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Classics of Russian Literature

Explore Russian masterpieces at all levels-characters, plots, scenes, and sometimes even single sentences-with an award-winning Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages.
Classics of Russian Literature is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 100.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Gallop through Russian Literature Professor Weil did a noble job presenting a survey of many outstanding writers. His use of the Russian language supplemented the discussions very colorfully and in a stimulating way. I thoroughly enjoyed each of the 36 lectures and Professor Weil himself! Lovers of those trying to understand the 'Russian Soul', will devour this wonderful learning quickly as I did! It is worth the investment!!
Date published: 2024-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic and Lively Professor So I just recently finished this course (It's a shame there's no DVD version or I'd be adding it to my list of Courses to get in DVD) and I found it very fascinating and enlightening. I hadn't realized just how rich the literary history of Russia was and is. Professor Weil brought the course to life both with his knowledge and enthusiasm, as well as great sample snippets he either spoke in Russian or sang. He has a wonderful singing voice too. I do believe it has inspired me to actually learn Russian just so I could read the works in their original language and to look into more authors - past and present - whose writing originates from that part of the world. I'm sort of hoping he might consider doing a course on Late-20th and Current 21st Century literature. Well, one can always hope.
Date published: 2023-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classics of Russian Literature Professor Weil is so knowledgeable and easy to understand that he holds our attention on a subject of which we have little knowledge. Having access to such wonderful teachers is truly a great gift.
Date published: 2023-03-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Worthwhile This excellent course brought back a few pleasant memories: my reading of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962; Lecture #35) while training at Marine Corps Base Quantico VA in the summer of 1970, steaming by Russian warships at anchor in the shallows of Kythera, Greece, in 1973, and visiting the Moscow residence/museum of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (Ulitsa Arbat 53; Lectures #3, 4 & 5) with my wife in June 2009. Professor Weil’s entertaining Lectures #8 & 9 on Nikolai Gogol prompted me to read a few of that author’s stories, and Lectures #10 to 13 sent me off to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from a Dead House (1860-62). The Russian experiences with incarceration, hard labor and punishing conditions are unequaled. Finally, near the end, Lectures #33 &34 on Boris Pasternak, my wife née Pasternak of Polish and Ukrainian ancestry became a sincere Weil admirer. Sadly, we watched this course as the Western alliance was escalating its proxy war with the Russian Federation. Odds are a bitter ending. HWF & ISF, Mesa AZ.
Date published: 2023-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview! I’ve enjoyed numerous Great Courses but so far this has been my favorite. Great literature overview from a historical perspective. Professor Weil kept me engaged throughout each lecture. I can’t recommend this course enough!
Date published: 2022-07-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enthusiastic Professor The instructor is knowledgeable and full of details about the writers and the mileu in which they lived and wrote. The style is a bit too informal for me.
Date published: 2022-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Indeed a Great Course, but also raises a question I've finished about 30 Great Courses so far, most of them in history, literature, religion, and philosophy. This is one of my ten favorites I've finished so far. I really liked the professor's enthusiasm for his subject and his explanations of how these novels reveal Russian culture. I learned a lot from this course. Professor Weil has a good speaking voice and his use of Russian and even his singing brings some fun to the listening. Of course, some lectures were more interesting than others. I found the lectures on Maiakovsky and Gorky a bit dull. I was more interested in the lectures on Pushkin and Tolstoy. Also, each devotee of Russian Lit will probably find some favorite left out, as many other reviews have noted there are no lectures on Bulgakov. For me, I was hoping to have a mention of Mikhael Lermontov, but alas there was nothing about him. This is an older course, published in 2006. I long for specific courses like this. Would the Great Courses still produce something this specific today? Why can't we have a course like this, but on French Literature? That would be so interesting!!! Other courses that are long overdue would include- French History from Clovis to DeGaulle Latin American History in the 1900's The Mexican Revolution Charles Dickens: His novels and his times German history from Otto I to the Fall of the Wall An introduction to Latin American Literature Africa- the History of a Continent These are just a few off the top of my head, but it sees these type of courses are becoming more rare as things are becoming homogenized these days.
Date published: 2022-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Compelling Professor My brother gave me a copy of Dostoevsky's The Idiot. Having no background in reading Russian literature, I turned to this course by Professor Weil; I'm riveted. And grateful to have this set of informative and engaging lectures to better appreciate these works.
Date published: 2022-04-05
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Russian literature famously probes the depths of the human soul. This course explores masterpieces at all levels-characters, plots, scenes, and sometimes even single sentences. Professor Irwin Weil, a passionate and illuminating teacher, has chosen a rich sampling of Russia's greatest writers, based on his 50-year love affair with the language and its literature.


Irwin Weil

Russian literature has a unique way of entering the human soul. I hope and believe that the lectures in the course show genuine love and passion for the literature and the magnificent Russian language.


Northwestern University

Dr. Irwin Weil is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature at Northwestern University, where he has been teaching for more than 40 years. He earned his B.A. and M.A. at the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. at Harvard University. Professor Weil has received several teaching awards, including the Northwestern University College of Arts and Sciences Award for distinguished teaching, the University Alumni Award for excellence in teaching, and the Gold Pushkin Medal from the International Association of Teachers of Russian and Russian Literature for outstanding teaching and research. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the prestigious St. Petersburg Nevsky Institute for the Humanities. Professor Weil is published widely in the field of Russian literature and culture, with special attention to the classics of 19th-century Russian literature and the Soviet Period. His principal focus has been on the connections between Russian literature and music. One of the most popular teachers at Northwestern, his classes in Russian literature attract hundreds of students each year.

By This Professor

Origins of Russian Literature

01: Origins of Russian Literature

Russian literature has its national and spiritual origins in the territory around the ancient city of Kiev, which adopted Christianity in the 10th century with a 100-year-old, magnificent translation of the Bible into Slavic....

32 min
The Church and the Folk in Old Kiev

02: The Church and the Folk in Old Kiev

One of Russia's most precious literary productions is The Tale of Prince Igor, a 12th-century epic recounting the daring, doomed raid of a Kievan prince against the neighboring Polovetsians, precursors of the Tatars....

31 min
Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, 1799-1837

03: Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, 1799-1837

The first of five lectures on Russia's greatest poet discusses Pushkin's upbringing and the influences that molded his character and literary style, making him, in his own words, "the Mozart of the 19th century."...

30 min
Exile, Rustic Seclusion, and Onegin

04: Exile, Rustic Seclusion, and Onegin

In the 1820s, Pushkin began work on a long poem, a "novel in verse," called Eugene Onegin. Inspired partly by Byron's Don Juan, it became an endless source of inspiration for later writers and composers....

29 min
December's Uprising and Two Poets Meet

05: December's Uprising and Two Poets Meet

After reading Shakespeare in French translation, Pushkin wrote the historical tragedy Boris Godunov, based on the life of a Russian tsar whom many people accused of rising to the throne by using murder....

30 min
A Poet Contrasts Talent versus Mediocrity

06: A Poet Contrasts Talent versus Mediocrity

Pushkin's drama Mozart and Salieri probed the psychological dimensions of the supposed murder of Mozart by his rival Salieri and inspired the 1980s play and film Amadeus. In Egyptian Nights, one can see elements of Pushkin in the character of Charsky....

29 min
St. Petersburg Glorified and Death Embraced

07: St. Petersburg Glorified and Death Embraced

The concluding lecture on Pushkin explores his narrative poem The Bronze Horseman, about a poor man pursued by an equestrian statue of Peter the Great. Somewhat later, Pushkin was fatally wounded in a duel provoked by a man flirting with his wife....

30 min
Nikolai Vasil'evich Gogol', 1809-1852

08: Nikolai Vasil'evich Gogol', 1809-1852

The first great master of Russian prose, Gogol' gloried in extensive, often bizarre imagery. In delightfully different ways, The Nose, The Inspector General, and The Overcoat each deal ironically with absurd situations....

31 min
Russian Grotesque-Overcoats to Dead Souls

09: Russian Grotesque-Overcoats to Dead Souls

Gogol's most famous novel, Dead Souls, concerns the confidence scheme of Chichikov, who buys ownership of dead serfs to use as collateral for a large loan, in the course of which Gogol' creates a gallery of grotesque characters....

30 min
Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, 1821-1881

10: Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, 1821-1881

The first of six lectures on Dostoevsky probes the early life of this celebrated chronicler of eternal themes and extreme states of mind. Dostoevsky's first novel, Poor Folk, is a heartrending, sometimes cruel, account of life among the lower classes in St. Petersburg....

30 min
Near Mortality, Prison, and an Underground

11: Near Mortality, Prison, and an Underground

Arrested for his political views, Dostoevsky was condemned to death and put in front of a firing squad, only to be reprieved at the last second. The experience had a searing effect on the author. Some years later, after many difficult experiences, he produced his most consistently cruel work, Notes from the Underground....

30 min
Second Wife and a Great Crime Novel Begins

12: Second Wife and a Great Crime Novel Begins

Under a draconian deadline, Dostoevsky dictated his novella The Gambler in a month, and then married his stenographer. Around this time, he began work on a story that would grow into the novel Crime and Punishment....

30 min
Inside the Troubled Mind of a Criminal

13: Inside the Troubled Mind of a Criminal

Continuing the analysis of psychological portraits in Crime and Punishment, this lecture focuses on the double murder at the heart of the novel and the gradual unraveling of what had appeared to be the perfect crime....

30 min
The Generation of the Karamazovs

14: The Generation of the Karamazovs

Dostoevsky's last novel, The Brothers Karamazov, tells a story of family conflict and moral struggle. The book's most celebrated chapter, "The Grand Inquisitor," is as mystifying as it is unforgettable....

30 min
The Novelistic Presence of Christ and Satan

15: The Novelistic Presence of Christ and Satan

The Brothers Karamazov includes a celebrated interview with the Devil, and the conviction of the wrong brother for patricide. Dostoevsky died shortly after finishing the novel....

30 min
Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, 1828-1910

16: Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, 1828-1910

The first of six lectures on Tolstoy explores his early life and works, including a remarkable account of childhood, adolescence, and youth, and a series of realistic stories based on his experiences in the Crimean War....

30 min
Tale of Two Cities and a Country Home

17: Tale of Two Cities and a Country Home

Tolstoy's most famous novel, War and Peace, was inspired at least partly by his reaction to the return to European Russia of some of the Decembrists previously exiled to prison in Siberia, and evolved into a sprawling saga centered on the great Napoleonic invasion of 1812. This lecture introduces some of its major characters....

30 min
Family Life Meets Military Life

18: Family Life Meets Military Life

What happens when decent family people meet the hideous bloodshed of the most massive war that Europe had yet seen? In War and Peace, Tolstoy paints a huge canvas in which even the smallest detail is astonishingly lifelike....

29 min
Vengeance Is Mine, Saith the Lord

19: Vengeance Is Mine, Saith the Lord

After War and Peace, Tolstoy turned to an entirely different theme: adultery. Anna Karenina tells the story of a respectable married woman who goes through tortuous confusion and enters into a passionate affair that has tragic consequences....

30 min
Family Life Makes a Comeback

20: Family Life Makes a Comeback

A parallel plot in Anna Karenina involves a character named Levin, whose name clearly links him to the author, Lev Tolstoy. Like Tolstoy, Levin is preoccupied with the search for happiness and spiritual fulfillment....

29 min
Tolstoy the Preacher

21: Tolstoy the Preacher

The final lecture on Tolstoy probes two late novellas, The Death of Ivan Il'ich and The Kreuzer Sonata. The aging Tolstoy grew increasingly obsessed with moral and religious problems. He died in 1910 after fleeing his wife and home....

30 min
Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, 1818-1883

22: Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, 1818-1883

In his day, Turgenev's reputation surpassed that of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, especially in Western Europe. This lecture examines his Notes of a Hunter and First Love. The latter is a tender and beautiful evocation of adolescent passion....

30 min
The Stresses between Two Generations

23: The Stresses between Two Generations

In Turgenev's best known novel, Fathers and Sons, he addresses many of the most hotly debated issues of the day, including anarchism, socialism, feminism, and science. Turgenev experienced painful ambivalence in determining his own position on these issues....

30 min
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, 1860-1904

24: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, 1860-1904

Chekhov is renowned for capturing the subtleties of deep human feelings in his plays and short stories. This lecture examines one of each: The Seagull, a formative drama of 20th-century theater, and the poignant story The Darling....

30 min
M. Gorky (Aleksei M. Peshkov), 1868-1936

25: M. Gorky (Aleksei M. Peshkov), 1868-1936

As a popular writer and public figure, Gorky came to symbolize the transition between two different political and social systems, separated by the Russian Revolution. His autobiographical sketches are a moving account of the 19th-century Russia that he knew....

30 min
Literature and Revolution

26: Literature and Revolution

In the 1920s, Russian writers came under control of the Soviet system. Gorky, despite some misgivings, stayed loyal to the revolution. Many times he tried to protect writers and intellectuals from the murderous fanaticism of officials....

30 min
The Tribune-Vladimir Maiakovsky, 1893-1930

27: The Tribune-Vladimir Maiakovsky, 1893-1930

The brilliant poet Maiakovsky stoked the fires of passionate socialism with his evocation of the sun to visit the proletarian poet, his cry for a creative surge from "the army of the arts," and even, with some ambivalence, in his paean to the Brooklyn Bridge....

30 min
The Revolution Makes a U-Turn

28: The Revolution Makes a U-Turn

In 1929 Maiakovsky completed a very ambivalent and moving play, The Bedbug. Woody Allen's film Sleeper is, in part, inspired by this work. One year later, Maiakovsky played Russian roulette with a loaded pistol and lost....

30 min
Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, 1905-1984

29: Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, 1905-1984

The novelist Sholokhov saw the revolution as a tragic force that wiped out a whole community, the Cossacks. In the first part of And Quiet Flows the Don, he gives a vivid picture of pre-World War I Cossack life....

30 min
Revolutions and Civil War

30: Revolutions and Civil War

The second part of And Quiet Flows the Don gives a remarkable picture of what it's like to experience war and revolution. In later life, Sholokhov won a Nobel Prize and shockingly called for the execution of some dissidents....

30 min
Mikhail Mikhailovich Zoshchenko, 1895-1958

31: Mikhail Mikhailovich Zoshchenko, 1895-1958

Arguably the most popular writer during the Soviet era was the satirist Zoshchenko, who crafted stories that shed a ridiculing light on the many hypocritical and often downright crazy aspects of Soviet propaganda and life....

30 min
Among the Godless-Religion and Family Life

32: Among the Godless-Religion and Family Life

Zoshchenko's stories capture the religious piety that survived amid state-promoted atheism. He was also a master at portraying the comforts and vexations of family life amid housing shortages and other external pressures....

30 min
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, 1890-1960

33: Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, 1890-1960

Principally a poet, Pasternak partly coped with the dangers of the Stalinist era by translating Shakespeare. In the thaw after Stalin's death, he wrote a politically charged novel on the revolution, Doctor Zhivago....

30 min
The Poet In and Beyond Society

34: The Poet In and Beyond Society

Doctor Zhivago focuses on its hero's growing isolation in a country torn by war, revolution, and ideology. The novel has breathtakingly beautiful natural descriptions of Russia....

30 min
Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, Born 1918

35: Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, Born 1918

In 1962 an unknown high school math teacher electrified the world with a novella called One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which told the truth about the Soviet Union's slave labor camps. Solzhenitsyn went on to recount other horrors of the Stalinist era....

30 min
The Many Colors of Russian Literature

36: The Many Colors of Russian Literature

Reviewing the territory covered in the course, this lecture points out that Russian literature opens a wide window into the ways of the world and the human condition, enlightened by the writing of Russia's greatest authors....

32 min