Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Russian Literature, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Reperceived in this essay: Lectures on Russian Literature, by Vladimir Nabokov. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002.

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At Wellesley College in 1941, prior to he secured financial independence with Lolita (1955), Nabokov was a one-guy Russian literature department. Lectures on Russian Literature collects his lessons on Chekhov, Gogol, Turgenev, Gorki and Dostoevsky from that period, consisting of after he moved to Cornell in 1948 to teach Russian and various other European fiction, and likewise including, of course, Tolstoy. The 100-page lecture on Anna Karenin is by much the longest.

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Provided, also, are detailed glossaries, character charts and even hand-made illustrations of scenes from the novel.

Nabokov’s informal and unpretentious voice is a teacher’s, one who desires his students to understand how Tolstoy captures the lost, pre-revolution Russia of Nabokov’s childhood, a time before Russian censors made composing openly difficult. Claiming Tolstoy employs “an artistic pressure and subtlety unrecognized in Russian letters before his day,” he then describes many kind of of these subtleties. When Anna walks away from the grizzly train accident, one passerby claims to an additional that an instantaneous death is easiest, and Nabokov responds: “this impression will certainly breed.” Insisting that the chronology of Anna Karenin is based on Tolstoy’s unique feeling of literary timing, and retracing key plot aspects to show exactly how Tolstoy increases and decelerates plot lines according to the principle that “the mated relocate quicker than the mateless,” Nabokov says that this consideration of time is “the vital to an intelligent understanding of the novel’s structure.”

For Nabokov, Karenin’s ethical is that “love cannot be exclusively carnal, because then it is egotistical, and being egotistic, it destroys rather of creating. It is for this reason sinful.” He reminds us of the novel’s epithet—vengeance is mine, and also I shall repay—asking “What are the implications?” and also answering “First, culture has actually no ideal to judge Anna; second, Anna has actually no right to punish Vronski with revengeful self-destruction.” Other alternative bits of Nabokovian cinjury include:

After ranking Russia’s ideal writers of prose Tolstoy, Gogol and Chekhov: “This is quite like grading students’ documents, and no doubt Dostoevskies is waiting external my door to comment on his low mark.”Once, after Kitty speaks, on a description of what she does with her fork, and exactly how this makes her dress move: “The brilliant eye of the good writer constantly noting what his puppets are doing after he has provided them power to live.”

And in the literary equivalent of Crosby mirroring us his favourite Gretzky highlights, two of Nabokov’s top literary moments:

“Epithets…to be listed and also admired are the ‘lsuggest plopping’ and ‘scabrous’ as applied so magnificently to the slippery insides and the turbulent outsides of the alternative oysters Oblonski enjoys.”“Of one-of-a-kind interemainder is the wonderful compound-adjective, literally definition ‘gauzily-ribbonly-lacily-iridescent’…used to describe the feminine throng at the sphere.”

While Nabokov’s word play is periodically esoteric and self-indulgent, the lectures are refreshingly lucid, insightful, and simple to understand. Tolstoy fans will certainly gain the prouncovered leschild, not to mention those on the other Russian giants of literature, and Nabokov fans will encounter a voice unfavor any in his fiction.