I'm no longer updating my GR since it was bought by Amazon.
I was reading some of Goethe's poetry the other day and came across the fantastic and devastating "Erlkönig." I vaguely recalled having encountered the poem previously while feverishly digging my way through Nabokov's oeuvre. In the poem, an Elf King attempts to wrest a young boy from the warm embrace of his father's arms while the father remains entirely aloof to the Elf King's presence. Thematically the poem fits well with Lolita, so I started my search there.

While scouring Alfred Appel's anno...more
Nick Tramdack
Read this book and join Nabokov for a typically droll, dry, witty take on some classics of European lit.

There are downsides of course. The book pays little attention to twentieth-century literary theory, relying instead on a kind of commonsense model of how literature "should" work. Nabokov's totalizing claims often strike me as fussy bullshit, and his analysis is sometimes just summary. Still, if just for the prose and the pithy remarks, the book's worth reading.

I mean, check it out:

So right...more
Oh... this book was amazing. It's not an easy read if you haven't read the books that he's discussing, and even if you have read them in the past, it's a little dry to read about the structural aspects of Bleak House six years after you've read Bleak House (that said, I've never read "The Metamorphosis" but I had no problems getting through that section). But that's just the bits and pieces of this. What this book really boils down to is a discussion of Nabokov's feelings about reading, about ho...more
Many people know Nabokov only, or at least primarily, as the author of Lolita, and may have negative feelings about him based on that book. But there is much more to Nabokov, who was a professor of literature at Cornell University and a visiting lecturer at a number of other universities, including Harvard, where he delivered a wonderful set of lectures on Don Quixote, unfortunately out of print but available from libraries or second hand bookstores.

His Lectures on Literature is a collection of...more
I normally read for pleasure of reading & though I prefer some authors over others and some genres over others, I pretty much read everything.
Once I've read Nabokov's lectures I read differently though. First, I'm much more independent in my judgement of the books - I no longer care to like any books I'm "supposed" to like or finish reading some "great classic" or an "excellent bestseller" only because critics say so.
Second, I pay more attention to subtleties of the plot, intricacy of the la...more
Nabokov is a much better reader than writer, probably the best reader of his time with Bloom trailing behind. He makes me really want to read every book he is writing about. His notes on ulysses are really helpful, especially as he recommends totally ignoring the Homeric parallels and skimming the third chapter.
That this book exists is a joyful and fortunate thing. Other than daydreaming of attending these perfectly composed and (I imagine) perfectly performed lectures, I can only wish that more novels were covered. As with any of the great "fairy tales" lovingly examined here by Nabokov, I never wanted this book to end. Yes Nabokov is a sexist, archly reactionary snob. But for every (hilarious) aristocratic put-down, there is a truly profound insight conveyed in the perfectly measured phrases that set...more
May 18, 2011 Mazel marked it as to-read
Shelves: essai
offert par le Magazine Littéraire

Présentation de l'éditeur :

Littératures réunit l'ensemble des conférences données par Vladimir Nabokov entre 1941 et 1958 dans plusieurs universités américaines où il enseignait la littérature européenne. On y trouve, outre deux essais, " Bons lecteurs et bons écrivains " et " L'art de la littérature et du bon sens ", des réflexions et analyses originales et percutantes consacrées aux oeuvres de Jane Austen, Dickens, Flaubert, Stevenson, Proust, Kafka, Joyce, ain...more
Apr 11, 2011 Andreea marked it as to-read
Shelves: maybe
Up to this point I've liked everything I've read by Nabokov, but this only made my disappointment more bitter. Lectures on Literature is a really weak book - 3/4 of it is nothing more than resumes and quotes - which are probably very useful if you haven't read the books Nabokov discusses, but end up being nothing more than boring rambles, if you have. I expected at least the few paragraphs which contain N's thoughts on the books to be somewhat insightful, but overall, those are quite bland and u...more
So far I've only read the essay concerning Dickens' "Bleak House," but I'm planning to return to this collection for the "Mansfield Park" essay and others. Unfortunately, I'm behind on some of the other books in question (the other essays address "Madame Bovary" and other high-brow things I haven't read yet), so it may be a long process. The Dickens essay was informative, but focused entirely on literary devices, rather than expressing Nabokov's opinion. That probably makes it more fair and obje...more
on my skimmed shelf, but that's not exactly right. I read the Kafka & Joyce sections and didn't read the rest.
Word of warning, if you're planning on using any of these essays as a secondary text in a university assignment, be prepared to research Nabokov's sources because there's no citation and no bibliography. So irritating. In the Jekyll and Hyde chapter he referred to Stephen Gwynn. He only gave the name and the idea, and after about an hour of searching I found that Nabokov was referring to a biography of Robert Louis Stevenson, nearly 80 years out of print.

Helpful Nabokov. Oxford or Harvard, this...more
I would have loved to sit on this class at Cornell delivered by Nabokov. I would have failed miserably, but his recapitulations, assessments, and analyses of some major European novels and stories are absolutely incredible and engaging. Rarely bringing in outside influence, Nabokov shows how one can simply fondle the details within said writing to find the pleasure the author got from writing the story, the pleasure the reader gets from caressing the minutiae. Madame Bovary will require yet anot...more
Alex Flynn
An excellent companion to the autodidact giving themselves a course in literature. Nabokov definitely has strong opinions on the meaning and purpose of literature, tending to view it as an aesthetic experience usually filled with misanthropic worldviews, but a great mind and critic to have on a journey through great works. I tend to read them after having completed the work in questions, as opposed to reading the book straight through. He also always seems to have some information on insect to a...more
Jun 23, 2008 Sandy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: english lit fans
Recommended to Sandy by: Bob, who else!
This book was like taking a self study course in english lit by one of the world's best writers. You feel like you are sitting in on Nabakov's eng lit classes at Cornell. These are a series of his lectures on writers such as Kafka, Proust, Flaubert, Joyce. Nabakov dissects the novel, using diagrams and sketches to illuminate why these are some of the best novels in literature. It made me immediately want to reread these great classics after reading Nabakov's take on why they are so good.
I'll need to re-read this eventually, because much of it has escaped my memory. I do remember admiring Nabokov's insistence on attention to the concrete particulars of a story, and in the book, you find his sketch of the Samsa family's flat, as well as an extended discussion on just what sort of creature Gregor Samsa has become (not a cockroach, "which of course does not make sense").

Nabokov's Lectures on Quixote are available in a separate volume and are supposed to be very good.
Mo Johnston
Nabokov (with assistance from his wife, Vera) prepared these lectures for a popular course he taught at Cornell (that was taken by Thomas Pynchon and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, among others). These lectures are meticulous, hilarious, and readable, emphasizing that great literature should be felt in the place between the shoulder blades. Unfortunately, his disrespect for all women writers comes across in his misunderstanding of Jane Austen, which is why I give it 4 stars instead of 5.
Rad Idea-- when I have a free term teach myself this class of Nabokovs and read these books. Good place to start with these authors.

*"Good Readers and Good Writers" - very useful

*Kafka - "metamorphosis" - 080410, not that good or informative. Mostly overview.

To Read:
lectures on...
Joyce - Ulysses (almost 100 pages) -- read along with the book in class
Proust - the walk by swann's place

A collection of lectures on some major literature masterpieces. Since I have been recently introduced to, and completely into all things Nabokov, I was drawn to his analysis on literature. Honestly, some good things (naturally) but not anything ground breaking...actually reminded me of some regular expected lecture. I felt his book about Russian literature was much more valuable and interesting to me.
Once you get over his preening, Harold Bloom-inspired aesthete hoity-toityness, Nabokov's insights into the structures of major canonical works are not to be missed. Oh, and if you can stomach his assertion that Jane Austen is, apparently, the only female writer from Western Civilization worth reading.

The sections on Kafka and Dickens are good.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 83 84 next »
  • Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years
  • The Uses of Literature
  • Less Than One: Selected Essays
  • On Literature
  • Theory of Prose
  • Axel's Castle: A Study of the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930
  • Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature
  • The Geography of the Imagination: Forty Essays (Nonpareil Book, 78)
  • Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments
  • The Second Common Reader
  • Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Fiftieth-Anniversary Edition)
  • Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays
  • The Art of the Novel
  • The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society
  • The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction
  • The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel
  • The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts
  • The Rise of the Novel
Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков

Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist. He also made significant contributions to lepidoptery and had an interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequently cited as his most important novel, and is at any rate his most widely known one, exhibiting the love of intrica...more
More about Vladimir Nabokov...
Lolita Pale Fire Pnin Invitation to a Beheading Speak, Memory

Share This Book

“Literature was not born the day when a boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying "wolf, wolf" and there was no wolf behind him.” 329 likes
“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader.” 170 likes
More quotes…