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Lectures on Literature

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  1,937 ratings  ·  126 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)
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Antonio Gallo Al termine delle sue lezioni americane Vladimir Nabokov apostrofò gli studenti: "I romanzi non vi insegneranno nulla che possiate applicare nella vita…moreAl termine delle sue lezioni americane Vladimir Nabokov apostrofò gli studenti: "I romanzi non vi insegneranno nulla che possiate applicare nella vita, o in ufficio, o sul campo di battaglia, o in cucina." Esagerava? Forse sì. E tuttavia su una cosa aveva ragione: l'opera d'arte ci appaga, ma solo se è ispirata e precisa. Perciò il suo canone era molto selettivo .....
(La Lettura, domenica 25 novembre 2018)(less)

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 ·  1,937 ratings  ·  126 reviews

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Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
At first I was wary of this book, being a former grad student and current exile from the literary academy with no interest in rejoining those stale debates. But what a breath of fresh air it proved to be. Nabokov was, not surprisingly, a keen reader, and he brings all his technical prowess to bear on works from Dickens, Austen, Flaubert, and others. He has the gift of entering a work on its own terms and bringing it to life, not deadening it with some inane theory. I read these lectures alongsid ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
Aug 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian, non-fiction

“A writer might be a good storyteller or a good moralist, but unless he be an enchanter, an artist, he is not a great writer.”

I have always wanted to know Nabokov the reader – who hates allegories (say Animal Farm), novels where characters act are just what mouth pieces for different kind of opinions (Magic Mountain - not a fan either), moral tales (can’t agree more), allusions to other works and signs and symbolisms unless they are directly related (not a fan either), sentimental read
Sep 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. Eac
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
Oct 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lit, non-fiction
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
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 24, 2007 rated it liked it
for a split second, this made me nostalgic for college. then i recovered my senses.
Steven Peterson
Jun 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
"The isms go; the ist dies; art remains."
The above is quoted directly from this book and in particular is a comment made in reference by Nabokov on Flaubert's Madam Bovary.

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?

Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of classic European literature
I've read his lecture on 'Du côté de chez Swann' and the section on being a 'good reader', with which I already was familiar. I'll read the lecture on 'Ulysses' next.
If you are reading or have read any of the novels discussed, you may want to deepen your knowledge with the help of Nabokov's opinions, which sometimes are truly 'strong opinions'. But if you're taking his advice (with a grain of salt), it shouldn't stop you from enjoying a broader perception of one of your classics.
He cites many p
May 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Nick Tramdack
Mar 10, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Apr 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: criticism
This was my pilot though my first reading of Ulysses. And I cherish the lecture on Madame Bovary.
Sheri Fresonke Harper
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Nabokov teaches readers about various elements in literature using seven novels familiar to many. The reader need not have read the particular novels to understand the points made about language, structure, theme, style, innovation etc, by the authors of the novels. Nabokov's careful analysis points a reader toward doing their own analyses of what they read and why these novels gain the imagination of readers long enough to last through the question of time. Very interesting and easy to read.
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
I started reading this a long time ago and had plans to read or re-read each book he lectures on along with the lecture. It began well but then the book sat for um years. So I decided to just finish reading the lectures and not worry about the books. It would have been amazing to be in his class. He has a great sense of humor and he really brings a great perspective on how to read closely.
Tatiana  Coțofan
Mar 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is extremely good. Nabokov's analysis of the masterpieces of Western Literature is great, meticulous and engaging.
His prefacing essay to this book contains some interesting ideas about reading, writing and the essence of literature.
Of course, this work should be taken with a pinch of salt, the books Nabokov selected for this volume are masterpieces to his own taste. Nevertheless, it is an interesting insight into literary criticism, which is available for most of the readers.
Mar 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was really fun, mostly because I like Nabokov and reading about his thoughts on classic pieces of literature was great. One of the most valuable aspects of this book is that it contains images of his personal notes from his lecture copies.
Mar 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 langua
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"It is instructive to think that there is not a single person in this room, or for that matter in any room in the world, who, at some nicely chosen point in historical space-time would not be put to death there and then, here and now, by a commonsensical majority in righteous rage. The color of ol)e's creed, neckties, eyes, thoughts, manners, speech, is sure to meet somewhere in time or space with a fatal objection from a mob that hates that particular tone. [...] let us bless the freak; for in ...more
Aug 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Bhavya Viswarajan
Nov 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
From sifting agents to synchronising agents, Nabokov's 2 cents on Literature are worth more than a thousand dollars. The envoi, and the two essays ('Good Readers and Good Writers', 'The Art of Literature and Commonsense') make up the icing on the cake.
Sherwood Smith
Probably my favorite book on literary criticism. I reread it often.
Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Whoa, what a language! I thought that any “lectures on Russian literature” should be a quite boring stuff, and I always wondered why people recommend this book of Nabokov eagerly. I wanted “to look at it” some time (some _other_ time, you know), but it was always a very distant, almost inapproachable aim due to other priorities. However, the audiobook was a perfect decision. This is actually the case when I most probably would laubor over this book for a long time and without much pleasure had I ...more
Robert Day
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Most of this book is taken up by summaries (and HUGE spoilers) of seven novels, none of which I have read. The chapters apart from these are the best because they contain the philosophy and advice of Nabokov in relation to writing stories and novels.

These are the bits I liked the best:
10 - 'An original author always invents an original world, and if a character or action fits into the pattern of that world, then we experience the pleasurable shock of artistic truth ...'
147 - counterpoint method:
Stephen Derluguian
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
So. Here's the thing. Nabokov didn't like teaching, as a blue blooded Russian aristocrat he no doubt found it beneath him. So, accordingly, throughout this book of essays you get that sort of slightly sneery tone. Also, if you like Dostoyevsky (I don't), probably not the book for you. HOWEVER...

If you A) Dislike Dostoyevsky B) Dislike the constance garnett translations of Russian classics c) Love Tolstoy and Turgeneev d) Want to read some essays that get realllllly nitty gritty with the text (Wi
Roberta Allen
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is an extraordinary read, giving great insight into Nabokov's ideas on how literature is structured. It is full of illustrations of his notes and drawings. I had questions about some of his statements and only wish I could have sat in his classes and engaged in an actual dialogue with him—if he would have allowed it. He unfortunately had a poor opinion of the capacities of most of his students.
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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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