Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd Edition

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Course Overview

Novelists, poets, dramatists, historians, biographers, essayists, and philosophers—whether famous or anonymous, many of Western culture's greatest figures have been writers. Ranging from the anonymous author of the Epic of Gilgamesh in ancient Mesopotamia to William Faulkner writing about 19th- and 20th-century Mississippi 3,600 years later, Western writers have each played important parts in establishing the West's rich literary tradition. Their landmark themes, unique insights into human nature, dynamic characters, experimental storytelling techniques, and rich philosophical ideas helped create the vibrant storytelling methods we find reflected in today's authors. They've also played critical roles in Western history and culture as well, influencing everything from religion to politics.

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd Edition is your chance to survey over 70 literary geniuses and masterpieces of Western literature. In 84 lectures taught by five award-winning professors who are experts in particular literary time periods, you explore the vast collection of Western writers and their respective works.

With its broad historical scope and its depth of insight, this course is a veritable encyclopedia of Western literature's greatest writers. It's your chance to get a look at their works, styles, themes, and relationships with one another without having to pour through thousands upon thousands of pages of their writing. And you'll see the role they played both within the context of their own time and within the larger span of literary history.

What Is the Western Literary Tradition? What do the words "Western" and "literature" mean in the context of writers as diverse as the ancient Greek poet Homer, the anonymous author of Beowulf, the metaphysical poet William Blake, and Modernist Samuel Beckett? How can we draw connections between writers who lived throughout the centuries in places as widely separated as the Near East and the New World?

The Western literary tradition, you discover in this course, derives as its main sources of inspiration the Bible and ancient Greek and Roman literature. While we sometimes think of literature as anything written, it is in fact writing that lays claim to consideration on the grounds of beauty, form, and emotional effect. To present you with an effective and comprehensive survey of Western writers, this course considers history, biography, essays, and philosophical works in addition to poems, plays, and prose fiction.

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition is divided into seven parts consisting of 12 lectures each. The parts are grouped around various themes in the history of Western literature, from its origins in the Near East and the Mediterranean world to the literary heavyweights of the Renaissance and the men and women who defined the traditions of Modern literature in the 20th century. The end result is a course that spans 40 centuries of literary masterpieces.

Witness the Birth of Literary Genres and Movements

Throughout Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, you witness how brilliant writers created and developed the various literary genres now considered staples of Western storytelling. Some of the many genres you explore include:

  • Epics: Homer's Iliad and Odysseyare the first fully developed epics in Western culture. They were composed orally sometime before the invention of the Greek alphabet in the 8th century B.C., and they are the models for virtually all subsequent epics.
  • Biographies: Composed in the first century A.D., Plutarch's Parallel Lives was immensely popular for centuries and served as the model for later biographies—and also as the source for some of Shakespeare's tragedies.
  • Romances: The medieval romance—a stylized tale of love, intrigue, quest, and valor, often involving the court of King Arthur—is a 12th-century French invention. Interestingly, Gawain, not Lancelot, is the hero of most of these stories.
  • Novels: Though there are ancient precursors to the novel in the works of Petronius and Apuleius, the modern novel arguably began with Don Quixote, written by Cervantes in the 17th century.
  • Literary Criticism: The discipline of literary criticism was pioneered by Samuel Johnson in the 18th century in works such as Lives of the Poets.

In addition to new genres, literary movements played an important role in the development of Western literature. These various movements illustrate how writers reacted to their particular cultural environments and demonstrate the crucial relationship between a writer and his or her time.

Throughout the course, you learn about literary movements such as

  • Neoclassicism: The French writers Molière and Jean Racine offer a window into concepts of Neoclassicism. Their works reflect the movement's focus on the study of human nature as a universal principle and the appeal of the rational and the moderate.
  • Romanticism: A reaction to the Enlightenment, Romanticism was championed by writers like Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, William Blake, and William Wordsworth. It placed a strong emphasis on emotion and the power of the human imagination.
  • Realism: Writers like Gustave Flaubert and Stendhal used their novels to depict the frank reality of their characters' emotions and their social environments. Realism emphasized an honest depiction of life as it was lived, without any embellishments.
  • Modernism: This 20th-century movement, developed by such writers as Joseph Conrad, Franz Kafka, William Faulkner, and Virginia Woolf, sparked revolutionary new styles of literary expression including stream of consciousness and nonlinear narratives.

Discover a Panorama of Literary Relationships

The texts and authors featured in Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition are so richly varied and cover so many different centuries, societies, literary movements, and genres that you may think there is little to connect them. But you discover an interesting thing as you listen to these lectures: What formerly may have been a few isolated literary peaks soon resolve into a detailed landscape in which you see the full panorama of relationships between periods, authors, and the paths that brought us to where we are in literature today.

Here are some of the connections you explore:

  • Virgil's Aeneid stands as one of the most influential texts in Western culture. The poem itself is deeply indebted to Homer and went on to inspire such authors as Dante, Christopher Marlowe, and John Milton.
  • Modeled on the Confessions of St. Augustine, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions, written 13 centuries later, led to a flood of autobiographies—from the superficial and mundane to great fictional recreations like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time.
  • In the satirical drama The Importance of Being Earnest, first performed in 1895, Oscar Wilde puts his own playful twist on the well-established theme of the foundling (an abandoned child), which writers like Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy had previously mined for deep psychological insights.
  • William Faulkner's masterpiece As I Lay Dying owes a large debt to the Modernist technique of Joyce's Ulysses. But it also harks back to Joyce's prime source, Homer's Odyssey—recalling the ghost of Agamemnon lamenting that his murderous wife would not even close his eyes "as I lay dying."

An All-Star Faculty

Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition features an all-star faculty whose literary expertise makes learning about these great authors a rich, unforgettable experience. Few, if any, colleges or universities offer such a wide-ranging course with the same strength of teaching talent assembled here.

  • Elizabeth Vandiver, Whitman College: Professor Vandiver earned her M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. She received the American Philological Association's Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching prize given to American classicists.
  • Thomas F. X. Noble, the University of Notre Dame: Professor Noble is the Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. A Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America, Professor Noble earned his doctorate from Michigan State University and holds numerous honors and awards, including two National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships.
  • Ronald B. Herzman, the State University of New York at Geneseo: Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at SUNY Geneseo, Professor Herzman earned his Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. The co-author of The Apocalyptic Imagination in Medieval Literature, he received the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching.
  • Susan Sage Heinzelman, the University of Texas at Austin: Professor Heinzelman, Associate Professor of English and Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, earned her Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario. She has received numerous teaching awards, including the President's Associates Teaching Award, and is president of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the umanities.
  • James A. W. Heffernan, Dartmouth College: Professor Heffernan is Emeritus Professor of English at Dartmouth College, where he was Chair of the English Department and also Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing. A widely published author and international lecturer, he received his Ph.D. from Princeton University.

The Never-Ending Story of Literature

Amid the discussions of scores of authors and their works, you return again and again to the question: What makes literature such a powerful force in our lives? The various professors who lend their expert knowledge to Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition give their own reasons for why literature has endured throughout Western history. You'll come to see that literature:

  • Continually asks the question of what it means to be human and explores fundamental human themes
  • Gives us a fresh perspective on the past and on ourselves
  • Is always being reinvented, recreated, and rewritten

By the conclusion of Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, you'll have gained a well-rounded and well-informed understanding of both these literary icons and the larger role that literature has played in our cultural history.

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84 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    This lecture introduces both the first two parts of this seven-part course, and the course in general. Professor Vandiver defines the key terms, "Western" and "literature," and describes the course's objectives. x
  • 2
    The Epic of Gilgamesh
    The Epic of Gilgamesh is the earliest surviving work of Western literature. We explore its themes and the parallels between the Mesopotamian flood story as reflected in Gilgamesh and the story of Noah as it appears in Genesis. x
  • 3
    Genesis and the Documentary Hypothesis
    We examine the Documentary Hypothesis, which posits four different source documents for the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Then we compare the Book of Genesis to other Mesopotamian creation stories. x
  • 4
    The Deuteronomistic History
    This lecture considers the Books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings, and discusses the theory that these books were edited and reworked to form a unified whole, perhaps around the time of the Babylonian Captivity. We analyze the story of David and Bathsheba. x
  • 5
    The Book of Isaiah contains some of the finest poetry in the Bible. We examine its role as a prophetic text during a critical period of Jewish history. Later, Christians read certain passages as foretelling the birth of Christ. x
  • 6
    We conclude our treatment of the Hebrew Scriptures by considering one of the most remarkable books of the Bible, the Book of Job—the story of a righteous man who undergoes great suffering through no fault of his own. x
  • 7
    Homer—The Iliad
    Beginning our survey of ancient Greek literature, we study the nature of Homeric epic. Then we turn to the Iliad, paying special attention to its themes of kleos (glory or fame) and time (honor). x
  • 8
    Homer—The Odyssey
    We continue our discussion of Homeric epic by looking at the Odyssey, focusing on its portrayal of the human condition through Odysseus's reunion with his wife and son after 20 years of absence. x
  • 9
    Sappho and Pindar
    This lecture considers the development of Greek lyric poetry, taking Sappho and Pindar as outstanding examples—Sappho for her exquisite love poetry and Pindar for his victory odes commemorating athletic competitions. x
  • 10
    From speculation on the origin of Greek tragedy, we move to Aeschylus, the first of the three great Athenian tragedians. We focus on his trilogy The Oresteia, discussing how he used myth to reflect on social issues of the day. x
  • 11
    Sophocles wrote 123 plays; only seven survive. We concentrate on the play Ajax. The absence of the gods makes Sophocles's work in some ways the most realistic of the three tragedians. x
  • 12
    This lecture discusses how Euripides differs from Aeschylus and Sophocles. In particular, we focus on Euripides's unorthodox treatment of the gods, especially in The Bacchae and Hippolytus. x
  • 13
    The first great prose narrative in Western literature is the Histories by Herodotus, which describe the Persian invasions of Greece in the 5th century B.C. Professor Vandiver explains the nature and significance of this work. x
  • 14
    Many scholars see Thucydides rather than Herodotus as the true father of history. This lecture examines Thucydides's Peloponnesian Wars and looks at the key differences between his methodology and that of Herodotus. x
  • 15
    Aristophanes is the only 5th-century comic playwright whose work has in part survived. This lecture pays particular attention to two plays, Clouds and Frogs, that satirize philosophers and tragedians respectively. x
  • 16
    This lecture offers an overview of Plato by concentrating on one work, The Republic, and its treatment of literature and poetry. Among other issues, we consider why Plato banishes poets from his ideal state. x
  • 17
    Menander and Hellenistic Literature
    Menander wrote a new style of comedy that took its subject matter from the troubles of everyday people. After discussing his plays, we consider other writers from the Hellenistic age and their influence on later Roman authors. x
  • 18
    Catullus and Horace
    We begin with a brief summary of Rome's cultural borrowings from Greece, and then examine two Roman lyric poets, Catullus and Horace, who used Greek models to transform the poetic possibilities of Latin. x
  • 19
    Inspired by the Iliad and the Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid went on to become one of the most influential texts in Western culture. This lecture examines how Virgil infused his epic with a psychological complexity beyond that of Homer. x
  • 20
    Ovid's most important work is the Metamorphoses, which features stories linked as much by themes of love, desire, and sexual passion as by the stated subject of "bodies changed into other forms." x
  • 21
    Livy, Tacitus, Plutarch
    The Roman historians Livy and Tacitus reflect the contrasting styles of their Greek predecessors Herodotus and Thucydides. We also study the immensely influential Roman biographer Plutarch, who wrote in Greek. x
  • 22
    Petronius and Apuleius
    This lecture considers the development of the ancient novel, exemplified by the two remarkable extant Roman novels, the fragmentary Satyricon of Petronius and the Metamorphoses of Apuleius. x
  • 23
    The Gospels
    We examine the four Gospels of the New Testament, whose importance to Western culture cannot be overestimated. As literary works, they pioneered the presentation of common people as subjects for serious rather than comic writing. x
  • 24
    We consider Augustine as both one of the last great writers of Roman antiquity and one of the first great writers of Christianity, concentrating on his powerful works Confessions and the City of God. x
  • 25
    After introducing this part of the course, Professor Noble begins his study of medieval literature with Beowulf, a stirring tale of monsters and dragons that in our own era inspired the themes and stories of J. R. R. Tolkien. x
  • 26
    The Song of Roland
    French literature emerges with stunning rapidity in The Song of Roland, an epic tale of Christians versus Muslims that is the earliest and perhaps finest of the genre called chansons de geste, stories about great exploits. x
  • 27
    El Cid
    Probably composed between 1201 and 1207, El Cid is the oldest epic in Spanish. The poet creates a new epic hero who is a more complete and believable character than either Beowulf or Roland. x
  • 28
    Tristan and Isolt
    In this lecture, we study the origins of romance. We turn to the greatest of the German romances, Tristan and Isolt, which immerses us in the Arthurian world of quests, courtly love, mistaken identity, and enchantment. x
  • 29
    The Romance of the Rose
    Though long, complex, and difficult, The Romance of the Rose enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the Middle Ages. In this lecture, we unravel its sustained allegory "in which the entire art of love is contained." x
  • 30
    Dante Alighieri—Life and Works
    The first of two lectures on Dante considers his life and some of his "minor" works, including La vita nuova, which narrates his love for Beatrice. Also covered are Convivio, De volgari eloquentia, and De monarchia. x
  • 31
    Dante Alighieri—The Divine Comedy
    We discuss different aspects of The Divine Comedy, which comprises the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, especially noting Dante's growing wisdom as he moves from the hideous visage of Satan to the ineffable face of God. x
  • 32
    Petrarch is sometimes called the "Father of the Renaissance." We examine his letters, My Secret Book, and beautiful lyric poems called the Canzoniere. A central theme is his attempt to reconcile Humanism and Christianity. x
  • 33
    Giovanni Boccaccio
    After reviewing Boccaccio's early Italian writings and his Latin works based on classical literature, we turn to his prose masterpiece The Decameron, 100 short stories told by 10 fashionable young people taking refuge from the plague. x
  • 34
    Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
    We study the celebrated poem in which a hideous Green Knight appears at Arthur's Camelot at Christmas and offers to let anyone cut off his head who will, one year hence, consent to the same fate. Gawain accepts the challenge. x
  • 35
    Geoffrey Chaucer—Life and Works
    The first of two lectures on Chaucer sets his life in context, discusses the many influences that affected him, and analyzes The Book of the Duchess, The Parliament of Fowls, and the exquisite Troilus and Criseyde. x
  • 36
    Geoffrey Chaucer—The Canterbury Tales
    In The Canterbury Tales, we meet almost every kind and class of person in medieval England. To form a sense of Chaucer's art, this lecture considers the "General Prologue" and then several types of tales. x
  • 37
    Christine de Pizan
    Professor Herzman begins his exploration of Renaissance literature with Christine de Pizan, believed to be the first European woman to earn her living as a writer. We focus on The Book of the City of Ladies. x
  • 38
    We study the great Dutch humanist scholar Erasmus, focusing on his satirical Praise of Folly. Erasmus uses Folly to criticize corruption in Christianity and show the way to live a proper Christian life. x
  • 39
    Thomas More
    Executed by order of Henry VIII, Thomas More was a high government official and humanist scholar. His best-known work is Utopia, which coined the term "utopia" and served as a powerful critique of contemporary society. x
  • 40
    Michel de Montaigne
    In his ceaseless attempt to understand himself and thereby the human condition, Montaigne invented a new literary form—the essay. We concentrate on his essay titled "On the Education of Children." x
  • 41
    François Rabelais
    Imbued with humanist philosophy, Rabelais' great work Gargantua and Pantagruel combines comedy, satire, obscenity, fantasy, farce, parody, and politics. Fittingly, ribald exuberance has a name: "Rabelaisian." x
  • 42
    Christopher Marlowe
    Born the same year as Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe died young and is one of the great "what-ifs" of literature. He left us seven superb plays. We look in particular at Dr. Faustus. x
  • 43
    William Shakespeare—The Merchant of Venice
    The first of two lectures on Shakespeare looks at The Merchant of Venice as a representative comedy, shedding light on the qualities that give Shakespeare a central position in Western literature. x
  • 44
    William Shakespeare—Hamlet
    Turning to Shakespearean tragedy, we examine Hamlet, focusing on Shakespeare's genius for multiple plots. In particular, we look at the conflict between Hamlet's introspective world and the Machiavellian court of Claudius. x
  • 45
    Lope de Vega
    Lope de Vega was a remarkably gifted and prolific playwright of the Spanish Golden Age. We concentrate on his Fuente Ovejuna, a story of sex, love, and justice that was one of his most popular plays. x
  • 46
    Miguel de Cervantes
    Cervantes's Don Quixote has been called both the first novel and the greatest novel. We study it as a work harking back to the world of the chivalric romance and looking forward to the mature modern novel. x
  • 47
    John Milton
    After a brief overview of the career and writings of Milton, we concentrate on his Paradise Lost, the most important epic poem written in English. We look closely at Book Nine, narrating the Fall of Adam and Eve. x
  • 48
    Blaise Pascal
    Pascal is claimed as an important figure by scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers, as well as by literary scholars. This lecture explores his Pensées, or Thoughts, an incomplete but profound work of religious meditation. x
  • 49
    Professor Heinzelman begins this part with a discussion of the key terms "Neoclassical" and "Romantic." We then turn to Molière and through Tartuffe explore his representation of Neoclassical values. x
  • 50
    Jean Racine
    Racine's re-creations of classical Greek tragedy are deeply moving representations of psychological conflict. In this lecture, we study Phaedra, an example of Racine's elegant simplicity of style and form. x
  • 51
    Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz
    What kind of life could an intellectual woman live in the 17th and 18th centuries? We study Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican nun, composer, poetess, dramatist, philosopher, and feminist. x
  • 52
    Daniel Defoe
    Defoe exploited the public's appetite for new stories, publishing narratives about the sexual and commercial entrepreneurs of London, such as Moll Flanders, Roxana, and that essential guide to empire building, Robinson Crusoe. x
  • 53
    Alexander Pope
    This lecture focuses on two of Pope's works: An Essay on Criticism and The Rape of the Lock. The first is a poetic essay asserting the values of Neoclassical culture. The second is a mock-epic satire on Pope's social circle. x
  • 54
    Jonathan Swift
    We use Swift's Gulliver's Travels and The Modest Proposal to analyze the "other" side of Neoclassical thought: the extremism produced by the single-minded pursuit of reason untempered by compassion. x
  • 55
    Voltaire's work spans the spectrum of literary genres, from drama and satire to history and philosophy. We examine his satirical masterpiece Candide for its use of wit to expose the self-deceiving dogma of philosophical optimism. x
  • 56
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau
    We study several of Rousseau's works, including The Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract, both of which played an inspirational role in the French and American revolutions. x
  • 57
    Samuel Johnson
    Johnson wrote widely and prolifically. We look at "The Vanity of Human Wishes" as an example of his poetry. Then we examine some of his essays from "The Rambler" and "The Idler," as well as his "Life of Pope." x
  • 58
    Denis Diderot
    Diderot spent 20 years writing and soliciting articles for his Encyclopedia, the creation of which was arguably the defining intellectual event of the 18th century. We explore some of the articles and investigate another of his works, Rameau's Nephew. x
  • 59
    William Blake
    For Blake, the Enlightenment heralded a progressive loss of meaning in the world. We study his deceptively simple and deeply ironic poems, "Songs of Innocence" and "Experience." x
  • 60
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
    Born at the height of the Enlightenment, Goethe symbolizes the transition to Romanticism. We concentrate on his Faust as a way to understand the philosophical and aesthetic concerns of the time. x
  • 61
    William Wordsworth
    Professor Heffernan opens this part of the course by briefly treating Wordsworth's autobiographical epic, The Prelude. Then he examines at length Wordsworth's first major poem, "Tintern Abbey." x
  • 62
    Jane Austen
    In Pride and Prejudice, Austen makes the traditional fairy-tale romance fit the socioeconomic facts of life in early 19th-century England, but nonetheless contrives a fairy-tale ending. x
  • 63
    In Stendhal's Red and Black, the hero is obsessed with the memory of Napoleon's glory, yet impelled to gratify his ambition by social rather than military triumphs. One conquest ultimately leads to disaster. x
  • 64
    Herman Melville
    When Melville started writing Moby-Dick at age 30, he was already well known for his novels about sea life. In telling the tale of a maimed sea captain obsessed with revenge on a great white whale, he brings to modern fiction the mythic power of ancient epic. x
  • 65
    Walt Whitman
    In "Song of Myself," Whitman inaugurates the reign of free verse in American poetry and re-conceives the tradition of autobiographical writing reaching back to Rousseau's Confessions. x
  • 66
    Gustave Flaubert
    In writing Madame Bovary, Flaubert struggled to make his prose as poetic as possible while realistically depicting the commonplace life of a bourgeois adulteress. x
  • 67
    Charles Dickens
    In Great Expectations, Dickens transforms the familiar story of the foundling. Narrator Pip is an abused orphan whose innate gentility is "recognized" and nurtured by a mysterious benefactor, but his dream of wealth and marriage to the beautiful Estella becomes a nightmare of frustrated expectations. x
  • 68
    Fyodor Dostoevsky
    Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment tells the story of a man who believes that his exemption from moral law gives him the right to murder an old woman for her money. In the end, however, he accepts and even wills his own punishment. x
  • 69
    Leo Tolstoy
    Anna Karenina, Tolstoy's psychologically complex novel of domestic life, shows why a socially distinguished woman who has left her unfeeling husband for a dashing and devoted Count takes her own life. x
  • 70
    Mark Twain
    Like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn tells the story of a boy's adventure, but this time Twain fuses the adventure with the history of the struggle to break the chain of slavery in America, and dramatizes the conflict between Northern and Southern morality. x
  • 71
    Thomas Hardy
    In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Hardy challenges us to see how a "pure" woman can remain so while losing her virginity to a seducer, living with him as his mistress, and ultimately killing him. x
  • 72
    Oscar Wilde
    Wilde's wittiest play, The Importance of Being Earnest, dramatizes the varieties of suspense in courtship and resolves them in the end with a brilliant pun. A British law against homosexuality turned the ending of Wilde's own life into a tragedy. x
  • 73
    Henry James
    James wrote a series of novels that chiefly aim to dramatize the interaction of American energy and innocence with the sophisticated but often x
  • 74
    Joseph Conrad
    In Heart of Darkness, based on his experience in the Congo, Conrad reveals the insane rapacity of European traders bent on "civilizing" the African natives whom they exploit. x
  • 75
    William Butler Yeats
    Yeats's early poems seek to reconfirm "the ancient supremacy of the imagination." In his late work, he became a visionary struggling to make order out of the "mere anarchy" war had loosed upon the world. x
  • 76
    Marcel Proust
    In Proust's oceanic novel, In Search of Lost Time, the narrator explores childhood memories awakened by the taste of pastry dipped in tea. In a rich tradition of autobiographical narrative, Proust paints an extraordinarily complex picture of social life in France at the turn of the 19th century. x
  • 77
    James Joyce
    In his autobiographical first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce creates one of the three leading characters of his later novel, Ulysses. By tracing the life of Stephen Dedalus—his fictional self—from infancy to early manhood, Joyce reveals the genesis of his own art. x
  • 78
    Franz Kafka
    In The Trial, a respectable banker is arrested for no reason, subjected to endless delays by an incomprehensible legal system, and executed without being tried. Josef exemplifies the Modernist focus on the isolated self, cut off from all traditional sources of support—emotional, institutional, legal, moral, or spiritual. x
  • 79
    Virginia Woolf
    Woolf produced a remarkable body of fiction, essays, and criticism. In Mrs. Dalloway, she tells the story of a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a prominent London hostess giving an elegant party. x
  • 80
    William Faulkner
    By turns grotesque, tragic, and comic, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying tells the story of a family taking a corpse to a burial ground on a journey menaced by fire and flood. It is narrated from 15 points of view. x
  • 81
    Bertolt Brecht
    At the outset of World War II, Brecht wrote the sympathetic Mother Courage to dramatize the effect of the Thirty Years' War in 17th-century Europe. An unmarried mother of three sons and a brain-damaged daughter makes her living off the war from a wagon she hauls herself. x
  • 82
    Albert Camus
    In The Plague, which he wrote during World War II, Camus narrates a doctor's struggle against bubonic plague. The novel may be read as symbolizing the seemingly inexorable recurrence of war. Exemplifying the dogged faith of his landmark essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus' doctor strives to heal in the face of futility. x
  • 83
    Samuel Beckett
    In Waiting for Godot, a play with no action in the conventional sense, Beckett depicts the human condition as one of interminable waiting for something that never comes. x
  • 84
    Looking back on 3,000 years of literary history, is there a way to make sense of it all? This lecture shows how literature treats war, love, and humankind's relation to God in three basic literary forms: lyric, narrative, and drama. x

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Your professors

Elizabeth Vandiver James A. W. Heffernan Thomas F. X. Noble Ronald B. Herzman Susan Sage Heinzelman

Professor 1 of 5

Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College

Professor 2 of 5

James A. W. Heffernan, Ph.D.
Dartmouth College

Professor 3 of 5

Thomas F. X. Noble, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame

Professor 4 of 5

Ronald B. Herzman, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Geneseo

Professor 5 of 5

Susan Sage Heinzelman, Ph.D.
The University of Texas at Austin
Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at...
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Dr. James A. W. Heffernan is Professor of English, Emeritus at Dartmouth College, where he was also Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing. He earned his A.B. cum laude from Georgetown University and his Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Professor Heffernan taught a range of courses at Dartmouth, including European Romanticism, English Romantic poetry, methods of literary criticism, and the...
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Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his B.A. in History from Ohio University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History from Michigan State University. Professor Noble has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and research grants from the American Philosophical Society. In 2008 he received the Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in...
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Dr. Ronald B. Herzman is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1969. He graduated with honors from Manhattan College and earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Delaware. Dr. Herzman's teaching interests include Dante, Chaucer, Francis of Assisi, Shakespeare, the Bible, and Arthurian literature. He has...
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Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Women's and Gender Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, where she has been teaching since 1977 in the English Department and in the School of Law. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario. Professor Heinzelman has won many university teaching awards, including the President's Associates Teaching Award (2003)....
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Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd Edition is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 31.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview, but spotty To cover all of Western Lit in 48 lectures is a daunting task. Each professor did his or her best with the time allowed. This is not a course to get to the details of each author but did give the historical perspective necessary to understand the placement of the author in history. In some cases the presenter spent most of the time on the background of the author and other presentoers basically read portions of the author's writings. Still, I enjoyed the course. It reminded me of the books I had read and encouraged me to read others.
Date published: 2012-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Explore Great Works of Western Literature I bought this lecture series years ago and started reading all the books in the series before I listened to the lectures. In time, I found that strategy was not very effective. Instead, I used the lectures to explore the great books and started reading those that I found most interesting. Since then, I have read many great books and that makes this series well worth it’s cost (especially when on sale!). There are five lecturers for this series (Elizabeth Vandiver, Thomas F. X. Noble, Ronald B. Herzman, Susan Sage Heinzelman, and James A. W. Heffernan). They were all very good and did a good job in making most of the books seem interesting and explaining why they chose those authors and titles. Having said this, I have long had a slight crush on Elizabeth Vandiver and have bought everyone of her courses and even read her book on Herodotus’ Histories. She is a great lecturer. I also really enjoyed James Heffernan’s lectures on more recent novels as he did a great job bringing each one to life and setting it in context. I found myself looking forward to his lectures and the distinctive way he began each lecture with a reading of a passage from a book. In the first lectures by Vandiver, the books in this course range from classical Mesopotamian texts, through the Bible and classical Greek plays, histories, and mythologies, and ending with some classical Roman texts. In Vandiver’s lectures, one is really exposed to the foundations of the Western canon. After these first lectures, I thought the course sort of bogged down a bit. Some of this is that I am not really a fan of the early middle ages. Nonetheless, the lectures helped place the books into context and explain why they were important. For me, I also found this section somewhat tiresome as I had already read most of the books and wasn’t particularly inspired by them, but that is a purely personal preference. From here, we moved to more philosophical literature, and the books of the enlightenment. After these books, the course covers many of the romantic era classics emphasizing getting in touch with one’s self and with nature. It is really interesting to think of these books in juxtaposition. Finally, the course ended with classic novels of the past two hundred years or so. By listening to two lectures a week for 42 weeks, as I did, one can explore some of the greatest works in the western canon and then exploit this knowledge to read great books with big themes that have resonated throughout history. With these, one will get a better literature training than many people get after years of college. I highly recommend this series.
Date published: 2012-02-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, but uneven This is my second viewing of this course. This was one the very first course I bought from the TCC; I didn't write a review at that time. Second time around, it certainly is a good but I can't say great. The professors are all Ok, just some a lot more Ok than others' My thoughts Dr. Vandiver her usual very solid self. Good teacher, would recommend her other courses on ancient literature if you want more detail. Dr, Noble: excellent ,world expert on medieval everything. Strongly recommend his great course on LATE ANTIQUITY. Dr Herzman: tries hard, very pleasent not as strong a lecturer as the others. Dr Heinzelman lectures on literature of the Enlightenment. Certainly know her stuff, but comes across as very aristocratic and stern. Dr. Heffernan modern literature. The star! Excellent lecturer and actor. While I would recommend this course; I quite preferred two others on world literature more: Dr Bowers the WESTERN LITERARY CANON IN CONTEXT. And Dr, Voth's THE HISTORY OF WORLD LITERATURE. Both these courses are about half the length of the GREAT AUTHORS course, and I believe better.
Date published: 2011-08-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Too Comprehensive I purchased this series because of its comprehensiveness. As I have gone through the lectures, I have read (almost) all of the works discussed. Some were old friends that I had not read since university days, others were new to me. However, the very comprehensiveness that drew me to the series has also frustrated me. A single 30 minute lecture just does not do justice to the work. By the time that the lecturer puts the author in historical context, little time is left to explore the work. I found myself wanting more. In the furture I will purchase courses more targeted to apecific works.
Date published: 2011-05-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Overall this is an excellent course, with informed and dynamic professors and lectures. The exception is the lecture series by Prof. S. Sage Heinzelman. These lectures are pedantic, obviously read from a prepared text so erudate as to limit their instructive potential, and some presented with an evident aggressive feminist "axe" to grind. I would recommend an alternate lecturer for this portion of the course in future editions; again, otherwise the course was excellent--the lectures on The Iliad and Albert Camus brought me to tears, quite a feat to make such informative material also so moving.
Date published: 2011-02-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Smorgesbord Samping This course was perfect for someone like myself who does not have much of a foundation or understanding of the great western authors; albeit, fully recognizing that much was abbreviated and left out due to the very nature of the course's length constraints. The presenters were obviously very learned on their respective authors along with captivating in their topic presentation, of course, some more than others. I found my favorite presenters continuing with their excellent presentation abilities but also discovered other fine lecturers that I was unaware of. Of particular note, Professor Susan Sage Heinzelman's lecture on William Blake's, The Chimney-Sweeper, was very informative and moving. One cannot help but draw parallels with Blake's England child labor horrors and the current China worker labor conditions. I will definitely consider ordering other course by her. This course has piqued my interest to learn more about the great authors as well as other courses from the lecturers within this course.
Date published: 2011-02-16
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Did not like it I find myself in disagreement with most reviewers because I did not like the course. I listened to the downloaded version. I can understand why it may seem like a good idea to provide this kind of a review, but I did not enjoy it for a few reasons. With almost all the Teaching Company courses I feel that I have learned a lot after listening to them. Not so with this one. It is not the fault of the professors because they were all great. I listened to quite a few courses by Elizabeth Vandiver and a few by Thomas Noble, so they were old favorites. I was impressed by other professors as well, especially James Heffernan who concluded the course. The problem is with the concept, which is to inform the listener about a particular author and his/her works, all in 30 minutes. I listened to professor Vandiver’s courses on the Iliad and the Odyssey. Both provide only the most basic details and analysis, for which they needed 12 lectures each. In this course, the Iliad and the Odyssey get 1 lecture each. I have a 6-volume collection of the works of Jane Austin. She only gets one lecture. A also have a 42-volume collection of the works of Charles Dickens. He gets just one lecture. So you get the idea. If you are familiar with the works of a particular author, the lecture seems rushed and incomplete. If you are not familiar, you are left wondering what is missing. I would have preferred to have a more in-depth course on 1 particular author, sort of what Bob Greenberg does with his reviews of the life and work of a particular composer. Each is 8 lectures long and leaves you wanting more. I was happy when this course was over.
Date published: 2011-01-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A BEDROCK OF INFORMATION I listened to the CD's of this massive collection. The course represents a powerful review of our western culture as revealed through literature. Employing more than one lecturer makes it more lively as each professor adds a different prospective based on a particular expertise in a specific group of writers. The division between lecturers is by time periods in which the writers created their works. While some of the discussion may be a review of what one might have been exposed to as an undergraduate. I think it unlikely that most of us have much familiarity with all the writers covered in this series of lectures. Aspiring writers may find much to learn from this series in terms of technical handling of the material a writer is given to work with in the world around him or her in their times. Casual listeners could become more aware of the richness of the flow of our culture. Of course, the nature of this survey course would be a source of pleasure to anyone. It is highly recommended.
Date published: 2010-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful, Varied Course This ambitious course covers creative literature from the earliest to the most recent. Each lecture is a thoughtful analysis of a literary work that seeks to both put it in historical context and explore the reasons for its endurance. The lectures go well beyond the bare bones summaries that they could have been with so much to cover. Some of the lectures, especially on ancient and medieval literature, were thoughtful introductions to works I did not know much about. The lectures on more recent literature offered new perspectives on more familiar works. The professors have differing styles, of course, but all are first rate in their own way. Several of the professors have given other courses, and I have since enjoyed some of these as well, so this course was a good introduction to them. The course as a whole is long, rich, varied and well worth the exciting journey.
Date published: 2009-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A VERY GOOD PRESENTATION Some parts of the course are better than others, but in a HUGE survey such as this how could it be otherwise? Overall, I enjoyed this course very much and will do so (assuming I live long enough) many, many times again. Professor Vandiver in particular is an excellent teacher. She presents the early literature of Western culture with such infectious energy that I found myself, for the first time, actually interested in Homer. And responding to the Bible as literature (her exegesis of 'Isaiah' is a most beautiful thng). And early Greek drama -- Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides come alive. The modern parts of the course are more hit and miss, but overall, given the time limitations, almost everything of real value is included. I could quibble about the selection, about the emphasis on this or that instead of that or this, but so what. I could quibble with just about anything. Overall I am very happy with the course as it stands and MORE than happy that I made the choice to shell out the money for it. Now, if only the course could have been twice as long...!
Date published: 2009-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Top Five Courses I LOVED this course. Although appearing a little daunting in its scope and length, the course is well worth the time commitment. The professors were fantastic. As a former student of Professor Vandiver (at UMD) I am admittedly a little biased, but she was fantastic teaching this course. That is not to take anything away from the other professors, who were also entertaining and informative. This class gives excellent coverage of Western Literature over a vast amount of time. Obviously this means it will not cover every major author (one could argue that the class is limited by focusing only on Western Literature, but I disagree--they were clear why they could not cover Eastern Literature and other literary traditions). Overall, this was a fantastic course, and I highly recommend it to anyone.
Date published: 2009-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from great source of information What a wonderful, concise presentation of the great authors. One would have to spend many semesters and much money to be exposed to these works and even then, some might not be available. The professors were great! Each had an area of expertise that quickly became apparent. Again, I caught myself watching until fatigue set in and I realized I had been napping, such is the appeal to watch the next lecture and the next lecture, etc.
Date published: 2009-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Introduction to Literature I have read,re-read and relistened to this course more than any other in the great pantheon of TTC courses.As a lover of literature I use this course often as a springboard then jump to the same/similar authors or works in other top notch TTC literature courses such as Classics in Am Lit,Russian Lit,British Lit,World Lit,Great Books,Masterpieces in Ancient Greek Lit,20th Century Lit,English Novel,Weinsteins excellent course on the Classic Novel not to mention several others.Of all the courses this one gives you the widest perspective on western literature and combined with the above mentioned courses are the strongest,best taught courses in the entire TTC library.I only wish TTC would come out with another 84 lecture series on works they didnt cover.Prof Heffernein in particular was outstanding and I would enjoy hearing more lectures from him.
Date published: 2009-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I used to dread reading a book In the past, I could never get through a book unless it was going to teach me something. Now, with the help of this course, I have read more books than ever. It is a blessing that this course even exists. It really helps a person know the material and makes the literature more approachable. Now I want to write book reports! Alas it too late for that now. Actually using CLIFF notes with this course really makes it come more alive.
Date published: 2008-12-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I may not have appreciated this course - which was very comprehensive - because I was almost totally new to the material - however the professors seemed to be very knowledgeable!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Being a literature major in college I thoroughly enjoyed this overview.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Outstanding treatment of course - especially Vandiver, and Heffernan.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Between the lectures and study guide I was given so much information and the guideance to further study the subject in great depth! I loved it!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great compendium of Western Literature. comprehensive in breadth, but "book focus" by author makes it engaging.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superior products and educational resources. Great Authors of Western Literary Tradition is superb.. I watch it over & over..
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Many great authors had to be left out. I'm hoping you will have a second volume. Thanks to this course I'm re-reading or discovering for the first time many wonderful writers.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Every lecture left me wanting to read the book discussed and wishing to go into the material in more detail - very interesting
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The succinct but comprehensive summaries are an excellent stepping stone to further exploration and research.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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