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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nabokov, 29 Oct. 2009
J. Jensen (UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Lectures on Literature (Harvest Book) (Paperback)
This book, which contains a number of lectures given to students when he was lecturing at an American university, demonstrates Nabokov's immense understanding of European literature. Highly acclaimed as a whole, The piece on James Joyce is particularly brilliant, and very useful to anyone attempting to read Ulysses.

James Jensen
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Telltale Tingle, 7 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Lectures on Literature (Harvest Book) (Paperback)
Vladimir Nabokov delivered his lectures on literature at Wellesley and Cornell between 1941 and 1958. The tone is chatty and eloquent, pedagogical and playful, the persistent punning and alliteration reminiscent of his fictional works. Nevertheless, these posthumously published essays are fragmentary and cobbled together with much editorial meddling, the rhythm and cadence of the prose nothing compared to the polish of the published Nabokov. They are unapologetically frank and doctrinaire, although Nabokov's strictly aesthetic approach, stripped of historical context and ideological influence, makes for some blinkered results.

It is the first lecture, however, 'Good Readers and Good Writers', which is of most interest. In this brief introduction, Nabokov constructs the ideal Nabokovian reader. They must 'fondle details', read with the 'telltale tingle' in the spine, and be in possession of a quartet of essentials, namely a dictionary, good memory, artistic sense, and imagination. The reader must never identify themselves with the hero/heroine, nor should they measure the work against reality. All art is deception, and the novel's world adheres to its own autonomous rules, rules to which the reader must submit.

Nabokov explodes a bomb beneath these tenets and the debris descends upon the various lectures. Although the narratives are linearly tackled, Nabokov is more daring on the aspects of form (structure + style), and his elucidation of Flaubert's poetic precision and the unfolding metaphors of Proust's In Search of Lost Time are gracefully handled. The mammoth essay on Ulysses is an immense achievement, the perfect companion piece to such a complex work, and Nabokov's painstaking recreation of Bloom's Dublin (complete with detailed diagrams) is a testament to the necessity of close reading (he even solves the riddle of The Man in the Brown Macintosh).

The sole grumble is aimed at the publisher. Nabokov liked to quote large chunks of the novel under discussion, but the publisher (or editor) takes no pains to differentiate the quoted text from Nabokov's, thus making it hard to follow who's writing what. It becomes an irritating muddle that could, and should, have been avoided.

As far as literary criticism goes, then, Nabokov's is not overly sophisticated, but he expertly unpicks the tapestries of the novels and exposes their mysterious weaves. Although Nabokov's prodding pedagogy can become tiresome, his enthusiasm disperses such mounting annoyance, as his infectious words goad the reader into confronting the beautiful and blissful art of the novel.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mainly for fans and students of tha Nabokovian oeuvre, 3 Jan. 2001
This review is from: Lectures on Literature (Paperback)
Vladimir Nabokov's approach to European literary masterpieces is both funny and enlightening. Of special interest for the uninitiated into the Nabokovian world view are the essays "Good Readers and Good Writers" and "The Art of Literature and Commonsense". But beware: if you want to read a straight academic approach to the writers treated in this book you have chosen the wrong book. Some of Nabokov's comments are fantastic, especially his reading of Flaubert and Proust are exceptionally good, but they are not wissenschaft in the traditional manner. These lectures say more about Nabokov the writer than they say about other writers.
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14 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nabokov begets pom-poms for the great classics of yore, 10 Dec. 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: Lectures on Literature (Paperback)
Nabokov plunges straight into the texts of some of literature's finest moments, with the sole reminder to his audience not to relate with a particular character or circumstance, but rather the author's sheer genius and mastery over form, vision, and artistry. Of course such an obsession to the virtuosity of the "enchanter" can be limiting in itself, yet let us cast aside such doubts and take solace in the merry classroom of Nabokov's fresh jive. ----- "'To take upon us the mystery of things' - what King Lear so wistfully says for himself and Cordelia - this is also my suggestion for everyone who takes art seriously. A poor man is robbed of his overcoat; another poor fellow is turned into a beetle - so what? There is no rational answer to "so what." We can take the story apart, we can find out how the bits fit, how one part of the pattern responds to the other; but you have to have in you some cell, some gene, some germ that will vibrate in answers to sensations that you can neither define, or dismiss. Beauty plus pity - that is the closest we can get to a definition of art. Where there is beauty there is pity for the simple reason that beauty must die: beauty always dies, the manner dies with the matter, the world dies with the individual." ----- While only skimming the shimmering surfaces of each creation, Nabokov's lectures nevertheless inform and delight throughout. The style is warm, playful, and encouraging. I would particularly recommend this primer to those curious yet uncertain individuals to whom the vast and shady world of "literary masterpieces" seems as likely to enlighten as it is to brainwash with page after page of pretentious, verbal extravagance and dull moral predicament. This is a valid suspicion and too often the case in some of the perceived classics of literature. But coming from Nabokov, who has himself taken such short-comings and transformed them into brilliant reading in its own right ('Pale Fire'), this selection of works is deserving and, I believe, likely to satisfy the novice and experienced reader alike. These timeless books are new languages to be learned, forgotten trails to be rediscovered; so that the imagination might be free to converse with greater ease to that boisterous group of private voices, with their armoured rhymes and heady ardor. ----- "Resemblances are the shadows of differences. Different people see different similarities and similar differences." As in all of his work Nabokov leaves his interpretations open-handed, aloof and free of any sense of responsibility (despite the straightforward delivery the Nabokov smirk is still alive and kicking throughout). He's had his say; let the works stand on their own two feet. Our humble lecturer justly points out that if these creations don't appeal to his little hunters of culture, well then, there are always other worlds to turn to, other thrills to be found in life. If this isn't your cup of tea than like Nabokov's own literary creation, Professor Timofey Pnin, one can always travel up on the road into "the soft mist where hill after hill made beauty of distance, and where there was simply no saying what miracle might happen."
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Lectures on Literature (Harvest Book)
Lectures on Literature (Harvest Book) by Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov (Paperback - 1 Feb. 1982)
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