Lectures on Russian Literature

by Vladimir Nabokov

Other authorsFredson Bowers (Editor)
Hardcover, 1981




New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich ; 1981

Media reviews

The lectures that Nabokov gave during his American exile were on the two halves of his literary endowment - first, the English and Arneri-cans; now the Russians, specifically Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Gorki, Tolstoy and Turgenev. His attitude to them will not please those progressive souls who believe that literature should found revolutions or speak out for an existing stability. Literature, according to Nabokov, is not a matter of the collective or even the individual soul. It is a matter of the exact notation of the physical world. It is a matter of grace, wit, ingenuity, dandyism. It is, in fact, the kind of thing we find in Lolita, Pale Fire and Ada. The permanencies are not political nor even religious. They are the taste of food, the smell of newly washed muslin, the dark hair curling on Anna Karenin's white neck.
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New York Review of Books
Nabokov of course made up his own class notes on Gogol into a brilliant short book, and a sizable chunk of this is included. His comments on the style of Dead Souls and the plot of "The Overcoat" are the most illuminating written in English on those great works... And he gives Tolstoy the same loving treatment he gave Pushkin in his great commentary on Evgeny Onegin; not so exhaustively, for these are only lecture notes, but with the same recognition that this is the only way we can give such a master his due.
Contra tapa del libro
En esta nueva selección de los famosos cursos que dictó en las universidades de Wellesley y Cornell, Vladimir Nabokov estudia las principales obras de los grandes escritores de su país natal, tan intimamente ligados a su propia sensibilidad: Gógol, Turgu´éniev, Dostoyevski, Tolstoi, Chéjov y Gorki. Inteligente y sincero, Nabokov habla con pasión de su patria perdida, una Rusia secular que ya no existe. En realidad, habla pudorosamente de sí mismo, de sus sentimientos y nostalgias, de sus ideas estéticas, sus entusiasmos y sus rechazos. Guiando a los alumnos por los vericuetos de las tramas y los caracteres de las obras maestras, demuestra, una vez más, su notable profundidad pedagógica y su extraordinaria capacidad de deleitar y entretener al lector. Lecciones de literatura rusa es un libro instructivo y fascinante. Como bien dijo Anthony Burgess, es la voz "de un gran ruso hablando de los grandes rusos".

User reviews

LibraryThing member anisoara
Yes, I am in ecstasies over Nabokov's Lectures on Russian Literature, which takes a look at the 19th century Russian literary canon (specifically Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Chekov and Gorky), but Nabokov is far from treating this literature as sacrosanct. Nabokov rates Tolstoy as the finest, Gogol as second, and Chekhov as third.

As Hero of Russian Literature Tolstoy is not spared the rod of criticism. Nabokov does find fault with Tolstoy, albeit misdemeanors rather than grand crimes, such as his characters' tendency to blush and flush, which he attributes to the nineteenth century fashion. Nabokov the great writer draws attention to the fine detail much as a master painter, noting the elements of the portrait that make it seem real. He mourns Tolstoy's loss to literature when Tolstoy renounced his the style of writing of his great literature as self indulgent and running counter to his moral beliefs. Fortunately for future generations, Tolstoy was not quite able to wholly abstain and so still gave us some more of his finest, if not on such a grand scale as before. Gogol, Turgenev, Chekhov and Gorky are treated in similar fashion, if not in such great depth (the section on Tolstoy accounts for perhaps a third of the book).

In addition to examining texts and writing style, Nabokov also looks at the personal histories of the writers, fashioning a rounded picture not just of great works but of great writers in union with their works. I understand that Nabokov's Lectures on Literature focus exclusively on the writing, so while I intend to read this at some point (not on my shelves yet), and while I expect to fully enjoy reading it, it will be a different kind of read.

Finally, Nabokov is often scathing in his treatment of the translators whose translations he teaches from. We are privileged in Lectures to read Nabokov's own translations of sections of many of the works under review.

After reading Lectures, I found myself dying to plunge into the works themselves. In fact, I could not resist gathering up my own books and flipping through them along with Nabokov. Promptly after finishing the Lectures, I started Anna Karenin and read it with more enjoyment than ever before, and will try to fit in as many of the others as I can in the coming year along with my books off the self challenge. What an excellent companion piece the Lectures have been so far!

(Having written this I'm not entirely sure Gogol was Nabokov's "second" greatest but, based on the criticism he heaped upon Turgenev, I can't imagine Turgenev in second place!)
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LibraryThing member jpsnow
This was a perfect way to round out a recent series of Russian lit. Taken from Nabokov's lecture notes, this addresses the biography, style, and messages of Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Gogol, Gorki, Tolstoy, and Turgenev. Nabokov regarded Chekhov, Tolstoy and Turgenev highly. He was very critical of Dostoevsky, claiming that his work was cheap sentimentality, unbalanced, but successfully obscured with a complex plot that serves to capture the reader the first time.… (more)
LibraryThing member wonderperson
Read this book to hear Nabokov's opinions on Dotsoevski and Gogol who he hates, and for his exact detailed analysis of Tolstoy's Anna Karenin.
This guy knows his onions but whether hating the above is neccesary to appreciate Russian Literature I think can only be borne by reading the Literature and making up ones's own mind.
I think Dotsoevski portrays the lives of those in poverty at it's frightening best; it may be one reason Nabokov doesn't like him.
This book to conclude gives food for thought as to the criteria for great Literature and therefore worthy of your consideration.
Review of top of the head.
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LibraryThing member lvwoolf
I can never get enough of this book.



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