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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.


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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.

30 review for Lectures on Literature

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    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 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 alongside the books they describe, and I found them delightfully illuminating.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    “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 “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 readings (chick-lit romances) and finds detective novels boring (because of their poor prose). On Allegories It is his dislike of allegories including those like Animal Farm which shocked me. I can see why it might be annoying when critics or readers are matching the elements in the allegories to real world but best of allegories can stand on their even if you didn’t know the real world parallels which they originally used as supporting structures. Even people who know nothing about Russian revolution can enjoy Animal farm while people knowing nothing about Odyssey can enjoy Ulysses. Rushdi's works which began like Allegories are often capable of losing themselves to natural growth of their chracters. Nabokov himself argues that Dr. Jeckyll and Hyde (a minor classic according to Nabokov) is not an allegory (I agree) and would have failed if it was one. According to him, same goes for Kafka’s Metamorphosis (don’t agree). Nabokov's Spine The thing is he frowns upon readers who read to gain knowledge (I do that) or/and sentimental pleasure(I do that too). So what kind of satisfaction he seeks from reading? “It seems to me that a good formula to test the quality of a novel is, in the long run, a merging of the precision of poetry and the intuition of science. In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine. It is there that occurs the telltale tingle even though we must keep a little aloof, a little detached when reading. Then with a pleasure which is both sensual and intellectual, we shall watch the artist build his castle of cards and watch the castle of cards become a castle of beautiful steel and glass. And thus a Tolstoy (Anna Karenina gets repeated allusions even though he wasn’t teaching it) or a Dickens (Bleak House) are kind of authors he admires – because of their ability to carry on several chains of a lot of characters and themes at the same time. And if the author is able to bring these chains of stories to a satisfactory end, the author is a genius. According to him the correct way to reading Metamorphosis is by looking at how Kafka maintains a balance between Gregor’s insect and human behavior (!!!). This love for juggling several characters, themes and stories need notonly be fr novel as whole though, it can be shown in a single scene with lots of characters and story threads going at same time- examples being agricultural fair scene from Madame Bovary (Llosa also admired that scene) and the chapter 10 (one with several vignettes and characters) of Ulysses – with first getting a much higher praise from Nabokov. To be honest, I think this whole juggling thing is a technical aspect which can only fascinate a writer who is trying to achieve something similar. A common reader won’t have a spine sensitive to the perfection of art and is more likely to love characters from Dostoevsky’s imperfect scenes who provide emotional and intellectual food. Nabokov thinks of such readers as bad readers but in this, he sounds very snobbish to me. On Prose Now some things we do agree on. Nabokov also wants you to pay attention to details. He is someone who actually drew a sketch of bug Samsa turned into ( he was really knowledgeable about insects and bugs) as well as the design of his house as well as twin houses of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde. He wants authors to focus on all corners, and triffle spots – and work them into perfect prose, there should be no weak sentences or, Devil forbid, passages. : “Some readers may suppose that such things as these evocations are trifles not worth stopping at; but literature consists of such trifles. Literature consists, in fact, not of general ideas but of particular revelations, not of schools of thought but of individuals of genius. Literature is not about something: it is the thing itself, the quiddity. Without the masterpiece, literature does not exist.” He uses graphs to show Jekyll wasn’t a perfectly good person. He goes into depths of how those two last got their names. He can quote – the lectures are 70% quotes – whole passages, sometimes whole pages. And not quotes that stand out for themselves but descriptions, descriptions like those describing Jekyll turning into Hyde. That is what he wants you to work on as an author – on prose, to keep on writing it and rewriting it until everything is perfect. If you ask him, when it comes to descriptions, no one beats Flaubert with his Madame Bovary (which Im willing to bet is Nabhokov’s favorite book along with another book on famous cheating wife of literature – Anna Karenina) and Proust with his Remembrance of things Past ( “the greatest novel of the first half of our century”) though he only discusses Swann’s Way. On character aspects and sketches Nabokov wants you to keep a distance from characters and so there is not a lot of time spent analyzing them (though few insights he does give are brilliant). His analysis of Emma Bovary’s is disagreeable to me (but would be agreeable to Flaubert). Same with psychology, he cracks a lot of jokes at expense of Freud (“ that medieval quack”). He doesn’t spend much time commenting on the sensitivity of Proust’s protagonist either (who and Freud unknowingly reflected much on each other’s works). He loves Joyce’s work too but is not particularly impressed by Joyce’s “Incomplete, rapid, broken wording rendering the so-called stream of consciousness, or better say the stepping stones of consciousness” giving reasons like “First, the device is not more "realistic” or more "scientific" than any other. In fact if some of Molly’s thoughts were described instead of all of them being recorded, their expression would strike one as more "realistic,” more natural. The point is that the stream of consciousness is a stylistic convention because obviously we do not think continuously in words—we think also in images; but the switch from words to images can be recorded in direct words only if description is eliminated as it is here. Another thing: some of. our reflections come and go, others stay; they stop as it were, amorphous and sluggish, and it takes some time for the flowing thoughts and thoughtlets to run around those rocks of thought. The drawback of simulating a recording of thought is the blurring of the time element and too great a reliance on typography.” I agree and I agree again when he says that Molly’s thoughts in last chapters of Ulysses would read just as good as they do now if Joyce's editor had introduced punctuation marks in those run-on sentences. Although I wonder what he would have said about Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway in which thoughts are described instead of being recorded as Nabokov would prefer them. The only female author that is included is Jane Austen with her Mansfield Park towards whom Nabokov takes a patronizing attitude as if to a younger artist. And oh, while we are on Joyce, he declares Finnegans Wake to be one of the greatest failures in literature. On Reality "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.” My best take from the book is his ideas on the use of words like realism and naturalism in criticism. He doesn’t understand the habit of dividing books into fantasies or realist ones- according to him all novels including those like The Trial, The Overcoat and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are realist as well as fantasies. A very long quote (– must be impact of Nabhokov’s company) in spoiler about how Nabokov understands novelist’s reality (view spoiler)[ Let us take three types of men walking through the same landscape. Number One is a city man on a well-deserved vacation. Number Two is a professional botanist. Number Three is a local farmer. Number One, the city man, is what is called a realistic, commonsensical, matter-of-fact type: he sees trees as trees and knows from his map that the road he is following is a nice new road leading to Newton, where there is a nice eating place recommended to him by a friend in his office. The botanist looks around and sees his environment in the very exact terms of plant life, precise biological and classified units such as specific trees and grasses, flowers and ferns, and for him this is reality; to him the world of the stolid tourist (who cannot distinguish an oak from an elm) seems a fantastic, vague, dreamy, never-never world. Finally, the world of the local farmer differs from the two others in that his world is intensely emotional and personal since he has been born and bred there, and knows every trail and individual tree, and every shadow from every tree across every trail, all in warm connection with his everyday work, and his childhood, and a thousand small things and patterns which the other two—the humdrum tourist and the botanical taxonomist—simply cannot know in the given place at the given time. Our farmer will not know the relation of the surrounding vegetation to a botanical conception of the world, and the botanist will know nothing of any importance to him about that barn or that old field or that old house under its cottonwoods, which are afloat, as it were, in a medium of personal memories for one who was born there. So here we have three different worlds—three men, ordinary men who have different realities—and, of course, we could bring in a number of other beings: a blind man with a dog, a hunter with a dog, a dog with his man, a pamter cruising in quest of a sunset, a girl out of gas-In every case it would be a world completely different from the rest since the most objective words tree, road, flower, sky, barn, thumb, rain have, in each, totally different subjective connotations. Indeed, this subjective life is so strong that it makes an empty and broken shell of the so-called objective existence. The only way back to objective reality is the following one: we can take these several individual worlds, mix them thoroughly together, scoop up a drop of that mixture, and call it objective reality. We may taste in it a particle of madness if a lunatic passed through that locality, or a particle of complete and beautiful nonsense if a man has been looking at a lovely field and imagining upon it a lovely factory producing buttons or bombs; but on the whole these mad particles would be diluted in the drop of objective reality that we hold up to the light in our test tube. Moreover, this objective reality will contain something that transcends optical illusions and laboratory tests. It will have elements of poetry, of lofty emotion, of energy and endeavor (and even here the button king may find his rightful place), of pity, pride, passion—and the craving for a thick steak at the recommended roadside eating place. So when we say reality, we are really thinking of all this—in one drop— an average sample of a mixture of a million individual realities. And it is in this sense (of human reality) that I use the term reality when placing it against a backdrop, such as the worlds of "The Carrick,” "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and "The Metamorphosis," which are specific fantasies. (hide spoiler)] More Quotes(view spoiler)[ “Gustave Flaubert’s ideal of a writer of fiction was vividly expressed when he remarked that, like God in His world, so the author in his book should be nowhere and everywhere, invisible and omnipresent. There do exist several major works of fiction where the presence of the author is as unobtrusive as Flaubert wished it to be, although he himself did not attain that ideal in Madame Bovary. But even in such works where the author is ideally unobtrusive, he remains diffused through the book so that his very absence becomes a kind of radiant presence. As the French say, il brille par son absence—"he shines by his absence.” “There is nothing dictators hate so much as that unassailable, eternally elusive, eternally provoking gleam. One of the main reasons why the very gallant Russian poet Gumilev was put to death by Lenin's ruffians thirty odd years ago was that during the whole ordeal, in the prosecutor's dim office, in the torture house, in the winding corridors that led to the truck, in the truck that took him to the place of execution, and at that place itself, full of the shuffling feet of the clumsy and gloomy shooting squad, the poet kept smiling.” "Readers are not sheep, and not every pen tempts them.” “The color of one's creed, neckties, eyes, thoughts, manners, speech, is sure to meet somewhere in time of space with a fatal objection from a mob that hates that particular tone. And the more brilliant, the more unusual the man, the nearer he is to the stake. Stranger always rhymes with danger. The meek prophet, the enchanter in his cave, the indignant artist, the nonconforming little schoolboy, all share in the same sacred danger. And this being so, let us bless them, let us bless the freak; for in the natural evolution of things, the ape would perhaps never have become man had not a freak appeared in the family.” “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.” “I am aware of many things being quite as important as good writing and good reading; but in all things it is wiser to go directly to the quiddity, to the text, to the source, to the essence—and only then evolve whatever theories may tempt the philosopher, or the historian, or merely please the spirit of the day. Readers are born free and ought to remain free.” (hide spoiler)]

  3. 5 out of 5

    J.

    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 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 of the classics here was worth the read, the re-read, or the first-time read, and the reward was having VN to sum it up. Youth, as we all know, is wasted on the young, and who can read books when there are other distractions that are catnip to the undergraduate... ? Take the challenge, take the course, read the books, go back to square one. Like old schooldays, but with actual learning taking place. Then, take a break, and twist a fat one.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    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. 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. In a short essay at the beginning of the book, Nabovkov writes: There are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: he may be considered as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. A major writer combines these three – storyteller, teacher, enchanter – but it is the enchanter in him that predominates and makes him a major writer. I believe he's on to something here. What is it that the greatest writers do that capture our imaginations? Of course! They enchant us, they seduce us, they carry us away into those magical, enchanted lands and lives and when we finally reach the last page, the enchantment lingers on and we contentedly sigh, "What a great book..." Highly recommended for readers and writers alike!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hamish

    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 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 easily pick up what's going on. N does just that. And not only does he offer neat summaries, he calls attention to lots of the small, neat details that provide a good chunk of the novel's joy. N has clearly read Ulysses dozens of times, he's picked up on all of the subtle little coincidences and themes and chains of events that line the novel, and he imparts this wisdom to the first-time reader. And that's really the core of all of these lectures. N believed that great novels should be read many times, and only on repeat readings do you pick up on the little things that provide the type of joy that he feels is the true purpose of literature. These lectures provide examples of these, and in turn helps teach the reader how to look for them, how to admire the the skill that goes into creating a great work, and how to read on a deeper, more careful level than we're used to. And while the lectures are generally pretty fun to read, the real utility of this book doesn't come from the actual experience of reading it, but rather from noticing how the points N harps on have invaded your mind and changed the way you look at art in general.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Phrodrick

    "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? Lik "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? Like me, you want to view literature from inside the mind of a favorite writer. You are a serious student of the written word and open to advice on how to read. You have been assigned a paper on one or more of the following: Jan Austin's Mansfield Park Charles Dickens's Bleak House Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Marcel Proust's The Walk by Swan's Way Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis James Joyce's Ulysses In other words this is not a book that will appeal to many readers. Speaking as a fan of Nabokov, this fan status may not be sufficient motive to finish the lectures. Absent a plot summery, these are lectures given by VN as a professor of European Literature at Cornell University in 1948. The above selections represent not so much VN`s personal favorites, but examples he chose to facilitate lecture points. The lectures tend to contain highly detailed recountings of each book. Within each discussion is an emphasis on the details, the geography, specific events and images chosen by each writer. His thesis seems to be that writer's use these details to specify the created universe that is their particular universe. Nabokov believes that the writer is a creator. Readers who insist that the writer is recounting experience and retelling reality are missing the point of the creative process. That is; within a story reality is no more or less than what the writer needs it to be. Therefore details matter. Further more a real reader has a duty to reread works of art or else risk missing these details. Not only read for detail, but "fondle" them. Against this concept, at once romantic and mechanistic Nabokov adds in another eloquent observation. A real reader: "In order to bask in that magic a wise reader reads the book of genius not with his heart, not so much with his brain, but with his spine." (Thank you [web reference removed] For also noting this quote) It is the tingle between the shoulders that marks a good read, and a good reader. For all of this I have to agree with many of the other reviewers here at Amazon. There is something overly sanitized and dispassionate about Nabokov's method of literary analysis. Great themes and cosmic struggles fall away while we create maps and clock synchronicities. VN may not care about `isms' and 'ists'; but are we better readers if we see the art as so many themes and specifics? The almost Victorian squeamishness Nabokov demonstrates on matter of sex and body functions -he is hampered in his ability to fully discuss or appreciate Ulysses may be appreciated by those who automatically dismiss books with such references. Yet this same VN is the author of the famous novel, Lolita. This is a book about a pedophile. Granted, an oversimplification, but the irony exists. I am glad I finished this book. I am not sure how long it will be before I attempt more literary analyses by Vladimir Nabokov.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    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 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 great length, analyzing every aspect of its construction and presentation, stoutly defending it against charges of sentimentality, and reveling in Dickens' mastery of descriptive metaphor. He compares Dicken's description of the sea with a similar passage in Mansfield Park, and Jane Austen comes off much the worse (although to be fair, describing nature was not Austen's forte.) It is wonderful to share the pleasures of careful reading with such a sensitive and witty companion.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Juliana

    for a split second, this made me nostalgic for college. then i recovered my senses.

  9. 5 out of 5

    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 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 this book represent lectures that he gave at Wellesley College and Cornell University. John Updike's Introduction 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 couple examples will illustrate his critical approach. First, Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park." Nabokov is very pleased with her work. Given his emphasis on style and structure, he details how well she constructs this work. For instance, at one point, the characters, among whom there are a variety of tensions to begin with, select a play to perform. The decision as to which of the characters in Austen's story would play which characters in the play is well discussed by Nabokov. The play itself raises questions--it was, in fact, an actual play that scandalized some of the characters in the novel. And it exacerbated pre-existing tensions among the characters. All in all, Nabokov makes a great case that Austen's structure of this segment of the novel was well done indeed. And, in terms of style, he says of Austen that (Page 59) "she handles it with perfection." Nabokov convinced me that Austen was a terrific technical writer, who wed her genius to technique and style and structure to create something special. Another example. . . . Kafka's "Metamorphosis," a story I read several decades ago. I recall the sense of despair I felt reading about the travails of Gregor Samsa--and a sense that, despite the awful/offal nature of the work that there was something important here. Nabokov is very positive about this piece. Much of this lecture is a simple description of the work, scene by scene, and Nabokov spennds some time noting how Kafka's work is so much better than Stevenson's work discussed above. Samsa's unexplained transformation into a beetle is the event that triggers this story. Nabokov notes how this tragedy has positive elements--a family finally getting its act together even as it abandons Gregor--and illustrates Kafka's style. Of the latter, Nabokov says (Page 283): "You will mark Kafka's style. Its clarity, its precise and formal intonation in such striking contrast to the nightmare matter of his story." I admire his emphasis on style and structure, but I also think there is an almost sanitary quality about some of his observations. But I'm a political scientist--not a literary critic. Overll, this is an intellectually exciting book, as one learns how a literary critic from one critical perspective examining a series of works--Austen, Dickens, Flaubert, Stevenson, Proust, Kafka, and Joyce. If interested in Nabokov's critical perspective, this is a good starting point!

  10. 5 out of 5

    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 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 about Bleak House: "I must say that despite the superb planning of the novel, the main mistake was to let Esther tell part of the story. I would not have let the girl near!" On Madame Bovary: "...adultery being a most conventional way to rise above the conventional." On Joyce: "Indeed, in verbal generosity he is a veritable Santa." Great contrast: "Joyce takes a complete and absolute character, God-known, Joyce-known, then breaks it up into fragments and scatters these fragments over the space-time of the book. The good rereader gathers these puzzle pieces and gradually puts them together. On the other hand, Proust contends that a character, a personality, is never known as an absolute but always as a comparative one."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian

    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 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 passages from the original text and explains connotations within the book, uncovers some hidden details. Speaks about colours. Speaks about composition. Don't expect many details about the authors itself, or the times they wrote in. It's strict fairytale-analysis!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ева Нешкоска

    I didn't expect to get so easily attached to these pages. Something I would recommend to anyone who sees the stories in the books (especially the classics) with a deeper point of view. Being a good reader is as complexed as being a good writer. Definitely one of my favorite readings this year. I didn't expect to get so easily attached to these pages. Something I would recommend to anyone who sees the stories in the books (especially the classics) with a deeper point of view. Being a good reader is as complexed as being a good writer. Definitely one of my favorite readings this year.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    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 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 it, "makes me feel some feelings." Another aspect of his lectures I disliked was their heavy plot focus, but I loved his drawings of city blocks and residences! I will briefly provide my experience of each of the lectures: Mansfield Park: I'm glad I read this lecture because it reminded me of why I dislike Jane Austen novels. Apparently, Nabokov said something about Jane Austen like, "I cannot find a single thing in Pride and Prejudice to enjoy," but was convinced by a friend to read Mansfield Park, which he thought more worthy. Based on the passages he quoted in this lecture, I disagree. Bleak House: This book had never interested me, but I am reconsidering my decision based on Nabokov's lecture. We'll see. Madame Bovary: It was fun to reread the plot and see some elements of Flaubert's style differently. The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Same feelings I have about Madame Bovary lecture The Walk by Swann's Place: Reinforced my wanting to read Proust The Metamorphosis: This was my favorite lecture. I missed a lot when I read this several years ago. Ulysses: This lecture was instrumental in helping me get the most out of Ulysses. I read the footnotes in my copy first and during each chapter of Ulysses; then, I read the corresponding section of this lecture. I felt like Ulysses was a difficult class I had to study hard for, and I used this lecture to help with that.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Everyman

    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 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 lectures on an eclectic group of writers -- Austen, Dickens, Flaubert, Stevenson, Proust, Kafka, and Joyce. How's that for a variety of writers! But he does justice to each of them, enriching the reading of these authors.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tatiana Coțofan

    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. 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.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    This was my pilot though my first reading of Ulysses. And I cherish the lecture on Madame Bovary.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sheri Fresonke Harper

    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. 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.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stefanie

    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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

    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 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 annotations I came across a number of notes discussing references in Lolita to works by Joyce which I had never quite picked up on before. In this series of notes, Appel lays out Nabokov's distaste for Joyce's Finnegans Wake and his sheer admiration of Ulysses and again, as with Kafka and many others, we get a direct denial of any potential Joycean influence on Nabokov's body of work. We are told that though Nabokov had met Joyce relatively early on in his career (some time in the 1930's) - Nabokov did not get around to reading Joyce until the expiration of his Russian period, after which, he assures us, he had already matured as a writer to the point of being immune to outside influence. These notes and a burbling fascination with the Nabokovian/Joycean interplay brought me back to this title, Lectures on Literature, and in particular the 80-plus page essay on Ulysses. This compact guide to Joyce's most famed work is pure gold. It may not exactly be the best beginners guide to Ulysses but this lecture provides serious illumination to the moderately well-versed Ulysses reader. The best part of Nabokov's analysis (which is actually more like a carefully constructed retelling or reconstructed telling of the novel's plot) has to due with the articulation of Joyce's minor themes. Doing some serious heavy lifting as reader, Nabokov chases down the progress of a number of minor items as they pop in and out of view throughout the entire day chronicled in Ulysses. He discusses the importance of the lemon scented soap that travels from pocket to pocket in Bloom's suit throughout the day, he charts the progress of a cloud that passes over Stephen and Bloom in the morning, he follows a crumpled pamphlet as it bobs down the Liffey marking time throughout various chapters, he articulates the content of a dream shared by Stephen and Leopold the night before the action of the book and how that dream prophetically shapes the nature of the two characters' reaction to one another later that day, and much more. Depending on your tastes in literature this collection of lectures may offer to you what it has offered to me - a chance to discuss several of your favorite authors (Kafka, Proust, Joyce) and their greatest works of literature with another one of your favorite authors. I cherish this opportunity and find it well worth the rare five-star rating. Before I finish, please give me a couple more lines to finish what I started and get back to Goethe. It turns out the Erlkonig reference didn't play out in Lolita exactly how I thought it would. Quilty, and not Humbert, ends up playing the part of Goethe's Elf King - Humbert himself in fact bestows upon Quilty the nickname "heterosexual Erlkönig." This casting of characters grants us a reading of Goethe's poem which features the ever self-assured Humbert Humbert in the tragic role of the young boy's father - this presents a tragicomic reading of the poem that only Nabokov could devise. As a last note, "Erlkönig" also makes an appearance in Pale Fire where John Shade actually cops an entire line from the poem and incorporates it into his own final work. But that's quite off topic. In conclusion, read Nabokov's Lectures on Literature because of Goethe's "Erlkönig."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    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 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 how to be a good reader, about what it means to really ingest a book. My favorite moment in the book is when he talks about how the only way to really read a book is with your back - meaning that if a book doesn't make you feel something between your spine, give you a little tingle, then you aren't really reading anything worthwhile. What a brilliant idea. And finally, we must remember that, "In reading, we must notice and fondle the details."

  22. 4 out of 5

    Maria

    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 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 language, consistency of characters. Nabokov's lectures are the very reflection of Nabokov the man: full of wit, extensive knowledge of the subject, aestheticism and some snobbism to spice it all.

  23. 5 out of 5

    SL

    "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 "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 the natural evolution of things, the ape would perhaps never have become man had not a freak .appeared in the family." Wow I spent two months going through this book...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    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.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bhavya Viswarajan

    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. 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.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    Probably my favorite book on literary criticism. I reread it often.

  27. 5 out of 5

    mh

    A difficult, taxing, somewhat exhausting text to plow thru. Yet, I want to believe I got something in return for my labor. I learned something about Nabokov: He loves art for art's sake, loves Flaubert, hates philistines. The Editor's Foreword (3700 words) by Fredson Bowers and Introduction (4700 words) by John Updike are both very good. well worth reading. So, too, are the shorter lectures by Nabokov, "Good Readers and Good Writers" (2500 words), "The Art of Literature 
and Commonsense" (4500 w A difficult, taxing, somewhat exhausting text to plow thru. Yet, I want to believe I got something in return for my labor. I learned something about Nabokov: He loves art for art's sake, loves Flaubert, hates philistines. The Editor's Foreword (3700 words) by Fredson Bowers and Introduction (4700 words) by John Updike are both very good. well worth reading. So, too, are the shorter lectures by Nabokov, "Good Readers and Good Writers" (2500 words), "The Art of Literature 
and Commonsense" (4500 words), and "L'Envoi" (600 words). If readers pass on his Charles Dickens lecture (27,000 words), I'd say they should not skip the shorter essays cited above. In the Austen, Dickens, Flaubert, Stevenson, Proust, Kafka, and Joyce lectures Nabokov is less interested in using the text as launching-pads for riffing on aspects of the novel than he is for anatomizing sentences & paragraphs. Vlad's like a coroner. He heaps the carcass of these novels onto his examination table and then starts eviscerating them, reading aloud long passages to his assembled lecture hall of students to draw attention to how various aspects of the novel's anatomy "work" as a whole. I picture him in my mind's eye like a mad doctor, down in his Bat Cave, performing experiments, drawing up diagrams of Dublin's streets or insect physiology, disassembling, tearing apart the internal organs of stories—a liver here, a pancreas there, a gallbladder down the road—to show future coroners how, say, gastrointestinal systems are inextricably linked to nervous systems. Riffing on Mansfield Park he says: "the beauty of a book is more enjoyable if one understands its machinery, if one can take it apart. Jane Austen uses four methods of characterization in the beginning of the book. There is, first, the direct description...." And later, "a third method of characterization is through reported speech." How much of that—excluding those seeking How-To instruction—can anyone take? Vlad's focus is on operations, the machinery of storytelling, not so much aesthetic appreciation. For him, great novels are exquisitely engineered devices, like wrist-watches, or butterflys. More later. "We shall discuss Madame Bovary as Flaubert intended it to be discussed: in terms of structures (mouvements as he termed them), thematic lines, style, poetry, and characters. The novel consists of thirty-five chapters, each about ten pages long...." "Three forces make and mold a human being: heredity, environment, and the unknown agent X. Of these the second, environment, is by far the least important, while the last, agent X, is by far the most influential. "We are told that most of the characters in Madame Bovary are bourgeois. But one thing that we should clear up once and for all is the meaning that Flaubert gives to the term bourgeois. Unless it simply means townsman, as it often does in French, the term bourgeois as used by Flaubert means “philistine,” people preoccupied with the material side of life and believing only in conventional values. He never uses the word bourgeois with any politico-economic Marxist connotation. Flaubert’s bourgeois is a state of mind, not a state of pocket. In a famous scene of our book when a hardworking old woman, getting a medal for having slaved for her farmer-boss, is confronted with a committee of relaxed bourgeois beaming at her—mind you, in that scene both parties are philistines, the beaming politicians and the superstitious old peasant woman—both sides are bourgeois in Flaubert’s sense. I shall clear up the term completely if I say that, for instance, today in communist Russia, Soviet literature, Soviet art, Soviet music, Soviet aspirations are fundamentally and smugly bourgeois. It is the lace curtain behind the iron one. A Soviet official, small or big, is the perfect type of bourgeois mind, of a philistine. The key to Flaubert’s term is the philistinism of his Monsieur Homais. Let me add for double clarity that Marx would have called Flaubert a bourgeois in the politico-economic sense and Flaubert would have called Marx a bourgeois in the spiritual sense; and both would have been right, since Flaubert was a well-to-do gentleman in physical life and Marx was a philistine in his attitude towards the arts. "Without Flaubert there would have been no Marcel Proust in France, no James Joyce in Ireland. Chekhov in Russia would not have been quite Chekhov. So much for Flaubert’s literary influence." "Flaubert had a special device which may be called the counterpoint method, or the method of parallel interlinings and interruptions of two or more conversations or trains of thought." "But in Madame Bovary there is a continual movement within the chapters. I call this device structural transition. We shall inspect certain examples of it." ". . . two associated scenes are written in Flaubert’s favorite contrapuntal structure." "Another aspect of his style, ... is Flaubert’s fondness for what may be termed the unfolding method, the successive development of visual details, one thing after another thing, with an accumulation of this or that emotion." "Freud, that medieval quack...." In his essay on Kafka, he writes: "Beauty plus pity—that is the closest we can get to a definition of art. Where there is beauty there is pity for the simple reason that beauty must die: beauty always dies, the manner dies with the matter, the world dies with the individual." "The other matter that I want to dismiss is the Freudian point of view. ... and I reject this nonsense. Kafka himself was extremely critical of Freudian ideas. He considered psychoanalysis (I quote) “a helpless error,” and he regarded Freud’s theories as very approximate, very rough pictures, which did not do justice to details or, what is more, to the essence of the matter. This is another reason why I should like to dismiss the Freudian approach and concentrate, instead, upon the artistic moment. The greatest literary influence upon Kafka was Flaubert’s." "(But let us not ourselves be insects. Let us first of all study every detail in this story; the general idea will come of itself later when we have all the data we need.) His sister does not understand that Gregor has retained a human heart, human sensitivity, a human sense of decorum, of shame, of humility and pathetic pride. Here's Vlad riffing on music, the enjoyment of which is for philistines: Without wishing to antagonize lovers of music, I do wish to point out that taken in a general sense music, as perceived by its consumers, belongs to a more primitive, more animal form in the scale of arts than literature or painting. I am taking music as a whole, not in terms of individual creation, imagination, and composition, all of which of course rival the art of literature and painting, but in terms of the impact music has on the average listener. A great composer, a great writer, a great painter are brothers. But I think that the impact music in a generalized and primitive form has on the listener is of a more lowly quality than the impact of an average book or an average picture. What I especially have in mind is the soothing, lulling, dulling influence of music on some people, such as of the radio or records. In Kafka’s tale it is merely a girl pitifully scraping on a fiddle, and this corresponds in the piece to the canned music or plugged-in music of today. What Kafka felt about music in general is what I have just described: its stupefying, numbing, animal-like quality.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Gremrien

    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 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 read it in text, but I listened to its audioversion with delight and great interest. I was immensely surprised not only by how interesting the whole subject is (I learned about well-known to me authors and books a lot of new things), but also by how brilliant and unique Nabokov was as a lecturer. It would be a blast to hear such a professor in person and attend his lectures. After this book, I feel ashamed about my poor simplistic vocabulary and dryness of my own language… “Литературу, настоящую литературу, не стоит глотать залпом, как снадобье, полезное для сердца или ума, этого “желудка” души. Литературу надо принимать мелкими дозами, раздробив, раскрошив, размолов, — тогда вы почувствуете ее сладостное благоухание в глубине ладоней; ее нужно разгрызать, с наслаждением перекатывая языком во рту, — тогда, и только тогда вы оцените по достоинству ее редкостный аромат и раздробленные, размельченные частицы вновь соединятся воедино в вашем сознании и обретут красоту целого, к которому вы подмешали чуточку собственной крови”. — “Однажды я подсчитал, что лучшее из всего созданного в русской прозе и поэзии с начала прошлого века составляет 23000 страниц обычного набора. Очевидно, что ни французскую, ни английскую литературу невозможно так ужать. И та и другая растянуты во времени и насчитывают несколько сотен великих произведений. Это подводит меня к первому выводу. За вычетом одного средневекового шедевра русская проза удивительно ладно уместилась в круглой амфоре прошлого столетия, а на нынешнее остался лишь кувшинчик для снятых сливок.” — “Обрисовывая историю русской литературы, или, вернее, определяя силы, боровшиеся за душу художника, я, возможно, нащупаю тот глубинный пафос, присущий всякому подлинному искусству, который возникает из разрыва между его вечными ценностями и страданиями нашего запутанного мира. Мир этот едва ли можно винить в том, что он относится к литературе как к роскоши или побрякушке, раз ее невозможно использовать в качестве современного путеводителя.” — “В России до советской власти существовали, конечно, ограничения, но художниками никто не командовал. Живописцы, писатели и композиторы прошлого века были совершенно уверены, что живут в стране, где господствуют деспотизм и рабство, но они обладали огромным преимуществом, которое можно до конца оценить лишь сегодня, преимуществом перед своими внуками, живущими в современной России: их не заставляли говорить, что деспотизма и рабства нет. Две силы одновременно боролись за душу художника, два критика судили его труд, и первым была власть. На протяжении целого столетия она пребывала в убеждении, что все необычное, оригинальное в творчестве звучит резкой нотой и ведет к революции. Бдительность власть имущих ярче всего выразил Николай I в 30-е и 40-е гг. прошлого века. Хладность его натуры пронизала собою русскую жизнь куда больше, чем пошлость последующих властителей, а его интерес к литературе был бы трогателен, исходи он из чистого сердца. С поразительным упорством этот человек стремился стать решительно всем для русской литературы: родным и крестным отцом, нянькой и кормилицей, тюремным надзирателем и литературным критиком. Какие бы качества он ни выказывал в своей монаршей профессии, нужно признать, что в обращении с Русской Музой он вел себя как наемный убийца или, в лучшем случае, шут. Учрежденная им цензура оставалась в силе до 60-х гг., ослабла после великих реформ, вновь ужесточилась в конце прошлого века, ненадолго была упразднена в начале нынешнего и затем удивительным и ужаснейшим образом воскресла при Советах.” — “Я описал скорее с отвращением, чем с сожалением, те силы, которые способствовали пленению русской мысли в 19 в. и окончательно подавили искусство в советском полицейском государстве. В 19 в. гений не только выживал, но и процветал, потому что общественное мнение было сильнее любого царя, а хороший читатель противился давлению прогрессивных критиков с их утилитарными идеями. В настоящее время, когда общественное мнение в России полностью задавлено властью, хороший читатель, может быть, и существует где-нибудь в Томске или Атомске, но его голос не слышен, его держат на скудной литературной диете, он разлучен со своими собратьями за границей. Его собратья — это очень важно, ибо как всемирная семья талантливых писателей перешагивает через национальные барьеры, так же и одаренный читатель — гражданин мира, не подчиняющийся пространственным и временным законам. Это он — умный, гениальный читатель — вновь и вновь спасает художника от гибельной власти императоров, диктаторов, священников, пуритан, обывателей, политических моралистов, полицейских, почтовых служащих и резонеров. Позвольте мне набросать портрет этого прекрасного читателя. Он не принадлежит ни к одной определенной нации или классу. Ни один общественный надзиратель или клуб библиофилов не может распоряжаться его душой. Его литературные вкусы не продиктованы теми юношескими чувствами, которые заставляют рядового читателя отождествлять себя с тем или иным персонажем и «пропускать описания». Чуткий, заслуживающий восхищения читатель отождествляет себя не с девушкой или юношей в книге, а с тем, кто задумал и сочинил ее. Настоящий читатель не ищет сведений о России в русском романе, понимая, что Россия Толстого или Чехова — это не усредненная историческая Россия, но особый мир, созданный воображением гения. Настоящий читатель не интересуется большими идеями: его интересуют частности. Ему нравится книга не потому, что она помогает ему обрести «связь с обществом» (если прибегнуть к чудовищному штампу критиков прогрессивной школы), а потому, что он впитывает и воспринимает каждую деталь текста, восхищается тем, чем хотел поразить его автор, сияет от изумительных образов, созданных сочинителем, магом, кудесником, художником. Воистину лучший герой, которого создает великий художник — это его читатель.” Can you imagime to hear this from a professor reading his lecture at university? I am also very pleased that my raw impressions about the authors described (at least, about Гоголь, Чехов, Толстой, Достоевский, Горький) are shared with Владимир Набоков. He loved the things I love and despised the things I despise in them. Although, of course, his opinions are often too subjective (bright and intelligent, but subjective), and it can irritate in some places. For me, it was quite natural and understandable subjectivity. My only regret is that he did not talk about many other books I would like to be discussed by him. Plus, his “programme” manifesto about “пошлость” is, of course, a must read. However, I believe that I already read it somewhere.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robert Day

    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: 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: parallel interlinings and interruptions. Use this method to move from one character to another. Or, use the 'writing about homeless for them to sell' idea as a frame for this character. This will make it into a story. 173 - she would do this, not she did this. Continuous tense. Use this for a sense of repeated events for Michael and others. 204 - theme of transformation. Read bits of J&H by Stevenson and also about lepidoptomy. 212 - Layer your metaphors and similes, e.g. 'the veil of the mist was like the sleep of silence' 233 - on Proust: 'now the combination of all the senses' 252 - that whole thing about the nature of reality 254 - 'I cannot get out, I cannot get out' the starling. Michael has the same feeling (yes, I read those book too) but his prison (fantasy, in a sense) is our reality. 283 - Kafka's style in Metamorphosis: 'It's clarity, it's precise and formal intonation is in such striking contrast to the nightmare matter of his tale. No poetical metaphors ornament his stark black-and-white story. The limpidity of his style stresses the dark richness of his fantasy.' 373 - “In a sense, we are all crashing to our death from the top story of our birth ... and wondering with an immortal Alice at the patterns of the passing wall. This capacity to wonder at trifles - no matter the imminent peril - these asides of the spirit ... are the highest form of consciousness.” Read the chapter called 'The Art of Literature and Commonsense' - it's fab!

  30. 5 out of 5

    January

    I read the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde chapter shortly after finishing Stevenson’s novel with the long-term intention of using this book as a year-long reading companion as I read each work from this book. I am a huge fan of Nabokov but found this one chapter disappointing. 80% of it was quotes from the novel in question, another 15-18% plot summary, all of which was redundant for me as I had just finished reading the work in question. What I had been hoping for was some nuggets of deep literary cri I read the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde chapter shortly after finishing Stevenson’s novel with the long-term intention of using this book as a year-long reading companion as I read each work from this book. I am a huge fan of Nabokov but found this one chapter disappointing. 80% of it was quotes from the novel in question, another 15-18% plot summary, all of which was redundant for me as I had just finished reading the work in question. What I had been hoping for was some nuggets of deep literary criticism that gave me insights into both Nabokov’s and Stevenson’s work. There was this, which I have to agree with: “But does not the safety, this easy way [lack of description] does it not denote a certain weakness in the artist? I think it does. First of all, this Victorian reticence prompts the modern reader to grope for conclusions that perhaps Stevenson never intended to be groped for.” But other than that, this was Cliff Notes for an English 101 class. This is not literary criticism. Won’t be reading the rest of it.

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