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Lectures on Russian Literature

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  1,500 ratings  ·  92 reviews
The author’s observations on the great nineteenth-century Russian writers-Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Gorky, Tolstoy, and Turgenev. “This volume... never once fails to instruct and stimulate. This is a great Russian talking of great Russians” (Anthony Burgess). Edited and with an Introduction by Fredson Bowers; illustrations.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published December 16th 2002 by Mariner Books (first published 1981)
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Jun 04, 2008 rated it liked it
I only read the Dostoevsky part of this so far. I thought it would be funny, which it is. And I thought it would be insightful, which it really isn't. And I didn't think it would make me want to punch Nabokov, but it does.

Here is a typical criticism: "If you examine closely any of his works, say The Brothers Karamazov, you will note that the natural background and all things relevant to the perception of the senses hardly exist. What landscape there is is a landscape of ideas, a moral landscape.
Feb 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
It's high time I read this. Knowing that Nabokov hated Doestoyevsky, I'm starting with Tolstoy, his favorite, to get a sense of VN's strengths as our guide to Russian Literature--rather than beginning with his crankiness, as some readers seem to have done.

So far, the Tolstoy lecture is less analytical/critical in a technical sense than it is an introduction to him, or rather, the way one certain cultured Russian with a bone to pick would read him--which is a totally interesting to me and I think
Nov 21, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a compilation of Vladimir Nabokov's lectures given when he was a professor at Wellesley and Cornell in the 1940s and 1950s. I would highly recommend it if you have read any of the authors he covers (Chekhov, Dostoevski, Gogol, Gorki, Tolstoy, and Turgenev). The treatment of Anna Karenina is especially thorough and delightful.

These are not lectures in the academic sense that you will be exposed to critical trends and philosophical arguments raised by the texts in question. They are extrem
Jan 02, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: ru, kindle, non-fiction
Disappointedly superficial and biased in many places. Sentences like "forget about ideas" or "literature is all about style" are scattered all over the place without any convincing argumentation -- the reason is, of course, that it is style but never ideas that you find in Nabokov's own work. The chapters on Dostoyevsky are embarrassing and unbelievably biased. Fantastic and "crazy" characters are charming in Gogol's stories but become annoying and stupid in Dostoyevsky's. Why? Because! Tolstoy ...more
Valentina Vekovishcheva
Nabokov is brilliant, I need more of his lectures
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Of course he's opinionated, not to say dismissive. That can be entertaining, especially if you're not a big fan of Dostoevsky either. But he's also genuinely interested in describing why and showing how Tolstoy and Gogol and Chekhov are great. I don't need him to convince me about Tolstoy, but now I'm headed back to give Turgenev and Chekhov another try.

If his strong opinions are too much for you sometimes, just think how his head would have exploded if he'd known that these unedited lectures w
James Klagge
A very personal and opinionated survey of Russian literature. But, of course, it is Nabokov's opinions, so worth reading. He loves Gogol, Tolstoy and Chekhov; hates Dostoevsky (nothing on Pushkin). Nabokov has a purely literary/artistic view of literature--which makes Gogol an ideal example for him. He thinks that Dostoevsky's characters are all mentally ill. He has no understanding or appreciation of what Dostoevsky might be doing with his writing in ways that are theological or psychological o ...more
Oct 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
If I remember well, I immensely enjoyed this book. I prefer reading over reading about reading, that is I prefer literature to literary criticism. That being said, I really enjoyed reading Nabokov's opinions. Not that I agree with him in everything, but I think he is on to something most of the time.
Marina Trajković
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Go home, Nabokov, you're drunk.
Evan Chow
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Literary criticism is itself a work of art, and here Nabokov achieves both beautifully.
Oct 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, lit
Not as good as the other volume, but still worth reading. The other Lectures of Literature book is a survey of seven novels that N admires. This one is more of an overall survey of 19th century/early 20th century Russian lit and as such, it covers (what N considers to be) both the good and the bad, and the in-between. Generally the novels he dislikes get a more cursory examination. And since the sections weren't always as thorough, I was left wanting a bit more. For example, in The Death of Ivan ...more
What a delight, to read one of my favorite authors holding court over the rest of my favorite authors (notably, Tolstoy and Chekhov). These lectures -- sometimes delivered to Nabokov's university students, sometimes a collection of his thoughts, remarks, and quibbles -- are a pleasure to read. They are, however, more enjoyable if you have recently read or are currently reading the texts discussed. Nabokov has a habit of wandering off into lengthy discussions of particular passages, which is not ...more
Tania Lukinyuk
I was interested in a non-fiction book about Russian literature and its interpretations. Nabokov seemed to be a good choice, being both a brilliant writer and also thinker. He provides exciting insights into Russian literature luminaries - Tolstoy, Gogol, Turgenev and others.

What I found difficult is that it is too much Nabokov as a writer in his lectures, with his very passionate and absolutely biased point of view, his proprietary writing style, using which he seems to overshadow and undermin
Aug 17, 2012 rated it liked it
This is exactly the treat you think it is going to be, but it exhibits all of the faults of having a celebrity professor teach you a subject. What Nabokov offers is, of course, his informed opinion as a scholar, artist and not least as a Russian among Russians, but it is still the opinion of an confirmed aesthete and elitist. How else can he blithely disregard the contextual, the messy social and historical and, yes, political conditions behind Russian literature, merely to pronounce in favor of ...more
Mar 12, 2017 rated it did not like it
An excellent example of a great writer and a horrible critic.
Russel Henderson
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoy Nabokov; I've read a handful of his works and a number of the articles he authored. This book contains some remarkable insight. His brief chapter on translation and the notes peppered throughout his lectures on Gogol, Chekhov, and Tolstoy provide useful insights for anyone who wishes to tackle the greats of Russian poetry and prose in English. His lectures on Chekhov and Gogol are particularly potent.

My main criticism is of his antipathy for Dostoevsky. Every author, every academic has
Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable and often brilliant criticism that doubles as a fascinating glimpse into Nabokov's own thinking about literature. His eye for certain stylistic tendencies, both at the sentence level and in terms of plot structure, is a revelation. I don't agree with the extreme formalism he adopts, and the starkness of his formalism helped me sort through my own mixed feelings about the formalism of his own works, but his ability to reveal formal aspects in writers I never would've thought about other ...more
Sinan Öner
Aug 27, 2019 marked it as to-read
Russian-American Writer Vladimir Nabokov's book contains his lectures about Russian Literature. Nabokov thinks Russian Literature since Pushkin, but Nabokov tries to understand the more deeply historical sources and roots of Russian Literature since "Legend of Prince Igor". Nabokov talks about Pushkin, Gogol and Dostoyevsky who form the modern Russian Literature in 19. Century, then, Nabokov thinks about Goncharov, Turgenyev, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gorky, mostly, storywriting and novel. Nabokov, disc ...more
Daniel Warren
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
As lectures these writings on Russian authors are somewhat disorganized and incomplete (as they were never really adapted for book publication). They would make an excellent starting point for a personal more comprehensive study of the Russian authors, especially Gogol, Dostoevski, Tolstoy and Checkov.

However, even outside the classroom they can still be read for their insights and comments on literature, writers, writing and all things Russian. If there is one lesson in this book it is that Nab
Jul 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Chekhov’s books are sad books for humorous people; that is, only a reader with a sense of humor can really appreciate their sadness."

"Among writers you may distinguish the bad one from the good one by the simple fact that the bad one has generally one nightingale at a time, as happens in conventional poetry, while the good one has several of them sing together, as they really do in nature."

"He [Dostoevsky] had a wonderful flair for comedy mixed with tragedy; he may be termed a very wonderful hu
Oct 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is like getting a beer flight of all your favorite beers and drinking it with your brewer. I had already read most of the books and stories so I binged all the lectures on those first, then read one by one as I caught up with the books. Nabokov's analyses are thoughtful, brilliant, clever, and, often, funny. I love how he writes! This is a textbook, but made for delightful pleasure reading. This is truly a treasure for any Russophile or Russian lit lover. I wish I could find similar "t ...more
Jonathan Lascelles
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very opinionated but has some interesting ideas. He doesn't seem to rate Dostoevsky highly, and smirks rather at the story of D about to face the firing squad. However, this is a man of high literary intelligence, and I think probably everyone can learn from it. N says that he wants his own life to be unknown to biographers. I wonder why the author of Lolita felt this way?
Feb 22, 2020 rated it liked it
If you can get past Nabokov's arrogance, there are interesting tales on the classic Russian authors and wonderful summaries of their novels and short stories. Also, VN has a good deal of insight concerning literature in translation.
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I have read this for about 5 years. Nabokov is my teacher on literature.
Definitely thought-provoking material, even though I seriously disagree with him on what Art is and what makes good writing, the last of which modern style also disagrees with him on. He seems to like nature descriptions and characters fiddling with their clothes, while I want those things only if they contribute to the mood and plot. I'd probably have interesting discussions with him as long as he cared to entertain the possibility that he's not the final authority; unfortunately, the coursewor ...more
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Nabokov's unique genius treats us to a plethora of acute and canny observations derived from the closest possible scrutiny of the works addressed. Nothing compares in the field of literary criticism - a marvel!

A few gems:

" Both Gogol and Ivanov were constantly pestered by impatient people rebuking them for their slowness; both were highstrung,ill-tempered, uneducated, and ridiculously clumsy in all worldly manners."

"One will observe a queer feature of Turgenev's structure. He takes tremendous t
Oct 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
November 2011: I won't rate it, as I've only read the parts about books I've read. But Nabokov is delightfully, puckishly Nabokovian. I am eternally grateful to him for speaking some truth about Dostoevsky, who is for me easily the most mysterious entry on the long list of GAGA (Generally Accepted Great Authors). The collection tilts rather strong towards "Anna Karenin," as Nabokov insists on calling it -- he feels that to call the novel "Anna Karenina is nonsense, for reasons that are nonsense. ...more
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Not quite surprised about how much Nabokov admired Chekhov's and Tolstoy's work and not to be outdone, his vitriol was definitely onslaught with Dostoeyvsky's writings which I found as a pet peeve but maybe because I am just a bit biased. Nabokov just simply dismisses Fyodor, and ignores the need to analyze his work, which is made clear when he talks about Brothers Karamazov as a whodunit, and does not examine the most noteworthy chapter in Brothers K., The Grand Inquisitor, which is a glaring o ...more
Dec 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
A total blowhard, but like some other blowhards, he has some insight. His criticisms of Dostoevsky are on-point- he definitely is a "slap-dash comedian" in some respects (at least in Brothers K.)- criticisms that have been lost in the tempests of idolatry and misunderstanding that came in the century after Dostoevsky's. Nabokov's perspective on Great Russian Literature as a great Russian writer is extremely valuable, while at the same time, his overbearing nature makes it impossible to believe e ...more
Feisty Harriet
Nabokov is one of my favorite writers, and I was so excited to follow up some serious reading of Russian literature with this collection of his lectures and writings about various authors and books. About a full third of this book is an analysis of Nabokov's favorite novel, Anna Karenina, and delightfully sarcastic comments in the margins about mistranslations. There is also a significant chunk about Tolstoy, his character, and writing process which was really fascinating. Nabokov hates Dostoyev ...more
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Russian: Владимир Владимирович Набоков .

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov, also known by the pen name Vladimir Sirin, was a Russian-American novelist. 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 a big interest in chess problems.

Nabokov's Lolita (1955) is frequ

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