Rated 5 out of 5 by carneades Fascinating trip through literature
This charming and interesting professor gallops through the history of literature while maintaining a remarkably capable approach to the many texts covered. His approach works – instead of a vast, and necessarily totally superficial, coverage, he stops at many authors with insightful, often deep, discussions. This is not a coherent synthesis of literature, but the professor clearly has not tried to make it so. Instead, this is a rough collection of many stories. Wisely, for many of the authors, the speaker does not intend a broad review of their most famous work, but rather picks a subset that can be taught in the time allocated. The result is a fascinating collection of literary vignettes.
December 22, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by BGZRedux A Nicely Done Intro or Review; High School Level
This course would make a fine introduction to literature for motivated high school students (or for college students who managed not to learn very much about literature in high school.) It would also serve well as a review of many of the high points and movements of world literature for those desiring a broad overview, but not expecting deep insights.
Professor Voth is an accomplished speaker, with a likable, low-key conversational style and an unflagging enthusiasm for his subject. Going by these lectures, he seems to have read everything and remembered everything he has read. If he is reading off a prompter he is doing a remarkably subtle job of it; the impression given is one of effortless scholarship.
Almost every lecture treats one work of one author, with a few obvious exceptions such as the Bible and Shakespeare. (The half-hour treatment of Shakespeare, by the way, which I expected to be a quixotic and impossible quest, was remarkably one of the best in the course.) Professor Voth summarizes the work and then comments on the work itself, the author, and their place in the history of literature. The amount of stress given to these divers aspects varies widely.
The greatest weakness of the course is the obvious and unavoidable one: Even forty-eight lectures, even in the hands of an outstandingly knowledgeable and capable teacher such as Professor Voth, can barely give form, much less substance, to the subject at hand: 5000 years of the best writing of all of humanity. I admire him and The Great Courses for making this effort, and for doing what I imagine is as excellent a job as is possible. (For some reason Don Quixote keeps popping into my mind. . .)
As an unimportant aside, but along these lines, it so happens that not one of my own most admired authors or works was covered: Melville and "Moby-Dick"; Fitzgerald and "The Great Gatsby"; and Woolf and "To the Lighthouse." And while our good professor did a lovely job with Joyce's "Dubliners," I would have far preferred a treatment of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." So it goes.
A lesser but still significant weakness was an amorphous quality to the lectures. They flowed freely, without clear organization. It would have been extremely helpful for Professor Voth to have followed that inestimably wise bit of rhetorical advice: tell them what you're going to say; say it; then tell them what you've said.
I watched the DVD, but there would be no loss in taking it as an audio course except a few pictures of the authors. The Course Guidebook is excellent, and includes a timeline, glossary, biographical notes, and an annotated bibliography.
So - I do recommend this course to any with a desire for a broad, but not deep, introduction to, or review of, world literature. It will have served its purpose best if it functions to inspire us all to continue to read great books.
November 11, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Xavier Impressive!
In this series of 48 lectures, Professor Voth ambitiously sets out to present a survey of world literature, from Antiquity to the present.
He succeeds masterfully and, constantly centering on storytelling, he covers epic poetry, drama and novels from Ancient Greece to contemporary India.
With true scholarship and without a milligram of pedantry, he constantly emphasizes the strongpoints of the pieces covered and presents criticism in only one instance, with respect to the concluding chapters of the ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’.
As Professor Voth mentions tongue in cheek in the first lecture, a possible side effect of taking this course lies in developing an insatiable appetite for reading a diversity of works. This risk is worth taking and the series is strongly recommended to all, even those already knowledgeable in the field of literature.
October 5, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by highstandards A Good Survey Course, But...
Professor Voth does an adequate job with the assignment that he took with the Teaching Company. As he says in the last lecture, he fashioned this course as a sort of Whitman's Sampler, that is, as a box of candy with one of each type, with the idea that the customer would simply like the variety and/or seek out later more of the preferred candies.
I applaud the professor for keeping a pretty good balance in the lectures between biography, plot, and background on the one hand and interesting and strong comments on meaning on the other. Professor Voth has obviously done considerable work in this field and brings knowledge and good insights into his teaching.
Having praised the professor in these respects, I must say that I only deem the course average.
The Great Courses has an extraordinary stable of professors in literature. Weinstein, Heffernan, Spiegelman, Kinney, and Thorburn immediately come to mind. What distinguishes their work from this is the degree of depth, brilliance, power and quality of analysis. Don't get me wrong: Voth is quite good. I just don't believe his work here warants the higher evaluation. (I will likely finish Heffernan's truly remarkable course on Ulysses in the next few weeks and will write then a bit more about what, for me, merits 5 stars.)
The other thing I must confess and disclose: I never liked Whitman's Samplers! Over half the candies never suited me, and I wondered why I spent the money on them. This is not to say I don't like survey courses. I've rated some of TGC literature survey courses more favorably, but they're generally not my cup of tea. Giving Shakespeare no more time than the Heptameron just doesn't work for me. Nor does giving Rabindranath Tagore the same attention as Emily Dickinson.
Many other reviewers obviously disagree. I'm just wanting to bring out the other side.
September 11, 2014