History of World Literature

Course No. 2300
Professor Grant L. Voth, Ph.D.
Monterey Peninsula College
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Course No. 2300
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Course Overview

In The History of World Literature, you'll sample brilliant masterpieces that reflect humanity's deep need for self-expression. It's a journey that will take you through time and around the world-from the enormous auditoriums of Ancient Greece, to the dazzling courts of Classical China and Japan, to the prison camps of Stalinist Russia, to a quiet study in the home of a 19th-century New England spinster.

Your guide on this enchanting literary tour is distinguished scholar Grant L. Voth. An experienced teacher, critic, and lecturer, Professor Voth provides the perfect introduction to the history of world literature, offering concise summaries and thought-provoking interpretations of each work.

"Tell Me a Story"

As Professor Voth explains, "As long as there have been people in the world, there have been stories." In this course, you'll sample some of the greatest literary expressions the world has known and experience storytelling in its many forms, including poetry, drama, and narrative.

The course begins in the ancient world, where tribal bards created national myths and founded religious texts out of legends, history, philosophy, and local lore.

From there, you'll travel to the Far East to encounter a completely different form of early literature: the brief, suggestive, and deeply personal lyric poets of Classical Japan and China.

You'll also wander the countryside and aristocratic courts of India and the Middle East, collecting stories and folklore of magical men, terrifying beasts, alluring women, and conniving tricksters that live on in today's fairytales and bedtime stories.

Subsequent lectures follow the evolution of the art of the story as it appears in sophisticated narratives such as Wu Ch'eng-en's Monkey and Voltaire's Candide, the poetic masterpiece of Dante's Inferno, the great drama pioneered by Shakespeare and Molire, and other works of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment.

With the coming of the modern world, you'll trace the rise of new forms intent on capturing daily life with scientific precision, from the Realist narratives of Flaubert and Dostoevsky to the groundbreaking drama of Chekhov and Ibsen. The course also explores the experimental modes that followed Realism, including Brecht's politically charged experimental drama, Beckett's Absurdism, and the fragmented Postmodern perspectives of writers such as Borges, Rushdie, and Pirandello.

As you'll soon see, none of these great works stands in isolation. Each is part of a great web of influences and responses, which you'll learn about over the course of this comprehensive survey. With Professor Voth as your guide, you'll follow the trajectory of stories as they are created, passed along, and adapted to suit different cultures and historical circumstances.

Are you ready for a good story? Join Professor Voth for this tour of The History of World Literature, and prepare for an enriching and satisfying excursion around the world and into the human imagination.

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48 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Stories and Storytellers
    Humankind has always sought to understand its existence through stories. In this opening lecture, Professor Voth provides a preview of the literary journey to come, and begins to define the relationship between history and literature. x
  • 2
    The Epic of Gilgamesh
    In this lecture, we examine one of the world's oldest literary works. This ancient poem combines a heroic story of a legendary king with a spiritual quest about coming to terms with the inevitability of mortality. x
  • 3
    The Hebrew Bible
    Blending literature, history, and theology, the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) is perhaps one of the most important books ever written. We explore some of the unique elements of this sacred literary text, including its introduction of the concept of monotheism. x
  • 4
    Homer's Iliad
    Through a consideration of Homer's classic poem about the fall of Troy, Professor Voth defines the key elements of the epic and examines how the poem expresses ancient Greek views of heroism and individual honor. x
  • 5
    Homer's Odyssey
    Our consideration of the epic continues with the Odyssey, which follows the 10-year journey of the warrior Odysseus after the end of the Trojan War. x
  • 6
    Chinese Classical Literature
    This lecture features a lyric poem and two prose works that demonstrate how early Chinese literature differed from contemporary works from Mesopotamia, Israel, and Greece. x
  • 7
    Greek Tragedy
    By the 5th century B.C.E., Greek theater had entered a golden age, producing plays that would set a standard of excellence for centuries to come. In this lecture, we explore the three greatest Greek playwrights: Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. x
  • 8
    Virgil's Aeneid
    When Virgil (70–19 B.C.E.) set out to write a national Roman epic poem, he took as his model the classic epics of Ancient Greece. Professor Voth illuminates the ways that Virgil both imitated and adapted the epic to express the values of his own culture. x
  • 9
    Bhagavad Gita
    At seven times the combined length of the Iliad and Odyssey, the Mahabharata may be the longest epic poem in the world. In this lecture, we examine one episode of this enormous work, the Bhagavad Gita, which offers a Hindu meditation on the meaning of life. x
  • 10
    The New Testament
    Like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament can be read as history, literature, and theology. This lecture examines how the various parts of this seminal text reflect the goals of their different authors and the needs of their particular audiences. x
  • 11
    In this lecture, Professor Voth compares the Germanic saga Beowulf with the other heroic epics studied in the course thus far. The poem also provides an opportunity to explore the variety of interpretations that can be made about a single literary work. x
  • 12
    Indian Stories
    We move from epic poetry to prose as we explore the rich narrative strategies of Indian stories in three collections: Jataka (Story of a Birth) , the Pañcatantra (The Five Books or the Five Strategies) , and the Kathasaritsagara (Ocean of the Rivers of Story) . x
  • 13
    T'ang Poetry
    China achieved one of its Golden Ages during the T'ang period (618–907 C.E.), which included a rich tradition of poetry. This lecture examines three T'ang poets to illustrate the deeply personal aesthetic of Chinese poetics. x
  • 14
    Early Japanese Poetry
    While Japanese poetry is indebted to Chinese models, it also boasts some unique features. Using several examples, Professor Voth outlines the key features of the Japanese aesthetic, which include irregular verse styles, simplicity, and the theme of transience. x
  • 15
    The Tale of Genji
    Written by a Japanese lady-in-waiting during the 11th century C.E., The Tale of Genji is believed to be the first novel in literary history. This complex tale presents a new kind of hero, for whom taste and sensitivity count for more than prowess on the battlefield. x
  • 16
    Inferno, from Dante's Divine Comedy
    Considered the greatest poem in the Western world, Dante's Divine Comedy traces the allegorical journey of a pilgrim from the depths of hell through purgatory and into heaven. We examine key features and interpretations of the first part of Dante's masterwork: Inferno. x
  • 17
    Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales
    Borrowing techniques from Boccaccio's Decameron, Geoffrey Chaucer narrates a variety of tales through a frame story about 30 travelers who tell stories during a pilgrimage to England's Canterbury Cathedral. x
  • 18
    1001 Nights
    In this lecture, we again consider the narrative technique of the "frame story": a work which includes within it many recounted tales. Complex and encyclopedic, 1001 Nights serves as a crossroads where stories from many different cultures meet. x
  • 19
    Wu Ch'eng-en's Monkey
    Based in history and enhanced by legend and folklore, Monkey tells the story of a Chinese monk on a journey to India, accompanied by fabulous creatures, the most important of which is Monkey, one of the great creations in literature. x
  • 20
    The Heptameron
    Based in history and enhanced by legend and folklore, Monkey tells the story of a Chinese monk on a journey to India, accompanied by fabulous creatures, the most important of which is Monkey, one of the great creations in literature. x
  • 21
    After a brief account of drama in other cultures, Professor Voth considers Shakespeare's place in English drama, focusing on his use of language. A closer look at a famous speech from Macbeth serves to illustrate the Bard's mastery of poetic language. x
  • 22
    Cervantes's Don Quixote
    While not the first novel in history, Don Quixote is one of the first in the Western world and has been by far the most influential. This lecture explores Cervantes' revolutionary use of prose to present a realistic view of life that contrasted to the popular romances of his day. x
  • 23
    Molière's Plays
    This lecture opens with a consideration of the values and dramatic style of the Neoclassical Age (c.1660–1770) in Western literature. A master of theatrical comedy, French playwright Molière used the drama to point out society's foibles. x
  • 24
    Voltaire's Candide
    Why does suffering exist? Why are people prey to human cruelty and natural disasters? In Candide, Voltaire seeks to answer these questions. x
  • 25
    Cao Xueqin's The Story of the Stone
    Recounting the story of an aristocratic family in decline, The Story of the Stone is simultaneously a Buddhist-Taoist meditation on the illusory nature of existence and a gripping and detailed novel of personal relationships. x
  • 26
    Goethe's Faust
    Goethe's Faust is a new version of a story dating back to the 16th century, when the historical Faustus lived. In Goethe's version, Faust becomes the ultimate Romantic hero—one who strives to express his own will and experience all life has to offer. x
  • 27
    Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
    Brontë's story about the passionate love between Catherine and Heathcliff is perhaps one of the best loved 19th-century novels. In this lecture, we explore the relationship of the novel to Romanticism and discuss Brontë's use of competing narrative perspectives. x
  • 28
    Pushkin's Eugene Onegin
    Alexander Pushkin is usually considered Russia's national poet—the equivalent of Shakespeare in England. In Eugene Onegin, he employed a complicated poetic form to create a witty novel-in-verse that satirizes Romantic excesses. x
  • 29
    Flaubert's Madame Bovary
    An ordinary story about ordinary people told with detachment and objectivity, Flaubert's tale of a bored housewife living in a French provincial town marks a turning point in literature: the rise of Realism. x
  • 30
    Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground
    Unappreciated in its own day, Notes from Underground serves as an excellent introduction to Dostoevsky's later novels. Through his unnamed narrator, the Russian novelist voiced the desire to rebel against the increasingly mass-produced culture of modern life. x
  • 31
    Twain's Huckleberry Finn
    In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain allowed a vernacular, regional character to tell his own story. In this lecture, we explore Twain's narrative achievement and the societal questions raised by his classic travel tale. x
  • 32
    Dickinson's Poetry
    After a brief consideration of Emily Dickinson's solitary life and writing career, we turn to the techniques that characterize her remarkable poetry: the use of common meter stanza form, unconventional punctuation, and grammatical density. x
  • 33
    Ibsen and Chekhov—Realist Drama
    In this lecture, we examine the works of two very different Realist playwrights. For Ibsen, Realism entailed bringing to the stage contemporary people and social concerns. For Chekhov, it required discarding the standard forms of the "well-made play" for a more realistic imitation of life. x
  • 34
    Rabindranath Tagore's Stories and Poems
    Absorbing the influence of Realist authors, Tagore adapted this literary style to reflect life in his native India. Through his short stories and poems, he criticized those who exploited the caste system, suppressed women, and benefited from the sufferings of the poor. x
  • 35
    Higuchi Ichiyō's "Child's Play"
    Although she had no exposure to Western Realism, Ichiyo pioneered a Japanese version of this literary movement in "Child's Play," her novella about children living in and around the pleasure district of Edo (modern-day Tokyo). x
  • 36
    Proust's Remembrance of Things Past
    In this elegiac novel, Proust sought to reject Realism and recreate the novel as an exploration of personal impressions. Influential to later writers, Proust's novel took a revolutionary approach by attempting to capture life as it is experienced. x
  • 37
    Joyce's Dubliners
    In a context of experimentation in all of the arts, we consider the contribution of James Joyce's Dubliners to the modern short story, focusing on Joyce's device of the epiphany, or revelation. x
  • 38
    Kafka's "The Metamorphosis"
    In this lecture, we consider the bleak, darkly comic work of Franz Kafka. In "The Metamorphosis," a man wakes up to find that he has been transformed into a gigantic insect—an absurd premise that reflects the alienation of modern life. x
  • 39
    Pirandello's Six Characters
    This lecture discusses the rebellion against Realism in drama exemplified in the work of Luigi Pirandello. In Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello created a world in which fictional characters argue that they are more "real" than living human beings. x
  • 40
    Brecht's The Good Woman of Setzuan
    Bertolt Brecht continued the rebellion against Realism by using theatrical techniques to create a critical distance between audience and play. An examination of The Good Woman demonstrates how Brecht used this technique to critique capitalist society. x
  • 41
    Anna Akhmatova's Requiem
    Written in response to Russia's Yezhov Terror of 1937 and 1938, the poem Requiem describes a sick society in which the poet must speak for voiceless victims everywhere. Professor Voth explores the aesthetic and historical contexts that helped shape this poem. x
  • 42
    Kawabata Yasunari's Snow Country
    Adapting Western techniques to suit Japanese sensibilities, Yasunari created a Modernist work, using such techniques as a disciplined point of view and stream-of-consciousness in his story of a detached man and his love for two women. x
  • 43
    Faulkner—Two Stories and a Novel
    Using the short stories "A Rose for Emily" and "Wash," in addition to the novel As I Lay Dying, Professor Voth examines the literary achievements of William Faulkner, an author who sought to capture the "whole truth" of life in all its comedic, grotesque, and heroic glory. x
  • 44
    Naguib Mahfouz's The Cairo Trilogy
    The Arabs did not really have a novel tradition until the 20th century. In his career, Arab writer Naguib Mahfouz encompassed all of the novelistic traditions, from historical romances to Realist novels to experimental narratives. x
  • 45
    Achebe's Things Fall Apart
    Achebe's novel is a reaction against Western novelistic depictions of Africans, exemplified in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. In this lecture, we examine this tale of a native people, the Igbo, and their heroic but flawed leader Okonkwo. x
  • 46
    Beckett's Plays
    In this lecture, we take up our first Postmodernist writer, Samuel Beckett. His works, including Endgame, Waiting for Godot, and Happy Days, illustrate Beckett's view that humankind lives in an absurd world which provides no clear definition of life's meaning. x
  • 47
    Borges's Labyrinths
    Our examination of Postmodernism continues with Jorge Luis Borges, whose comic, often magical stories attempt to express the untranslatable gap between reality and the human constructions of logic and language. x
  • 48
    Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories
    The final lecture considers Salman Rushdie's children's book about the importance of stories in our lives, and it closes with William Faulkner's idea that stories are one of the ways in which humans can not only endure, but may even prevail. x

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Your professor

Grant L. Voth

About Your Professor

Grant L. Voth, Ph.D.
Monterey Peninsula College
Dr. Grant L. Voth is Professor Emeritus at Monterey Peninsula College in California. He earned his M.A. in English Education from St. Thomas College in St. Paul, MN, and his Ph.D. in English from Purdue University. Throughout his distinguished career, Professor Voth has earned a host of teaching awards and accolades, including the Allen Griffin Award for Excellence in Teaching, and he was named Teacher of the Year by the...
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History of World Literature is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 73.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A joy So far this is my favorite of the Great Courses series, and I've listened to quite a few of them. Voth hits the right balance between scholarliness and accessibility, and his delivery is friendly, humorous, and unaffected. You'll emerge from this with several titles added to your reading list.
Date published: 2018-07-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learned so much I wish there were more. Bummed it ended at 48! Fell in love with the gentle voice of this professor. Thank you for putting together such a fantastic course!
Date published: 2018-05-31
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Doubtful qualifications It is rather clear that the professor hardly knows any language other than English, and therefore has read all the non-English-language works only in translation, thus losing much in the appreciation of the original beauty in the language and style. This is a big drawback for a course on world literature. It is very irritating when he pronounces, many times and in a number of lectures, "Goethe" as "Gerrteh" -- yes, with an "r" sound!
Date published: 2017-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Story Telling as Literature This is the third course I’ve taken from Professor Voth (as long as his portion of “Great Mythologies of the World counts as a whole course). Both that course and “The Skeptics Guide to the Great Books” were first rate, but I think that this course is at another level. The Skeptics course was fun and perhaps a bit tongue-in-cheek and the Mythologies course was taught by three professors, but here Dr. Voth gets a whole 48 lectures all to himself and he makes full use of the time allotted. His speaking style is clear, distinct and unhurried. Although the title includes the word “literature”, Dr. Voth emphasizes story telling as a main theme to bring the 48 lectures into a coherent whole, using the very first lecture to make just that point. He organizes the course in different ways. The overall sequence is roughly chronological, beginning with the epic of Gilgamesh circa 2800 B.C.E. and ending with a work by Salman Rushdie. The time sequence is sometimes broken by the way he groups works into categories: epics, realism, modernists, post-modernists, and so forth. There is also some categorizing by geography (China, Europe, India, for example) and by type (e.g. poetry, short stories, novels). All-in-all Professor Voth puts together an nicely assembled jigsaw puzzle, making it easy to see the whole as it is being completed. His flow allows us to easily see how the various writers develop new techniques over time and pick up and use those techniques from one another. No writer gets more than one lecture and often not a whole one at that. For example Shakespeare, Cervantes and Dante rate no more time than Tagore or 1001 Nights. Ibsen and Chekhov share one lecture. Some reviewers have noted this as a negative, but if one wishes there are plenty of TC courses devoted wholly to most of these authors. Professor Voth notes this in his final lecture, stating that he is going to take the course on Joyce’s Ulysses. While this may be a bit of hyperbole, it is something that I also plan to do, so at least I’ll be in good company. Although I have read many of these writers and books, I found a great many in this course that were new to me, as well as works by known authors I had not read. As a final plus for me, his view of the Old and New Testament gave me a different insight into the texts that I had before. Well done Professor Voth
Date published: 2017-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overall synopsis of world literature I just finished listening to the last lecture, and was sad that the course was over. This is one of those courses that I hate to complete, as I always wish there were more lectures. Each lecture was well presented, giving a feel for the time and historical background of the literature discussed. I was totally unfamiliar with some of the literature, especially the Chinese and Japanese works. Hearing about this literature brings home the fact that we live in a small world after all.
Date published: 2017-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great course from the Great Courses I bought this course for two reasons: first, to find out about literature I knew I would never read, but see referenced from time to time (such as 'The Epic of Gilgamesh), and second, to find out about literature I have missed out on but might enjoy reading. The course fully met my expectations and more. Having avoided Joyce all my life, I am now reading and loving 'The Dubliners', and next on my list is a writer I always thought would be too depressing to get through: Faulkner.. So wrong! As well, I was inspired to find out more about the book every literate person in China reads at least once: 'The Stone'. Although the prospect of reading the translation of a challenging book many times the length of 'War and Peace' was too daunting for me, I did track down a splendid Chinese television series of it : "Dream of Red Mansions". If you want to do the same, be sure to get the first one broadcasted in China (about 20 years ago and about 30 hours long) and not one of the brief soap opera renditions which simply whips through the love interest rendering a profound epic somewhat banal ( I bought one of those first). "Dream..." has decent enough English subtitles. Thank-you Professor Voth.
Date published: 2017-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Voth is the Best TC Presenter, by far. I can listen to this man for hours (which I do, I listen to the CDs in my car). Excellent analysis and presentation skills. He uses intellect, humor, and nous in a natural and enjoyable way. He takes complex content and makes it easily understood. I will buy all of his courses.
Date published: 2017-03-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb, Stimulating! My appreciation for this course -- and awe at the depth and range of Dr. Voth's learning -- increased with every lecture. Not only is this a superb overview of some of the most magnificent writing -- including epic myths, poetry and numerous novels -- of all time, but it is also a beautiful and exciting exploration of storytelling itself, both in "what" is told and also in "how" the stories are conveyed. Some cultures and time periods, for example, favored the more mythic portrayals of great heroes and gods that reflected back favorably upon themselves as who they aspired to be. Others were more concerned with describing the "out there" that they witnessed or imagined. And still others focused on the mysteries and fears of navigating the interior world of one's mind and emotions. Through it all, the questions about "what is true" and "how can we best know this" keep coming up. This course is a happy reminder that so much that is "true" about ourselves and others, including beliefs, ethical structures, and how to interpret and manage "the world" is often most successfully conveyed through stories rather than as topics to be studied. "Once upon a time," indeed! Simply wonderful!
Date published: 2016-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing breadth of material I am in awe of anyone who could review the breadth of literature covered by this course. There are several long novels, as well as a poem of several pages. Some of the choices are unpredictable. For example, the Dostoevsky novel is Notes from Underground, which is less often read than some of his other works. I found it interesting to hear new views of some works that are covered by other lessons or even full courses in the Great Courses. After hearing about the virtues of the Story of the Stone, I decided to buy and read it: it proved to be 5 volumes in length! But I am enjoying it immensely If literature is your "thing," don't miss this!
Date published: 2016-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful! Heard Dr. Voth on cassettes. Enjoyed him over a couple months on old cassettes, miss him. Looking for more.
Date published: 2016-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Tour of Global Landmarks of Literature This is a good course, one whose main limitation is within its very framework. This course is an entire day's worth of material, forty eight lectures and twenty four hours covering forty seven different authors and their many works. He walks through many different literary traditions that are landmarks in the march of the development of literature throughout time and around the globe. While this will give you a general idea of the general trends, it is impossible to actually accomplish what he sets out to do. The less you know about world literature, the more you will get out of this course. The more you know about it, the more you will be continually frustrated by the absence of authors, works, and literary traditions that matter to you. As a tour, this is one of the best courses that one could expect. While you might change a few of the selections, for what they represent almost every major tradition is touched upon. He does not really discuss genres, but he does get lost in discipline and styles, and we end with a post-modern work of literature just as we began with the first recorded story. So where to go from here? While this course can certainly be valuable and enjoyable to you, as it was to me, it should be seen as a jumping off point. If this course kindled your passion for literature, there are a number of ways to go about that passion. The first would be to read those books and authors whose individual lectures peaked your interest the most. If certain genres and disciplines were more interesting than any one work, there are several different courses available to you. While Western Literature and authors make up the lion's share of this course, there is a lecture series twice as long as this, 84 lectures for the Western Literary Tradition. There are a couple of repeats along the journey, but it is a different experience more narrowly focused - if still very broad. Within that tradition spur on several other courses, such as the Classics of Russian Literature, The Tragedies of Shakespeare, the 19th Century British Poets, Twentieth Century American Literature, Ancient Greek Literature, and many more. I've just recently finished listening to literary courses on Science Fiction and Post-Modernism. Many of them are good, some are fantastic, and a couple are average. Good luck, and enjoy your journey.
Date published: 2016-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! I was very pleased to find this in my library. I have recommended it many friends and family. It is intelligently and thoughtfully compiled. The speaker on my first one (The History of World Literature) is obviously a worldly soul and well-rounded intellectual. His deliver and personal touches were excellent. If only more people found joy in this kind of knowledge the world would be such a different and more beautiful place (learning from history...). Gone would be so many of the extremist and irrational views; both at home and abroad. As the learned typically would rather share useful knowledge than destructive hate - the latter stemming from nothing more than foolish opinions, born of a lack of general knowledge.
Date published: 2016-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great value Loved every bit of it. I am not an academic, the tone suited me fine. However, I would have appreciated a very brief text summary, outlining the printed works/authors referenced in the conference. Something along the line of "for further lectures" In particular, the spelling of the name of some authors is not obvious: it made it hard to find the right source. Thanks
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So good it made me sad when it ended! I have listened to over 100 Great Courses CD's and this course is in my top 5. I loved the professor's style of presentation and thought his ability to summarize each piece of literature and place it in an historical and cultural context was impeccable. Professor Voth was able to make even unfamiliar works accessible and interesting. My enjoyment of familiar and well-loved works was heightened by his comments and insights. I was motivated to read or re-read many of the works he included in this course. My interest level was so high I found myself going back and reviewing a lecture in the course book (something which admittedly I seldom do). I believe this course would have great appeal for a broad range of listeners. I really was very sad as I ejected the last CD.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent and Deeply Enriching Professor Voth has produced a must have course for anyone interested in the world of letters. It was a privilege to listen to this course. I have long loved English literature and have had some exposure to European literature but this course widened my intellectual literary horizons enormously. I discovered literature for the first time in many cases; Japanese and Chinese poetry I knew nothing of and now want to explore more. The lecture on Indian stories (lecture 12) is simply breathtaking and highlights how vast amounts of the tales we associate with Aesop or the Grimm brothers originated in India centuries before. I also loved the lectures on Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy and Pushkin. It has whetted my appetite to listen to the Classics of Russian Literature course I have purchased. Other lectures illumined too; I had heard of Moliere for example but in reality knew very little of his work and the lecture was a wonderful orientation for anyone seeking to explore further. I completely recommend this course as vital in order to place perhaps the literature with which we are more familiar (ie English or European)in a global context. The course highlights for me the commonality of the human need to tell stories and seek expression in literature. The Professor's style and delivery were for me superb; the cadence of his voice had me hooked from lecture one and his obvious passion and compassion for humanity's literary endeavours shone through. A truly wonderful course and wonderful Professor. I have bought his course on Myth in Human History and look forward to that.
Date published: 2015-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating trip through literature This charming and interesting professor gallops through the history of literature while maintaining a remarkably capable approach to the many texts covered. His approach works – instead of a vast, and necessarily totally superficial, coverage, he stops at many authors with insightful, often deep, discussions. This is not a coherent synthesis of literature, but the professor clearly has not tried to make it so. Instead, this is a rough collection of many stories. Wisely, for many of the authors, the speaker does not intend a broad review of their most famous work, but rather picks a subset that can be taught in the time allocated. The result is a fascinating collection of literary vignettes.
Date published: 2014-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Nicely Done Intro or Review; High School Level This course would make a fine introduction to literature for motivated high school students (or for college students who managed not to learn very much about literature in high school.) It would also serve well as a review of many of the high points and movements of world literature for those desiring a broad overview, but not expecting deep insights. Professor Voth is an accomplished speaker, with a likable, low-key conversational style and an unflagging enthusiasm for his subject. Going by these lectures, he seems to have read everything and remembered everything he has read. If he is reading off a prompter he is doing a remarkably subtle job of it; the impression given is one of effortless scholarship. Almost every lecture treats one work of one author, with a few obvious exceptions such as the Bible and Shakespeare. (The half-hour treatment of Shakespeare, by the way, which I expected to be a quixotic and impossible quest, was remarkably one of the best in the course.) Professor Voth summarizes the work and then comments on the work itself, the author, and their place in the history of literature. The amount of stress given to these divers aspects varies widely. The greatest weakness of the course is the obvious and unavoidable one: Even forty-eight lectures, even in the hands of an outstandingly knowledgeable and capable teacher such as Professor Voth, can barely give form, much less substance, to the subject at hand: 5000 years of the best writing of all of humanity. I admire him and The Great Courses for making this effort, and for doing what I imagine is as excellent a job as is possible. (For some reason Don Quixote keeps popping into my mind. . .) As an unimportant aside, but along these lines, it so happens that not one of my own most admired authors or works was covered: Melville and "Moby-Dick"; Fitzgerald and "The Great Gatsby"; and Woolf and "To the Lighthouse." And while our good professor did a lovely job with Joyce's "Dubliners," I would have far preferred a treatment of "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." So it goes. A lesser but still significant weakness was an amorphous quality to the lectures. They flowed freely, without clear organization. It would have been extremely helpful for Professor Voth to have followed that inestimably wise bit of rhetorical advice: tell them what you're going to say; say it; then tell them what you've said. I watched the DVD, but there would be no loss in taking it as an audio course except a few pictures of the authors. The Course Guidebook is excellent, and includes a timeline, glossary, biographical notes, and an annotated bibliography. So - I do recommend this course to any with a desire for a broad, but not deep, introduction to, or review of, world literature. It will have served its purpose best if it functions to inspire us all to continue to read great books.
Date published: 2014-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Impressive! In this series of 48 lectures, Professor Voth ambitiously sets out to present a survey of world literature, from Antiquity to the present. He succeeds masterfully and, constantly centering on storytelling, he covers epic poetry, drama and novels from Ancient Greece to contemporary India. With true scholarship and without a milligram of pedantry, he constantly emphasizes the strongpoints of the pieces covered and presents criticism in only one instance, with respect to the concluding chapters of the ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. As Professor Voth mentions tongue in cheek in the first lecture, a possible side effect of taking this course lies in developing an insatiable appetite for reading a diversity of works. This risk is worth taking and the series is strongly recommended to all, even those already knowledgeable in the field of literature.
Date published: 2014-10-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Good Survey Course, But... Professor Voth does an adequate job with the assignment that he took with the Teaching Company. As he says in the last lecture, he fashioned this course as a sort of Whitman's Sampler, that is, as a box of candy with one of each type, with the idea that the customer would simply like the variety and/or seek out later more of the preferred candies. I applaud the professor for keeping a pretty good balance in the lectures between biography, plot, and background on the one hand and interesting and strong comments on meaning on the other. Professor Voth has obviously done considerable work in this field and brings knowledge and good insights into his teaching. Having praised the professor in these respects, I must say that I only deem the course average. The Great Courses has an extraordinary stable of professors in literature. Weinstein, Heffernan, Spiegelman, Kinney, and Thorburn immediately come to mind. What distinguishes their work from this is the degree of depth, brilliance, power and quality of analysis. Don't get me wrong: Voth is quite good. I just don't believe his work here warants the higher evaluation. (I will likely finish Heffernan's truly remarkable course on Ulysses in the next few weeks and will write then a bit more about what, for me, merits 5 stars.) The other thing I must confess and disclose: I never liked Whitman's Samplers! Over half the candies never suited me, and I wondered why I spent the money on them. This is not to say I don't like survey courses. I've rated some of TGC literature survey courses more favorably, but they're generally not my cup of tea. Giving Shakespeare no more time than the Heptameron just doesn't work for me. Nor does giving Rabindranath Tagore the same attention as Emily Dickinson. Many other reviewers obviously disagree. I'm just wanting to bring out the other side.
Date published: 2014-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Doesn't get any better After a bachelor's degree worth of literature course, I learned to identify when someone identifies key concepts in popular stories and explains them clearly. Professor Voth does this time and again throughout this lecture series, traveling easily through literature from other cultures and illustrating how the questions they raise about the human condition apply to everyone. Professor Voth does not slack off in his rigor and the listener benefits greatly because of it. Furthermore, he displays this exposition without the bombast of moral presumptuousness, or the smugness of a person with an extended stay in academia. Remarkable.
Date published: 2013-08-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from One of my favorites One of my favorite courses. Tremendous range and breadth of subject matter. I really appreciate how difficult must have been to create a meaningful course like this, covering thousands of years, and a wide range of cultures in only 48 lectures.... While still providing enough depth to be insightful and thought provoking. Thank you
Date published: 2013-08-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Amazing breadth I really appreciated the amazing breadth of this course and the cross-cultural, multi-cultural experience spanning millennia. There was so much covered. Many of the works reviewed I have yet had time to read. My only wish is that Prof Voth had read more excerpts. No, I'm not being lazy, just realistic. Since I listen while commuting and am exhausted when I get home, I just wanted a bit more. Is that too much to ask in this busy world of ours?
Date published: 2013-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply outstanding! Audio download. ©2007. Guidebook 301 pages. I got this course as an audio download, but I enjoyed it so much I’ll likely upgrade to video and do it again after reading more of the books under discussion. It definitely opened a whole new world for me. Because of this course, I’ve added a string of books I want to read. At first I was a little apprehensive about getting this course because I have a few other TGC courses that contain the same books (Proust, Beckett, Homer, and Beowulf quickly come to mind). I thought those works would be redundant. In this regard, I was way off: Same books, entirely different perspective! I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed my time with Prof Voth. Every day I couldn’t wait to hear the next lecture. Voth is a masterful storyteller. And it was as much about literature as it was history and literary criticism. So it’s not just a synopsis of great works of literature, plot and character. This is a tight course, well crafted and thought out. My all time favorite TGC lit course is Western Literary Canon in Context (John Bowers). History of World Literature is my second favorite, only because I wasn’t as familiar with all the books. In short, intellectually stimulating, emotionally satisfying.
Date published: 2013-06-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! Professor Voth's knowledge of and enthusiasm for world literature is inspirational. I found myself with a free week to keep watching his lectures and that's just what I did. I loved it that he tied in the writing with the times, giving me additional background on history. I'm looking forward to absorbing his lectures on The Skeptic's Guide to the Great Books.
Date published: 2012-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from FAR REACHING, COMPREHENSIVE This review refers to the DVD's which I recommend since Dr Voth's presence and mannerisms add to the interest during the 24 hours of this course. This remarkable series represents an ambitious survey of some of world literature created over five thousand years of human history. As Dr Voth modestly states, there could be any list of material by any number of lecturers to cover the subject matter. This particular group represents his own idiosyncratic selection of stories. He discusses the authors, where known, as well as providing a detailed analysis of the work selected. In addition, he provides a solid background of where he believes the work fits into his general definitions of movements within the universe of literary thought. I suppose one could quarrel with some of his points, but, to me, the real pleasure was being able to share in a gifted teacher's discussion of literature from all over the world through many time frames. It was enlightening and educational. He states his belief that stories uninhibited by outside authorities are essential to humankind and enrich out lives. In many of his comments, he points out the universal truths disclosed in the stories. He also is not afraid to tackle some writers such as Faulkner and Mark Twain who reputedly have fallen into disfavor among the politically correctness police infesting some of our institutions of higher education. In sum, this series is what TGC program is all about in adding to the pure pleasure of learning for its own sake, in my opinion, and is highly recommended to everyone.
Date published: 2012-09-24
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Better to read the books While I can understand the usefulness of categorizing literary works as Professor Voth does in this series of lectures, one must be aware of the obvious limitations of such a categorization. After all, authors (hopefully) do not write so as to fit their works into predefined academic categories such as “epic”, “romantic”, “realistic”, “modern” etc. So one should not expect a literary work to necessarily fit neatly into one of these categories. If these limitations are remembered and the categorization is not forced, no real harm is done and we might even profit from an enrichment of the literary vocabulary and possibly gain deeper appreciation of great literary works. Unfortunately Professor Voth seems to have no such reservations and when a work doesn’t fit in one of his literary compartments or processes he tends to bend the literary work to fit the theory instead of the other way round. An especially shocking example of this is lecture 27 in which Professor Voth analyses Emily Bronte's amazing tour de force "Wuthering Heights". I will therefore discuss this lecture below in some length as a case in point. Now I can’t say the same for all the works discussed in the course but for me this lecture cast such a dark shadow on the whole course that I immediately ceased to listen to it. Though I find almost all of Professor Voth’s analysis of this book to be mistaken and most of his assertions false, I do not have room to discuss all of these here and I will confine myself to UNARGUABLY FALSE ASSERTIONS made by Professor Voth. These demonstrate what absurdities imposed academic categorization can lead to. There can be no justification to making such blatantly false assertions, and it seems that they could only have been made by someone who has not read the book (and by reading I mean the actual book from cover to cover) or by someone who read it a long time ago and has since, forgotten both its spirit and its plot. My belief that this is indeed the case is strengthened by Professor Voth's absurd, albeit arguable, assertion that the second part of Wuthering Heights with all its cruelty, violence, and ominous atmosphere, terminating only in Heathcliff’s death at the end of the last chapter, resembles a Jane Austin novel . My guess is that Professor Voth has rather blindly adopted the views of Graham Holderness (Wuthering Heights,Open Guide to literature) and J. Hillis Miller (Fiction and repetition) who both seem determined to see the novel as a having “multiple points of view” and “multiple narrators” with “discrepancies” between Mr. Lockwood and Nelly Dean’s narrations and the authors “truth”. We are told that there are “two different novels within the same set of covers” (Holderness) and that “every single detail in the novel comes to us from multiple points of view’ (Professor Voth). For lack of space I will try to wtite these false assertions and their disproof in a following review if this is possible
Date published: 2012-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best course I’ve ever taken! This absolutely outstanding course - first of all in compilation, presentation, richness, and a very deep analysis. Thank you Professor Voth!
Date published: 2012-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and Engaging I have only been through two lectures of this course, but I am already in love with it. Professor Voth is engaging and clearly involved in the history of world literature. The course covers a wide range of literature from all over the world and gives a comprehensive picture of mankind's history of storytelling. What a great buy! This course will give me enough extra reading to last the whole summer!
Date published: 2012-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A "Must Do" Course Prof Voth presents his selection of the world's great literature in a charming converstaional style. He has great depth of knowledge of the material, and ties together literature (content and styles) from ancient times to present, from the Far East through India and Europe to America. This is a course I could listen to again and again. One of the absolute best from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2012-02-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but not great While I generally have enjoyed lecture series by Prof Voth, my one reservation in recommending him wholeheartedly is that he spends too much time, in my view, retelling stories/ plots and not enough analyzing/ discussing them. Perhaps that's appropriate for an audience unfamiliar with the literature he covers, but for anyone who has read the literature, it can grow tedious to have him work his way through minutiae of plot . He also has a tendency to repeat himself--ie, assert something, then reassert it in slightly different wording. Argh! I found myself too often thinking,"Please, just get to the point!" That said, he does have a pleasant speaking voice and does cover a great deal of literary ground in this course.
Date published: 2011-10-22
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