Classic Novels: Meeting the Challenge of Great Literature

Course No. 2310
Professor Arnold Weinstein, Ph.D.
Brown University
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Course No. 2310
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Course Overview

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Europe? South America? The remote reaches of the African continent?

What if you could travel in time as well? Imagine yourself transported to the sparkling court society of 18th-century France, or sailing aboard a 19th-century whaling ship. What secrets would you learn about the human condition and the lives lived in distant lands and eras?

And what about the most remarkable journey of all: the voyage inside the mind of another human being, in which you plumb the thoughts and emotions that usually remain hidden deep within? What does this journey tell us about the puzzling, sometimes shocking thing we call human nature? More importantly, what does it tell us about ourselves?

These adventures await you in Classic Novels: Meeting the Challenge of Great Literature, taught by veteran Teaching Company Professor Arnold Weinstein. As Professor Weinstein says, "Life flows onto the pages of the books we read." More than a mere "slice of life," classic novels perform a sort of miracle, jolting us to see the remarkable, often provocative truths that underlie the human condition. To experience these extraordinary novels is to ask deep and sometimes unsettling questions about our lives and our world.

Classic Novels is your invitation to the dazzling, surprising, and deeply moving worlds revealed through these great works. You'll move beyond what is often offered in literary courses: plot synopses, anecdotes, facts about where and when a novel was written. With Professor Weinstein's guidance you'll gain something greater and more profound: an opportunity to experience the startling brilliance that makes each of these works a classic.

What Is a Classic?

What exactly is a classic? For many—and maybe for you—a "classic" means a book you should've read, or one that you have read and didn't like. Perhaps you've already encountered these great works, either in a course or while reading on your own. Maybe you think you know what to expect from a classic: engaging stories told by a master storyteller.

But that's only part of the story. What makes a work a classic, Professor Weinstein explains, is its ability to present the world as a more energetic, vibrant, and unpredictable place than we ever imagined. Classic novels open our eyes to the true nature of our world, and take us across the divide that separates mind from mind. They reveal to us our essential humanity, both its beauty and its horror, and hold the mirror up to our unknown selves.

With Professor Weinstein as your guide, you'll view this startling reality as it is unveiled by master authors. Along the way, you'll encounter some of the greatest names in novelistic fiction, including Dickens, Joyce, Tolstoy, Balzac, and Proust. Whether you read along with the course or choose to return later to these great works, you'll find that each lecture provides provocative food for thought about the worlds these authors created.

What is revealed is a notion of the "classic" that goes far beyond literary schools and theoretical approaches. A true classic speaks to the heart and soul, with a message of truth that echoes in our lives long after we've turned the final page.

Epic Explorations of Good and Evil

This epic journey into classic literature begins in the 18th century with Daniel Defoe's remarkable tale of the prostitute and thief Moll Flanders. As you move through the pages of this great novel, you'll travel back in time to the London of three centuries ago, transported by Defoe's precise and evocative prose.

While Defoe's journalistic style perfectly conveys the world of his amoral heroine, it is just one example of how great authors use the literary arts to create a world on the page. In just the first few works covered by this course, you'll view the novel as a sort of aesthetic shape-shifter, twisting and bending to fit a wide range of themes, styles, and historical contexts.

Take, for example, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which uses an exchange of letters to provide a glimpse into the inner workings of two decadent seducers, or consider Lawrence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, a playful, capricious text that delights in flaunting the conventions of narrative.

After this introduction to the dazzling variety of forms the novel can take, you'll sample the works of 19th-century authors. The authors of this "golden age" unfailingly find the epic in everyday life, exploring the unending battle of good and evil that unfolds over a lifetime and the tumultuous drama of a child growing to adulthood.

From Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert's tale of a bored provincial housewife, to Herman Melville's towering saga of whaling in New England, Moby-Dick, you'll experience firsthand how these remarkable authors used scenes of everyday life as the backdrop for grand struggles.

A Voyage Inward: The Modern Mind

With the last half of the course, you'll take a journey of a different kind: this time, into the inner recesses of the human mind. Professor Weinstein guides you through the challenging but rewarding masterpieces of the Modernist movement, where you'll encounter a new vision of what it means to live within the world of the novel.

This new artistic landscape includes the surreal dystopia of Franz Kafka's great works—his bleak and frequently disorienting exploration of modern alienation—and the richly symbolic Africa of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, where the hidden evil of human nature is horribly unmasked.

With the rise of Modernism and the experimental Postmodernist works that follow, you'll learn about the innovative narrative techniques these authors used to reflect a new understanding of the self and our perception of reality as fragmented and constantly changing, as seen in works as diverse as Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse and William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.

With dazzling works such as these, you'll gain profound insights into the craft of novel writing and gain a deep appreciation for classic storytelling in its many forms.

Writing the Story of Life

It is this appreciation of the art of the story that is perhaps the most valuable aspect of this course. As Professor Weinstein explains, "Literature is miraculous because it makes available to us things that we cannot get in any other way."

In these great books, we get something we never see in our day-to-day world: the whole story of a life. When you open a classic novel, you open yourself to a powerful experience as you embark on a journey alongside the characters. As you trace the many trajectories of these lives, you begin to comprehend the patterns that develop over a lifetime.

And that, perhaps, is the most pressing reason to read these great works. To live with these characters and experience the lives contained on these pages is to confront a crucial question: "How would you write the story of your own life?" Join Professor Weinstein for this thought-provoking journey into the world of Classic Novels, and find your own answer.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Meeting the Challenge of Great Literature
    Literature is a transcription of life into language that offers something seldom experienced in real life: the chance to view the entire story of a lifetime. This introductory lecture previews this extraordinary aspect of literature and provides an overview of the course. x
  • 2
    Defoe—Moll Flanders
    In the first novel of the course, journalistic author Daniel Defoe paints the striking portrait of the cunning, opportunistic harlot Moll Flanders. Through her adventures, he raises provocative questions about the nature of identity and disguise. x
  • 3
    Sterne—Tristram Shandy
    From Defoe's straightforward style, we move to the eccentrically digressive text of Tristram Shandy. With his ever-expanding narrative, multiple footnotes, and seemingly endless explanations, Sterne asks a strikingly modern question: With language, do we ever get to the point? x
  • 4
    Laclos—Les Liaisons Dangereuses
    Published in 1782, Les Liaisons Dangereuses caused an immediate scandal with its tale of two degenerate aristocrats who use seduction as a means to power. Written as a collection of letters, Liaisons provides a panoptic perspective which requires readers to make the same kinds of judgment calls that must be made in real life. x
  • 5
    Laclos—Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Part 2
    This second lecture on Laclos's masterpiece takes a closer look at his two antiheroes, the Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont. Professor Weinstein shows how these two characters can be seen as both creators and readers of sexual signs, and what the limits are of the power they hold. x
  • 6
    Balzac—Père Goriot
    Written as part of La Comédie Humaine (The Human Comedy), Balzac's grand collection of novels exploring life in Paris, Le Père Goriot focuses on two extremes: the moment of maturation and the slow decline to death. In the story of Rastignac, the young law student, Balzac creates a version of the bildungsroman (the "coming-of-age" novel). x
  • 7
    Balzac—Père Goriot, Part 2
    In an update of Shakespeare's King Lear, Balzac creates in Le Père Goriot a sometimes grotesque, sometimes tragic exploration of the fate of fathers. In this lecture, we trace this theme, and also examine one of Balzac's greatest creations, the immoral Vautrin. x
  • 8
    Brontë—Wuthering Heights
    Emily Brontë's Gothic romance presents another example of the bildungsroman, one which teases out the distinctions between the natural and the civilized, the raw and the cooked. It also presents a complex variation on narrative structure, in which Brontë presents her tale from the competing perspectives of various unreliable narrators. x
  • 9
    Brontë—Wuthering Heights, Part 2
    We return to the wind-swept moors of England to examine further the tragic overtones of this tale of passion. From the brutal treatment of children to the dark, primeval love of Catherine and Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights presents a vision of the human experience that cannot be contained by the novel's conciliatory resolution. x
  • 10
    With Moby-Dick, Herman Melville completely demolishes all previous definitions of the novel and replaces it with a deeply philosophical meditation on metaphysics. In the image of the whale itself, we find a potent and multivalent symbol. x
  • 11
    Melville—Moby-Dick, Part 2
    In this lecture, we take a closer look at Ahab, the monomaniacal whale hunter, and his alter ego, the young cabin boy, Pip, to explore how their loss of rationality reflects the profundity of delving to the bottom of life's meaning. We also explore the symbolism of the whiteness of the whale, and its corrosive meaning in Melville's cluster of images. x
  • 12
    Dickens—Bleak House
    From its opening image of the London fog which figures the "death of the sun" to its confounding representation of the British court system, Dickens's masterpiece Bleak House presents a vision of characters living "in the dark." A sort of classic 19th-century detective novel, this narrative shows how dark truths are often hidden in daily life. x
  • 13
    Dickens—Bleak House, Part 2
    In this lecture, Professor Weinstein traces the theme of disease in Bleak House, and demonstrates how smallpox becomes a metaphor for connectedness and the interrelatedness of human society in the bustling London of Dickens's imagination. x
  • 14
    Flaubert—Madame Bovary
    Does love actually exist? Or is it something that we construct out of the books we read and the fantasies we cherish? In his story of the disillusioned housewife of provincial France, Flaubert explores this question, and in the process reveals his own internal split about the worth of romantic love. x
  • 15
    Flaubert—Madame Bovary, Part 2
    Here we return to Flaubert's classic tale of romantic disillusionment to examine the narrative methods he employs to take the reader inside Emma Bovary's world. Through his manipulation of timeworn literary clichés and his masterful use of juxtaposition, Flaubert creates a disturbing sort of double vision for the reader. x
  • 16
    Tolstoy—War and Peace
    At 1,350 pages long, Tolstoy's masterpiece is an epic tale set during a time of historic upheaval. Most unsettling of all is Tolstoy's fictional style, which forgoes a straightforward narrative for a tale with jagged edges and unresolved conflicts—a vision of disorder that reflects life as it is lived on the battlefield and in the salon. x
  • 17
    Tolstoy—War and Peace, Part 2
    "Tolstoy's characters are like a family that you live in," says Professor Weinstein. "You know them very well, but you don't particularly love them all the time." In this lecture, we examine more closely Tolstoy's all-too-human characters and the transcendent view of life that they afford. x
  • 18
    Dostoevsky—The Brothers Karamazov
    In this lecture, we explore Dostoevsky's strikingly modern tale of patricide in late 19th-century Russia. From the depiction of the murdered father as a cruel buffoon to the image of children as hopelessly damaged by abuse, this novel offers a bleak vision of a world in which God might be dead. x
  • 19
    Dostoevsky—The Brothers Karamazov, Part 2
    Why do the brothers kill their father? Is it the working out of an Oedipal urge, a need to gain authority, or a sign of the innate corruption of this world? Dostoevsky provides no answer, but instead provides a kaleidoscopic view of this unspeakable crime. x
  • 20
    Conrad—Heart of Darkness
    In Conrad's Heart of Darkness, we encounter for the first time the crisis in storytelling that will haunt the great authors of the Modernist movement. Nothing is clear in this primordial journey deep into the Congo—not even the ability to recount this dark adventure through language. x
  • 21
    Mann—Death in Venice
    What happens when a quiet academic travels to a land steeped in passion and myth? Italy is the backdrop for Thomas Mann's story of the power of sexual attraction, here imagined as a collision between the cold and orderly culture of Northern Europe and the mysterious, erotic canals of Venice. x
  • 22
    Kafka—"The Metamorphosis"
    Out of a classic horror motif—a man awakens to find himself transformed into a bug—surreal author Franz Kafka creates a puzzling, terrifying, and darkly comic representation of modern alienation. x
  • 23
    Kafka—The Trial
    Our consideration of Kafka's nightmare vision of modern society continues with this bizarre tale of a man trapped within a labyrinthine legal system. Is this unfinished novel a parable for life within a totalitarian state, or a more general commentary on human society? x
  • 24
    Proust—Remembrance of Things Past
    Over the course of 3,000 pages, Marcel Proust charts a new course for the novel as he takes a journey into the depths of human memory. Starting with the famous "Madeleine episode," Professor Weinstein traces Proust's characterization of memory as a sort of "secular resurrection" in which selves from the distant past spring back into view. x
  • 25
    Proust—Remembrance of Things Past, Part 2
    In this second lecture on Proust's masterwork, we consider treatment of key female characters—the narrator's mother, grandmother, and his first love. These various relationships cast a compelling light on how one's perception of other people contribute to the understanding of oneself. x
  • 26
    Proust—Remembrance of Things Past, Part 3
    What happens when we forget our dead? Where do they live? In this lecture, we examine what Proust's masterpiece has to say about the work of mourning, the act of forgetting, and the ability to re-create our past out of the memories we retrieve. x
  • 27
    In his portrait of a modern-day Dubliner, James Joyce takes on and undoes one of the great myths of Western culture, the story of Odysseus. In the process, he constructs a new shape for the novel, one which seeks to contain multiple voices and thematic strands in a glorious banquet of language. x
  • 28
    Joyce—Ulysses, Part 2
    The discussion of Ulysses continues with a consideration of some key episodes, including the breakfast shopping errand, the "Oxen of the Sun" chapter, and the "Sirens" chapter. These episodes demonstrate how Joyce's prancing style is more shocking and experimental than mere stream of consciousness. x
  • 29
    Joyce—Ulysses, Part 3
    The "Circe" episode in Ulysses serves to demonstrate the surreal side of this remarkable novel, one which enters into the realm of the dramatic and the subconscious. The final lecture on Ulysses ends with an analysis of Bloom's relationship with Molly and an explication of her rich closing monologue. x
  • 30
    Woolf—To the Lighthouse
    With To the Lighthouse, we turn to the most personal novel in the course. In it, Virginia Woolf conjures a fictionalized representation of her parents' marriage, and creates one of the most memorable characters in British novels, Mrs. Ramsay. Through this work, Woolf raises a potent question: Can we ever truly know our parents as people? x
  • 31
    Woolf—To the Lighthouse, Part 2
    In the second lecture on To the Lighthouse, Professor Weinstein considers the implications of a vision of the self as always partly hidden. He examines the final episode in the novel, the trip to the lighthouse, as a culmination of the novel's focus on coming to terms with the loss and chaos that are an inescapable part of life. x
  • 32
    Faulkner—As I Lay Dying
    In this consideration of the "scandal of human flesh," William Faulkner follows a backwoods family as they transport their mother's corpse across several counties to her final resting place. Grotesque and often hilarious, Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness narrative touches on core philosophical issues about language and flesh. x
  • 33
    Faulkner—As I Lay Dying, Part 2
    This lecture pursues a key question that recurs throughout the novel: What is in the coffin? Is it mother, and if so, how long can it continue to be mother? Professor Weinstein examines several episodes that explore that question, including a chapter written entirely in the dead mother's voice. x
  • 34
    García Márquez—One Hundred Years of Solitude
    In this lusty novel, magic realism is the mode used to measure one extreme, sexual liberation, against its opposite, coldness of heart. This struggle is set against the Edenic backdrop of a Latin American town where the powers of creativity are constantly challenged by war and corruption. x
  • 35
    One Hundred Years of Solitude, Part 2
    This lecture examines the many contradictory representations of love, lust, society, and sexuality that appear in the novel, and the blessings and curses that result. A key episode under consideration is the passionate consummation of an incestuous love between aunt and nephew. x
  • 36
    Ending the Course, Beginning the World
    "The reality of literature is not informational," says Professor Weinstein. Instead, its knowledge must be learned through the experience of reading. In this concluding lecture, we review the many "earned truths" presented in these classic novels, and examine the way in which, through reading, each of us becomes a "citizen of the world." x

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Your professor

Arnold Weinstein

About Your Professor

Arnold Weinstein, Ph.D.
Brown University
Dr. Arnold Weinstein is the Edna and Richard Salomon Distinguished Professor at Brown University, where he has been teaching for over 35 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in Romance Languages from Princeton University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. Among his many academic honors, research grants, and fellowships is the Younger Humanist Award from the National Endowment for...
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Classic Novels: Meeting the Challenge of Great Literature is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 64.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exposed to literature I had never experienced I have been exposed to classic literature that was completely foreign to me before listening to these recordings. As a result, I have a new appreciation for the classics, and what has made them classics. The lectures are entertaining and informative, and have created a new desire to read some of the selected books.
Date published: 2018-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good and somewhat “novel” choices for classics Professor is excellent and thought-provoking. Some books that I would not have expected but glad they were included
Date published: 2018-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Myth in Human History I have enjoyed and benefited from many of your courses. The professors are extremely competent and easily understandable, even without subtitles. The professor of the current course I'm learning, "Myth in Human History" is especially engaging, Professor Grant L. Voth. I appreciate your quality courses. Anita Olson
Date published: 2018-06-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I have purchased many of the Great Courses products over the years and have been extremely satisfied with the courses, except for this one. This professor is the worst. Incoherent, without any overall theme and somehow self-satisfied that he knows much more than the listener, who should somehow be pleased to just listen to his blather without question. I would actually like my money back on this one and if I get another of these I will never buy another course from the ‘Great Courses’. Thank you.
Date published: 2018-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A really novel approach(no pun intended) to the great books. I'm always so excited when you come out with a new course like this
Date published: 2018-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Bring this Professor one more time! Prof. Weinstein has covered all the bases( or rather most of them) in this course. For a person who has done his masters in literature, I would recommend this course to all students who crave and relish literature. There are no summaries to be found here which you can have in any sparksnote, cliffsnote website. The professor delivers his own individual rational analysis and his take on various nuances in literary texts. There are some reviewers who say they have been scared away due to the sexual connotations sprinkled throughout the texts and brought to the fore by the good professor. The woman's body which can be enjoyed and cherished in a thousand different ways forms the core of literary pursuits. What is literature without sensuality and sexuality? Overall, I am pleased with this course. I would have been thrilled if the professor had opted for a thorough discussion on Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" as his topic for his ending course instead of "One Hundred Years of Solitude". No one can match Rushdie when it comes to consistently exploring metaphors after metaphors and the sheer audacity of his language. You should by all means buy this course and even though I had no taste in French literature, I ended absolutely enjoying them.
Date published: 2018-03-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Refreshing and Enlightening I really enjoyed this course. Long ago, on my own I began a quest to read great literature ... not content to just read mindless books. It was a great find to discover this course which gave me additional insight into books I have already read and incentive to embrace new works that I had not. The lecturer was so knowledge and clearly has a passion for the subject matter. I found the experience to be thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable ... I wish I had a prof like him when I was an undergraduate.
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I will be sending this one back As others have noted, the professor certainly knows his subject, and clearly has a love of the literature. I have read many but not all of the texts discussed, and have a fairly well-rounded understanding of literary themes. I'm no prude, but the professor seemed to find tawdry sexual experiences in nearly every piece, and some are his insertions of them where they're simply not there. He picked some interesting episodes to discuss, but did a poor job contextualizing them in the scope of the overall novel. Another reviewer noted the grim tone, and there was an existential feel to many of the lectures, but they just didn't keep my attention or interest - I found I had to make myself finish listening to the course instead of eagerly looking forward to the next one as I have with other courses. Oh well - they can't all be great, I suppose.
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice overview Gave the science major a great overview of literature
Date published: 2017-11-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Reading Companion Each year I try to tackle at least one classic novel. In years past, I have read Moby-Dick, Anna Karenina, Bleak House. Professor Weinstein's lectures enrich the experience: he helps me relive the novels, while providing insights and observations from his close reading. I have sought out his other books, and I find his critical comments to be illuminating, even to a non-academic audience. After listening to these lectures, I am inspired to read more!
Date published: 2017-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Splendid Teacher of Literature Arnold Weinstein is a superb professor. He has a great love and feel for literature and a superb way of conveying why. He makes great literature come alive, and offers many insights even for works I know well. I've enjoyed all of his courses here.
Date published: 2017-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I Do Not Regret Purchasing These Episodes I listened to these courses over the summer, but they are still with me as if I had listened to them about five minutes ago. If everyone could have a teacher like Weinstein, the world would be a better place. I sometimes think that formal schooling ruins literature for some people. What a shame. If you think you don't really like literature, you should try Weinstein. If you stick with him, I think you will begin to think differently about yourself and about art. This is my second course by Weinstein. I'll probably get the other courses, too. I had read about half of the books that Weinstein discussed, and I found that his comments added to my understanding of them and made me want to re-read them. In the case of the other books, Weinstein made me want to read them. My favorite lectures were on Melville, Kafka, and Dostoevsky. But what am I saying? They are all good. If Weinstein were a baseball player, I suspect he would be someone like Wayne Gretzky. That's how good this class is. My brain is still vibrating months after listening to these episodes. They are so good that if someone told me I had to subsist on battery fluid and attic insulation, I'd do it. Better than Star Wars? Yes.
Date published: 2016-11-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Classic Novels I don't remember ordering this. If I did and ordered streaming would like to change to DVD
Date published: 2016-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb Guide to Literature This course should take a year to complete. True. If you listen to each lecture and read the the books that are covered by the lectures, you will add to to your soul. Seriously. I read every book and listened to and repeated most of the lectures in this course. It was a fantastic journey and I am richer for the effort. Dr. Weinstein is an excellent guide through these books. I appreciate his approach in that he provides scholarly background as well as insight into each book. He walks us through the novels and gives not only explanation but personal insight into each work. As a teacher myself, I know that enthusiasm is infectious. Dr. Weinstein has an enthusiasm, maybe a certain reverence for these books he has chosen to help us appreciate. His style is not exuberant, but the affection for the writing comes through very clearly. He made me want to understand. He motivated me to slow down and savor these books. So, books that were once mere college assignments are now dear friends. Let me give an example that might help you decide if you should buy this course. Take "To the Lighthouse". I pretty much understood the whole difference between women and men part and I had a reasonable grasp on the frustrations of life and getting to one's own lighthouse. But Weinstein takes this book to a new level. I felt the loss of Mrs. Ramsay. No, not just the loss of a character but I felt what that loss meant. I still have this feeling that someone important to me passed recently leaving a hole that cannot be filled by a trip, finally, to the lighthouse. Weinstein helped me really appreciate the characters and thus, Virginia Woolf in a much more personal way. I blush at my own male inadequacies. Wow. Did I say that in a course review in public? Yes. And that's just one of the books covered. If you add this course and the books covered to your library, you will be all the richer. This gets a "Highly Recommend" from me. I hope you'll try it too.
Date published: 2016-05-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Naive and Sentimental Audio Download. This course rekindled the challenge and pleasure of great literature courses and professors from my university days. The themes and visions which Professor Weinstein presents from the eighteen novels he has selected reveal his lifetime of reading, experience, and teaching. His laidback voice adds an ironic charm to his seriously deep commitment and passion for literature as deepening our understanding and experience. His readings are marvelous and something of a throwback to traditional humanities teaching, hence my review title from Schiller. But, while not emphasizing them, he is open and alludes to more current trends in literary criticism. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2016-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's More Complicated Than That I am attracted to such lectures by a desire to remove deficiencies from my education. I studied Electrical Engineering, not Liberal Arts. This fellow, after delivering what I wanted and what I thought I needed, chastises the listener for trying to take a short cut. He compared his lectures to Cliff's Notes: that sort of hurt my feelings, but he went on to admit that he was more or less pandering to the market. WE ARE ALL CONFLICTED! He went onto say that there is no substitute for reading the books. I would counter (I don't take critizism well, even if it is proper) that I would have missed most of the underlying message each author was presenting without his professorial insight. His summary lecture was outstanding even if painful; it reminded me of a Chinese fellow engineering student who told me "I don't understand you Americans, you are so lazy, you wish your knowledge spoon fed. Why don't you just read the books?" The truth can be really painful some time!
Date published: 2014-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from In a word, Riveting I loved how philosophical this course was, showing the many ways in which great literature illuminates the human condition, highlighting life's challenges, joys, sorrows and mysteries. Although Professor Weinstein obviously has deep scholarly knowledge of all the authors and their works, he consistently spotlights only a few particular aspects of each work and each author, which is especially valuable for those listeners who are not specialists and not young but adults who are determined to squeeze value and meaning out of every day left to them on earth. Highly recommended if you fall into that category.
Date published: 2014-08-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not my style I am obviously in the minority on this course, but wanted to share my take. The overall content of this introductory literature course is reasonable. My main issue with this and a few other products I have purchased is the lecturer's voice and speaking style. This may seem like an unfair criticism, but my experience - listening to the courses while commuting to work - is that the lecturer's speaking voice and style are critical to whether I enjoy the learning experience. All of the lecturers are learned and experienced teachers, but some have low voices or are prone to rambling or convoluted sentences which may be OK in other settings but not on an audio CD. This is obviously a very subjective issue and the vast majority of reviews of this course are enthusiastically positive. It would be helpful if the Teaching Company provided a 5 minute sample of each course online to help avoid buyer's remorse.
Date published: 2014-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Lively & Insightful Course AUDIO DOWNLOAD This can be an off-putting title, conjuring up dead, dull texts, whereas this is a lively course closely linked to the living. Professor Weinstein has selected eighteen classic novels “…to illuminate some of the most influential works of fiction in Western literature, yet works that challenge our sense of what a novel is, what it does, and why we have it” (Course Guidebook, Page 1). His approach to these novels is quite different from that of such other TC literature courses I have taken, most notably Timothy Spurgin’s ‘The English Novel’ and John Bowers’ ‘The Western Literary Canon in Context’, down to the analysis of some of the same novels. There is no right or wrong assigned here, but Professor Weinstein’s approach is very different and rewarding. I got interested in this course when I saw that Professor Weinstein deals with some works that I had already read or long planned to read. In fact, I started listening to the three lectures on Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ a few months ago, about the time at which I had recently finished the first two of the seven volumes. Those lectures proved so good and insightful about Proust and literature in general that I decided to listen to the course right from the beginning, rather than cherry-pick what I felt might be the most interesting novels. I am glad I did so. Not only did I benefit from Professor Weinstein’s perspectives on the nature and importance of literature, but also, most especially, on how the classic novels he selected are “…restless creatures, trying out new forms of expression, challenging our views on how a culture might be understood and how a life might be packaged”, upending our “…clichéd notion of a novel as simply a ‘slice of life’” [and, often]… destabilizing much that we thought firm and in place” (Pages 1 & 6). He continues through the lectures on the eighteen novels showing not only their place within the development of the novel, but also how they progressively expand our sense of reality and give “…us unique access to the inner life” (Page 177). The lectures are full of Professor Weinstein’s wisdom and humor and, as I have found in his other TC courses, references to Sophocles’ Oedipus and Shakespeare’s Lear abound. I benefitted greatly from the lectures on all of the novels. That is not to say that I plan on reading all of them. Life is too short. Professor Weinstein has, however, provided me with a better appreciation of a considerable range of classic novels, and a better sense of what I would like to pursue further. Though the lectures can be listened to as discreet units on specific novels, I recommend listening to the course in its entirety. The first lecture is an important introduction on the significance of literature to life, and Professor Weinstein’s lectures on specific novels include many interesting references and connections, backwards and forward, to developments in the novel. For instance, he shows that significant innovations began in the 18th century with Defoe, Laclos, and Sterne, well before the more well-known and celebrated 19th and 20th century authors; how important a figure Flaubert is, that in ‘Madame Bovary’ he was the first to employ the now prevalent free indirect discourse (and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is a 20th century version of Emma Bovary); what Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ has in common with Sterne’s ‘Tristram Shandy’ and Melville; that Joseph Conrad’s ‘The Heart of Darkness’ is “…a portal to the 20th century” (Page 100); and that Virginia Woolf “…rivals Proust as our premiere writer about love, death, and memory” (Page 155). There are some instances where I disagreed with Professor Weinstein (for example, in his describing Dostoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ as “perky” (Page 98). But these instances are few in number. My other recommendation is that after listening to the first lecture one should jump to the last, as it contains “…thumb nail sketches of what I take to be the enduring truths of the narratives we have read” (Page 184), and is a good way to get oriented to the flow of the lectures. This is a course that is a delight in every way. You do not need to know much about the novels discussed as Professor Weinstein does a good job in summarizing them, though a visit to Wikipedia could increase one’s comfort level. Keep in mind, however, that these novels require application, “You must work to earn your bread yourself”, but that the rewards are great, because such “…reading is like a blood transfusion, in which the reality of the world of past writers—their imaginations, their hearts, and their brains— becomes available to us” (Page 187). Professor Weinstein does an excellent job in bringing out the most important aspects of these eighteen novels and, in the process, truly widens ones view. Do not miss this course!
Date published: 2014-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Literary Study of the Inner-self This thirty-six lecture series on classic novels is not recounting the plot, or illuminating the characters, but a study of the inner thoughts of the authors as presented through their characters. Professor Weinstein emphasizes the complex thought processes of man--mostly unspoken thoughts that reveal the true character of a person. The selected works span a time-period from the mid-eighteenth century (Defoe), through the late twenty century (Marquez). The basic theme of the course for me was how a person reckons with the events of life during changing times.. As literary fiction styles changed, there was a progressive shift to "stream of consciousness" writing---e.g., Joyce, Woolf, Falkner, and Marquez. Weinstein describes his own maturation through experience and aging by teaching literature at Brown University. Moreover, his recent book--Morning, Noon, and Night: Finding the Meaning of Life's Stages Through Books--further expands the impact of classic literature through life's cycles. This book, in my opinion, gives further insights into the impact of literature on one's individual growth and inner self. This is a riviting course taught by a seasoned professor!
Date published: 2014-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Good Survey of Some Great Literature This is a well done and generally worthwhile survey of 18 of the greatest novels of world literature. Keep in mind, when choosing, that it is an overview, and thus aims at only a brief introduction to each of the works, even those that are given three lectures. The choice of books is not meant as the professor's "Top 18." It is a small sampling of the finest literature of the English, French, German, Russian, and Spanish languages over the past several centuries, and covers a wide range of styles and subjects. (I personally most appreciated the outstanding lectures on "Moby-Dick," which is my choice for greatest literary work ever written in English. In contrast, I have tried getting through Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" a couple of times, and found it not only unreadable but repulsive. The good professor's love of this work did nothing to change my mind.) Professor Weinstein is a fine speaker, clear, organized, eloquent, passionate about his subject, and a pleasure to listen to. The level of the course is about that of an intro to literature for college freshmen. As such it is very accessible - no abstruse literary theory here - but often a bit simplistic and obvious in its analysis. I do have a few significant objections to specific assertions. Most importantly, in his discussion of "Père Goriot" Professor Weinstein states that "Vautrin is the novel's Nietzschean figure, a law unto himself and utterly contemptuous of so-called values and virtues" (quote from Course Guidebook, lecture 7.) This betrays the unfortunately common but, frankly, ignorant and entirely wrong-headed view of Nietzsche as one without values, who cared nothing for virtue, and who felt that everything is permitted. While I obviously cannot defend my view here, this is just nonsense, as any thorough and open-minded reading of Nietzsche's work will demonstrate. Nietzsche was uncompromising in his devotion to virtue and to promoting the flourishing of mankind. Of far less consequence, but still, I believe, a mistake: In his comments on "The Brothers Karamazov" (lecture 18), Professor Weinstein makes much of his view that the "corruption" (i.e., decomposition) of Father Zossima's body began abnormally early, and that it was the early smell of this rotting that caused the doubts among the faithful. But the timing of the "corruption" was entirely normal; it was the fact that it occurred at all in this man whom many presumed was a saint, and therefore immune to the usual bodily decay, which caused the consternation. Also in lecture 18, in an aside, the professor avers that Descartes' famous saying "Cogito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am") "grounds the human being on the authority of thought," by way of contrasting the rationality of the Enlightenment with Dostoevsky's emphasis on subjectivity and religion. Regardless of one's views of the enlightenment, that is a wrong interpretation of Descartes' motto. Descartes only used it to prove (in his view) that he exists; his next move is to prove (in his view) that God exists, and he remained an avowed Catholic throughout his life. These comments aside, Professor Weinstein would certainly agree that he offers *an* interpretation of these remarkable works, not *the* interpretation. This course is best approached, I think, as an encouragement to actually read the books - and much other great literature -rather than as a series of reviews that give us the gist so that we don't have to do the work of encountering them for ourselves. For this purpose, I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2014-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worthwhile! In this series of 36 lectures, Professor Arnold Weinstein discusses in some depth a wide range of novels, from Daniel Defoe’s ‘Moll Flanders’ to Gabriel Garcia Marquez ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. Professor Weinstein’s selection of works is not necessarily greatly original but does reflect many Western cultures: British, French, Russian, Czech, American, etc. It must be underscored that in no case does Professor Weinstein sound under obligation to discuss a specific work. On the contrary, he appears passionate about each. In one, two and sometimes even three lectures, he says enough about a specific work for listeners to decide whether to invest time and effort to reading or rereading it. In my case, his description of James Joyce ‘Ulysses’, despite being very positive, will not induce me to move it up my list of priorities. Quite the opposite is true of Kafka’s ‘Trial’. Thus, this course is perfectly crafted for deepening one’s understanding of known works and for widening one’s horizons to new, significant authors. It is warmly recommended to all interested in literature.
Date published: 2014-02-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Classic Among Classics [ Format: Digital Video Streaming ] Having selected this course by Dr. Weinstein both for my interest in literature and its nearly 5-star ratings, I was not disappointed in the least. This is Great Course and a classic among Classics. In this course, Prof. Weinstein surveys a wide variety of novels, all watermarks in the evolution of writing styles and genre. The authors are selected with care, being exemplary for their craft. Dr. Weinstein is an excellent and insightful lecturer; in this roll he dons many hats (figuratively speaking): that of a writer, professor, psychiatrist, sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher. He contrasts and compares, excavates and elevates -the essence of each novel for our enlightenment. While a few of the novels are reviewed with one lecture, the majority (the longer novels), receive two of three lectures to cover them with adequate depth. Based upon Dr. Weinstein's reviews, we can select a novel of interest and likely read it without disappointment. Well, as for Proust's three-volume Remembrance of Things Past...time permitting. In short, this course is "a keeper"; I look forward to reviewing it from time-to-time. I am now enjoying Dr. Weinstein’s, A Days Read, and am enjoying it immensely. Very best regards. jkh
Date published: 2013-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from ANOTHER WONDERFUL CONTRIBUTION This review refers to the DVD's. Since there are many exhibits of key passages employed in the text, one may find the DVD's more useful than just audio. If one has read my previous reviews of this remarkable lecturer, one knows I regard him at the absolute top among the the gifted individuals we are privileged to be exposed to in TGC inventory. I say that comment because Dr Weinstein does not just recite plot issues and describe the overall book's impact, he digs into the beauty of the images, language, metaphors and other techniques of the writers' skills. He is not afraid to share his personal tastes concerning the works discussed and tells one why he does so. It is an adventure into his mind that I found quite thrilling and meaningful. With the exception of Marquez, I have read all the works covered in this series of lectures as well as most of the other ones written by the same authors. Dr Weinstein's comments have enriched the understanding and memories of these creations. His thoughts also add to the pleasure of reflecting on the writers' important contributions to a more profound and fuller understanding of life. He concludes the final lecture with a brief overview of each work discussed along with a brief touch on the meaning of a liberal arts education exposure. I would urge anyone considering the acquisition of this series to go ahead and buy it since it is clearly an outstanding part of TGC offerings. It would make a superior gift to any young person headed to college with the goal of securing a liberal arts degree or any student of another discipline who wishes to broaden their intellectual exposure to what their college may offer.
Date published: 2013-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course I love to read. Although I was a science major in college I could not resist taking several upper level literature courses, at the expense of my GPA, just for the opportunity to hear distinguished literature professors discuss great works. I still enjoy listening to knowledgeable literature professors. Professor Weinstein does not disappoint. The initial lecture of this course is fantastic – a great introduction to exactly why one should read fiction. If you think that fiction (because it does not depict real life) has little to offer I challenge you to give Professor Weinstein a chance to convince you otherwise. Professor Weinstein is a challenging lecturer. He does not simply lay out the plot line and help you understand the cast of characters you encounter in each work. He expects you to have read the book and know the basics. He is clearly a well-read professor with many years of advanced study under his belt. He offers numerous insights. You may not agree with every insight he offers, but like all good teachers he gives you plenty of material to consider. Warning - The lectures are packed with content and may require several listens to sort out the arguments. The 19 works covered in this 36 lecture course are truly among the greatest novels ever written. I had read several of these classics (Wuthering Heights, Moby Dick, Bleak House, The Brothers Karamozov, Heart of Darkness, Death in Venice, The Metamorphosis, As I Lay Dying, and One Hundred Years of Solitude) before starting the course. I read two works (Moll Flanders and To the Lighthouse) for the first time, and I reread one work (Wuthering Heights) as I listened to the corresponding lectures. The other 8 works I hope to read before my time on earth ends (I hope that is not too soon as one – Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past - is 3000 pages long). I most enjoyed the lectures pertaining to those novels I had read in their entirety. I clearly missed important points when I had not read the book. Invest in reading many of these novels – it will be worth it. I still do not understand some of the works I did read – To the Lighthouse, for example - and hope that someday I gather enough appreciation for Virginia Woolf to read it again. However, especially for my favorites - Bleak House, The Metamorphosis, Heart of Darkness, As I Lay Dying, and One Hundred Years of Solitude - the lectures greatly expanded my appreciation. This is a great course, but can be a true monster to tackle.
Date published: 2013-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Literature, Even Better Professor While I found the literature in this course to be incredibly powerful, I found Professor Weinstein's treatment of it to be life-changing. I had read some of these works earlier and revisited them along with this course and read others for the first time. But in each instance, I found Professor Weinstein discussing even obvious aspects and themes in the works in ways that I had never considered. More important - and this is true of his other lectures that I have enjoyed with The Teaching Company - the professor brought a deep humanity to the reading of literature that was incredibly refreshing in an academy that has been overtaken by theory in recent decades. Professor Weinstein drew connections between these works, which were written in very different times and different parts of the world, that demonstrate how deeply human art can be and how deeply connected human beings are by their fears, loves, hopes and dreams. This is not simply a course about how to read - it is a course about how to live, how to embrace life and overcome its challenges and how to find beauty in even the ugliest parts of the human condition. Professors Weinstein's gift, which is present here and in the other Teaching Company courses that I have purchased (on American Literature, for example) is present in all of its glory as he lectures on some of the most complex works of literature in the world and makes them accessible to all readers. I recommend this course wholeheartedly to lovers of literature, lovers of art, lovers of humanism, and lovers of life.
Date published: 2012-03-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I sent this one back This is the first course that I have ever sent back. For some reason it just did not click with me, First, I agree with another reviewer that perhaps a brief synopsis of the work would have been in order. I am not one, but as I listened I wondered if even the most erudite reader would have been intimately familiar with the plot/theme of each of these works. Not to be spoon-fed, but an overview/refresher would have helped. Now for a point that I am sure is going to unleash peals of derision from other commentators, but I finally gave up in the face of what I found to be an unrelenting grimness. Yes, life is cruel, brutal, and short and perhaps it is the nature of literature to reflect that but grankly it wore me down. I did not need tales of glee and bliss, but after a long day at work the details of Joyce and the crotchiocentric tilt of his writing (sort of like the works of William Manchester) were just more snippets that added up to be a bit too much. I simply surrended to their grimness and packaged them back up. Obviously other raters take a much different view and I stand in the minority (perhaps alone!) but this is my opinion after having stuggled vainly. I was hoping that one or two of the works would have provided some spark of inspiration. I doff my hat to those who can look at this and say that it was a fascinating overview of the "great" canon.
Date published: 2012-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Breath of Fresh Air [Audio Version] Many professors nowadays examine great literature through the lenses of gender, culture, se**al orientation, class, race, victim status, the environment, globalism, nationalism, ethnicity, inclusiveness and all the other ‘au courant’ politically correct filters. When great books are sorted and categorized using these mostly dubious criteria, something gets lost in the classic lit laboratory. What gets lost is literature itself, and what makes great literature truly ‘great.’ I can’t help but imagine that a hundred years from now, there will be chuckling and rolling of the eyes when our great-great grandchildren read our superficial lit analyses of the 1990s and early 2000s which used our current nonsensical sorting mechanisms. Lit does not deserve to be merely sorted and then judged; lit demands to be profoundly understood and fully figured out with analytical tools that reveal more than the ‘confirmation biases’ of a professor . Thankfully, Dr. Weinstein is exceptional. He usually minimizes the latest jargon, covert agendas, and dumbing-down dictates of politically correct parsing. He delves deep into the innards and structures of what really makes for ‘great’ lit. He does a brilliant, lovable, and breathlessly unstoppable job. Professor Weinstein is lively and thorough, and I flew through these magnificent lectures. Lecture 1 alone, on ‘living books,’ is worth the price of the course. Folks, this is real Wisdom, with a capital ‘W.’ Enough said. Get this course, and get the gold. Highest recommendation!
Date published: 2011-10-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Wonderful Course The highest compliment I can pay this course is to say that when it was finished I wanted to go back to the first disc and start again. Professor Weinstein covers more than 250 years of Western Literature with remarkable enthusiasm, insight and wisdom. Whether you've encountered these works or not, you will come away from this course with a host of rich insights about each one that will encourage reading or rereading.
Date published: 2011-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Challenging course Yes, it is another excellent course from Dr. Weinstein. Still I prefer his American Literature course. As other reviewers have said, these books are hard. Dr Weinstein gives his usual very thoughtful, Freudian analysis of the works. Certainly his personal emotional commitment to these tomes is clear. At times the attention required to the viewer borders on being work. While recommended, you need to be serious about the material. More like a relationship, than a hook up.
Date published: 2010-06-12
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