September 4, 2014
Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov (Review)
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
First published: 1981
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The great Russian-American writer lectured on Western and Russian literature at Cornell University in the middle of the 20th century. His lectures were unlike any other professor's lectures, as he was fond of reading big chunks aloud, paying a lot of attention to minor details instead of "big ideas". For him structural beauty was very important, and his analyses are really outstanding. His lectures were published later and in spite of some discontinuity arising from the format in which they were initially presented, they are very enjoyable to read.
What I liked most about the book is that Nabokov is very irreverent towards "the great luminaries of literature". He is not in awe of them in the least and he has every right not to be. If he thinks that an author has a structural problem somewhere in a story or that an author has left some loose ends, he says it! On the subject of authors he doesn't like he can sometimes be a little too rough, but as I've said, he has every right to it, so it doesn't irritate me as a reader. Anyway, this is a welcome change from the ecstatic literature teachers at school.
I was very pleased that on some matters Nabokov and I totally agree. For example that Dostoyevsky is too obsessed with mental disorders, and unnecessary so! Nabokov even counts the diagnoses through all Dostoyevsky's books. Yes, he's not of a good opinion of him. Another victim of Nabokov's merciless wit is Gorky, and again I completely agree! Gogol, Chekhov and Tolstoy, on the other hand, get a lot of love. I'd recommend Nabokov's commentary to Anna Karenina to everybody reading the book, as he makes it very easy to imagine how things happened. He goes into everything from Oblonsky's timetable to how the sitting in the trains was organized at the time. Nabokov's take on Gogol is also very fresh and interesting.
It's not necessary to read ALL of the mentioned works to enjoy this book, only the main ones which get the most attention. It can be a good idea to have these lectures on your shelf and read a corresponding lecture after finishing the book it is about.
In my book:
A great read for everybody interested in Russian literature