Classics of Russian Literature

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! Inspiring me to read the actual texts! I loved this professor. I found him interesting and incredibly knowledgeable, full of enthusiasm for his subject matter which was infectious. He has single-handely encouraged me to read all of the authors he touches upon which, in my mind, is a job well done. I would have loved to have had him in college. His insights also greatly assisted me with my reading I had begun beforehand, which I found challenging to absorb on my own. I continuously use his lectures and the transcript text as a guide as I explore the inner-most caverns of the deep Russian soul found not only in the great literature Professor Weil explores, but within ourselves. Thank goodness we have professors like Dr. Weil easily available to us to help promote a path of lifelong learning.
Date published: 2019-11-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Boring I was so excited to purchase this course and so disappointed to find how lacking it was. When the professor (standing at a bare lecturn in front of no one) wasn't straining to read directly from the teleprompter, he was going off on tangents and speaking too colloquially for the subject material. More visuals would have helped too.
Date published: 2019-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This class left me wanting more I have always loved Russian literature, and I had read most of the books that Professor Weil discussed, so I was ready to love this class, and I did. Number one, I love the tone that he took. It was warm and engaging. You could tell he loved the works he was discussing. Yet he was balanced in his views. If someone (Tolstoy, for example) was a major nut, he said so while still maintaining his stature as a great artist. My second favorite aspect of the course was his recitations in Russian. Not only was it beautiful, it gave you a sense of the language and its rhythms. This was especially lovely when he quoted poetry. He also has a very good singing voice! The historical background was also helpful in understanding the different writers and their works. My only disappointment was that I was left wanting more, and that can't really be classified as a disappointment. I wanted a class on Goncharov, Lermontov, Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam, Bulgakov, Zamyatin, and the list goes on. Is there any way to add twelve or so lectures? I really want to know about the Silver Age. There are several books I want to re-read.
Date published: 2019-09-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best proffesor ever Enjoy each lecture tremendously. Learned and learned enjoy every moment
Date published: 2019-09-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good but repetitive This course has content of great interest to me. Dr. Weil's presentation is good, but I have a few criticisms. He reads a lot of Russian during the lectures. I like this to a point, but there is far too much of it. He is at times repetitive. He is an engaging person with extensive knowledge of the subject. I think it could easily have been 24 lectures instead of 36. All that being said, I still think it was worth it because the subject interests me so much. Also, it helped that I took Professor Hartnett's excellent Understanding Russia: A Cultural History first.
Date published: 2019-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from warm and wonderful Professor Weil with his personal warmth, and evident passion for his subject, made this course into something resembling a fireside chat, wonderful episodes of listening to a man who knows his stuff weave enchantment out of all of it, complete with some readings in the original Russian for their euphonic aspects, duly translated of course, plus even delightful renderings of relevant music sung, thankfully, in tune
Date published: 2019-03-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Have gotten thru 6 sessions so far. The professor tries to pack too much in to one session. He is so familiar with the subject matter that he leaves me behind from time to time. No doubt, however, I am enjoying the course and it certainly keeps me looking forward to the next lecture. I signed up for the streaming video rather than the audio because I thought that there would be more imagery to accompany the lecture. So far that has not been true.
Date published: 2018-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lessons from a master reader The course I took just before this one was on modern Russian and Soviet history, and its presenter was a dynamic speaker who interwove political events with cultural developments. Professor Weil is a very different type of lecturer: soft-spoken, casual, and his lectures are much more like symposium sessions with less than a dozen students and their professor sitting around a large table, perhaps sharing tea together. While it took me a couple of lectures to adjust to the difference between the two professors' manner of delivery, I then found myself "settling in" to another visit with someone who was becoming something of an old friend, a ready smile on his face and read to yield up more treasures from the rich field of Russian literature. Of necessity, as is the case in any course, he had to choose representative works from among the greatest writers and poets, leaving some -- as he readily admits and laments -- out. Nonetheless, this is a rich survey and, because he knows and loves the Russian language so much, one that gives listeners and viewers a chance to hear extensive quotations -- even songs -- in the Russian language. (I confess my ear was not good enough to really "hear" the magic of poetry in Russian for which he professed such love.) Even those who are quite familiar with the works of the masters such as Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Chekhov will likely learn something new from Professor Weil's course, as well as gain a new appreciation for the vastness of Russia's geography and rich historical experience. If one is looking for a "quick summary" course on major works of Russian literature, this is not the course for you. But if you are willing to set aside the hectic pace of modern life, pull up a favorite chair, and brew yourself some tea (or seize another liquid), I think you will be greatly enriched by the wisdom, knowledge, and humor of this good man.
Date published: 2018-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Classics of Russian Literature I love this Great Course. I'm not through with it yet, but I've absorbed so much because Great Courses has made it SO MUCH more interesting than similar courses I had of Russian Literature, in college. I've bought around six other courses from Great Courses this year & will continue to do so. I'm now getting a MUCH BETTER education than I had as a young person. Know you will, too.
Date published: 2018-12-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Best if You Speak Russian Like many TGC students I suspect, I have read (and reread) the well-known classics like “The Brothers Karamazov”, “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina” , “Crime and Punishment” and some miscellaneous Pushkin poetry. It was only through the cinema that I became familiar with Gorky (The Lower Depths by both Renoir and Kurosawa), the stage (Chekov) and opera that I became familiar with the prose of Pushkin (Boris Godunov and Eugene Onegin). Of course as a member of the West I felt obliged to read Solzhenitsyn. As impressed as I was (and am) with Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, I remained ignorant of much of the rest of Russian literature. Thanks to Professor Weil some of that ignorance has been modified. His 36 lectures seemed to cover the scope of the subject, although having read the other reviewers, I accept that much was left out (as admitted by the Professor). And herein lies the rub. I thought that the lectures on the novels and writers with whom I was already familiar lacked come degree of depth. I would have preferred more analysis and less plot description. To be sure Dr. Weil did bring out some points of which I was unaware or had given no thought, even on works that I had read more than once. But for works that I had not read (e.g. “And Quietly Flows the Don”), I liked that I got a lot of plot summary. Plus the historical and cultural background that he provided that gave me quite a bit of background necessary for proper understanding of the work (e.g. the Cossacks in the aforementioned novel). A dilemma for the course: what level of prior knowledge should the instructor assume? In the end I think that Professor Weil hits about the right mark. Even on works that I had read (but had not enjoyed so much) such as those by Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak, Professor Weil added quite a bit to my understanding of the author and the background that caused the books to written. There is quite a bit of history (much unnecessary I thought) and cultural (almost all necessary) information provided as the course goes along. In the end these positives are enough to give the course high marks. There are of course a few elements that don’t quite hit the expected standard. For example, beginning at lecture three (Pushkin) Professor Weil does a lot of recitation of the poetry in Russian. Now this is fine if the prereqs for the course are Russian 101 and 102, but not helpful for the rest of us. To be fair a bit of the rhythm and sonority of the language is helpful in understanding why Pushkin should be considered a great poet, but for me at least, the recitations in Russian went on long after I had heard as much as was going to helpful to a non-Russian speaker. (note that I understand this may not be a fair criticism and I might not have the same view were this a course on Garcia Lorca and the recitation were in Spanish). And while I think it charming that Professor Weil felt that he could sign a bit of Boris Godunov (again to give us a bit of the feel of the language) and his singing was reasonably good, there was a bit too much of this as well. Finally, a criticism of omission. I am not competent to know which greats have been left out, but at least two reviewers have mentioned the grievous omission of Bulgakov. I looked him up and think that MtLogan’s comment on this must necessarily be correct. I will now put “The Master and Margarita” on my reading list. All in all get this course, but I’d say that having watched the video, the audio would be fine.
Date published: 2018-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Phenomenal Professor Needed a bit of a refresher course— the last time I took a course with Dr. Weil wa 1982!
Date published: 2018-08-05
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Um, um...and rambling I have several courses and this is my least favorite. Although the individuals and works covered are very interesting on their own, this professor is one of the worst. The lectures lack organizational structure, the professor stutters repeatedly to the point of distraction and fails to identify or emphasize main ideas. I also find some of his treatment of female characters and relationships to be sexist.
Date published: 2018-06-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from By no means an introductory class I rated this class three stars because the professor is very knowledgeable and well versed in the topic but the class requires that one know a lot about Russian history, literature, and politics prior to coming to the class. I would rather see the title "Advanced Discussion of Russian Literature" or "Intermediate Understanding of Russian Literature" something like that. The class is not an introduction nor even a survey class. For example, the professor often speaks in Russian. As someone who has no background in Russian that just lost me. So I could not rate the class higher than a three.
Date published: 2018-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course You know how to recognize a great class? When you are sad it's over and wish there was 'just one more' lesson. That's the way I felt when I finished this course. The professor is passionate about this subject and that comes through in his delivery. Scattered throughout the lessons, Professor Weil will deliver a passage in its original Russian, for the poetic experience. I don't speak Russian, but the rhythm still comes through. The lessons are a mix of the presented author's biography, a synopsis of their work, and something akin to a "book report" on a particular work or two. The format works well, but a few times I got lost and couldn't tell if we were talking about the author's life or a subject in his book. That's probably the only negative comment I would have of the whole course and it will partially land on me since I would generally be doing mindless chores while listening to the presentation. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this course. It caused me to head to the book store and buy a couple volumes from new (to me) Russian authors. What more can you ask for from a class but to start you down a path of your own expanded discovery?
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broadning For years, "Dr. Zhivago" has been my favorite novel. After reading "War and Peace" I wanted more insight about the breadth of Russian literature. This course is excellent! It covers Russian literature from the 12th Century, spans the golden age of Russian literature as written by Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy, and concludes with Soviet-era literature. Dr. Weil brings the subject to life with the historical and social background of the era. He reads selections in Russian--which I cannot understand, but reading in the original language made me appreciate the rhythm, meter, and inflections of Russian. He sings Russian folk songs with his melodious bass voice. This course is a treat and broadened my knowledge of literature.
Date published: 2018-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Pleasure from Beginning to End I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed that Chekhov only received one lecture (while Maiakovsky got two...what's up with that?) and Lermontov and Leskov didn't even make the cut. However, if they'd included every great poet or novelist of Russian literature, this course would have gone on forever. And because that's my only complaint, I give this course 5 stars. It was truly a pleasure to listen to, especially as I was driving or sitting down with a cup of coffee. I'm already familiar with Russian literature generally, but this course introduced me to several new writers (especially in the Soviet period) and taught me new things about old favorites like Dostoevsky. I loved the anecdotes about the writers, the background details about their political and social situations, the excerpts from the poems, and even the musical bits. It was all very colorful and engaging, and you can hear Prof. Weil's passion for the subject in each lecture. I'm especially happy that he didn't hesitate to quote the original Russian texts (followed by translation, of course). Now my to-read list has suddenly become much longer. Excellent lecture series, highly recommended!
Date published: 2017-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Buy without hesitation. Really excellent. The professor is probably the best scholar that can be found about the subject. He knows Russia very well. His comments about Russian critique are very well informed. A very erudite and entertaining teacher.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Course My degree is far removed from literature or history, but this course is absolutely fascinating. The instructor is superb. I am on the edge of my seat during each lecture.
Date published: 2017-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from By far the most enjoyable I've purchased 40 courses from The Great Courses and have worked my way through just about half of them. Hands down, this was the most enjoyable, featured my favorite instructor, and the course motivated me to purchase and read the most number of works cited in the journey of its 36 lectures (and I'm only sorry it stopped there. I would have ecstatic if it had gone an additional 36). Dr Weil is simply superb - a gifted storyteller, a talented voice actor, and he uses his wonderful singing voice to convey his insight via a dimension not typically risen to by university professors. As if that wasn't enough, he reaches out to you at whatever level you may be at in familiarity with Russian Literature, and brings you up and along on a journey of insight, history, outrage, sympathy, comedy and tragedy that is as vast and varied as Russia itself. This is a joyful learning experience on so many levels and so enjoyable you will wish that he had taught a follow-up course on the many Russian authors and works he had to leave unaddressed by necessity. The best purchase I've made so far.
Date published: 2017-05-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Big Novels in Little Lectures If you’ve always wanted to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Anna Karenina or Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago or Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov, but you’ve never had time to read such massive tomes, then this course is for you. If you HAVE read them, you may want to buy it anyways to remind you of what’s in them. The course heavily favors the three big giants of nineteenth-century Russian literature: Alexander Pushkin (5 lectures), Fyodor Dostoevsky (6 lectures), and Leo Tolstoy (6 lectures). Together the three receive almost half the coverage of this 36-lecture course. By contrast there are only two lectures each for Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Mayakovski, Mikhail Sholokhov (famous for And Quiet Flows the Don), Mikhail Zoshchenko, Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Anton Chekhov gets just one. Even so, this course provides listeners with a wealth of good stories. There are also interesting sidelights on the latest years of some of Russia’s literary heroes. You know how sometimes one says, “Oh, if only he had lived a longer life and produced more great works?” The composer Mozart would be a good example. Well, in some cases the authors lived so long they undermined their own reputations. Tolstoy became increasingly ascetic and hostile to sexuality, but offended the Russian Orthodox Church into excommunicating him, abandoned his family and then died of pneumonia. Sholokhov gave comfort to Soviet repression in the 1960s when he openly supported the government’s arrest of two dissident writers. Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia as a hero after the fall of Communism, only to get a TV talk show in which he did all of the talking and refused to let his guests get in a word. Professor Weil does a reasonably good job presenting the works, reading selections of poetry in the original Russian so that listeners can get a taste of the poets’ skill. This is especially the case for Pushkin, Mayakovski and Pasternak. Alas, I can’t understand Russian. More oddly, Weil sings some passages. In Lecture 33 he even sings in English a section of the “Sycamore Tree” song from Othello, which Pasternak translated into Russian. Weil’s voice is reasonably pleasant, but he probably won’t be invited to perform at the Met anytime soon. I have a few quibbles. The first two lectures cover the Kievan period with a discussion of the Lay of the Host of Prince Igor, but then there is absolutely nothing until Pushkin springs forth suddenly from nowhere after the early Muscovite centuries. It is as if no Russian writer put pen to paper from 1300 to 1800. Furthermore, Weil at least twice refers to Ivan IV (the “Terrible”--1533-84) as the first Tsar, but it was in fact Ivan III (the “Great”—1462-1505) who first took the title after his marriage to a Byzantine princess who was the niece of the last Emperor in Constantinople, Constantine XI Palaeologus. The final lecture isn’t very interesting, merely repeating certain points in earlier lectures without offering a new perspective. Otherwise I enjoyed the course well enough, and I recommend it.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I got into this quickly I find this course really engaging. Although it is about literature, it naturally includes a lot of history. The professor is interesting. I love his recitations in Russian.
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Russian Literature Is Addictive I bought this course several months ago. The professor is certainly animated about his subject matter. The only real criticism I have of the course is that the professor tends to ramble a bit on his subject and there seems to be the expectation that you at least know a little Russian history before coming into the course. I knew very little about Russian literature when I started this course and now I want to go out and purchase a few of the novels that were talked about during the lectures.
Date published: 2017-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Do not rush through Russian Lit This course needs to be savored. It is good all-around intelligent material. Do rush to get it and then enjoy!
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional course I'm US born and raised with limited knowledge of the Russian language and literature. My wife grew up in the Soviet Union. We watched this series together and thoroughly enjoyed it. Professor Weil clearly loves the Russian language, literature, culture, and people. For each author he discussed the historic background and some of that author's more notable works. He recited portions of some in perfect Russian with great feeling. Including some poetry and even sang a few songs. Made me wish I could read the literature in the original, as he has. Our only suggestions for improvement would be to cut back on the the use of "of course" and "as a matter of fact."
Date published: 2016-11-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A good introduction I took a great deal of time to get through this course because I kept stopping to read the books being discussed (The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace), but I'm glad I did. I think I got much more out of the course this way. I even listened to some of the lessons twice, once before and once after I read the book. The professor is a most interesting person. He read some of the material in Russian, so we got an idea of what the language sounds (like (my education on Russians didn't get this far)), and he is an excellent singer. He says nothing about the to-do over Sholokov; reportedly, his later novels were ghostrwitten him,, but the professor was short of time: he noted that he had only been able to sample the enormous breadth of Russian literature. I had some idea of this, as I had bought a Cambridge Guide on Russian literature, and there wee many authors this course didn't mention. Maybe The Teaching Company will hire him to make another course!
Date published: 2016-06-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Promising Content With Disappointing Presentation After developing a recent interest in Russian literature, I was sadly disappointing when I began listening to these lectures. The material covered in the syllabus seemed fresh and exciting (how could it not be when including giants like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky!), but the presentation of this material was sadly lacking. Below are a few thoughts, both positive and negative, that one might want to consider before purchasing this course. Perhaps the best way to express my disappointment in the presentation of this course is to say that professor Weil lectures as if he doesn't expect his audience to have read the texts before class. As a result, each lecture cannot progress past anything but a bare summary of the plot of each book. There is little analysis, commentary, or insight that moves beyond the plot summaries one might find on Wikipedia or Sparknotes. If you want to know a summary of many Russian classics, then this course might be for you, but if you are like me and you want to read the texts before engaging in discussion about them, then you may find better resources elsewhere. Second, professor Weil employs a lot of the Russian language in this course, which may be frustrating to those who know only a small amount of the language (or none at all). He constantly urges his audience to appreciate the "music" of the language. Indeed the language is beautiful, but he fails to appreciate the connection between the sound of the language and its meaning, as if reading the text fluently in Russian were an acceptable substitute for actually lecturing and analyzing the works themselves. The two positive things I can think of regarding this course are first, the materials covered, and second, the brief biographical sketches Dr. Weil gives. The books themselves are amazing, and I highly recommend all the books listed on the syllabus, and I appreciated Dr. Weil's remarks regarding the authors' lives, but unfortunately the value of the course doesn't go far beyond that.
Date published: 2016-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from the most unusual audio course I have purchased Of the dozens of courses I have purchased over the years, this is unique..and that, for me, is a good thing. I was ignorant of the Russian people, their language, history, etc. Prof Weil pulled all of that together using the framework of literature. I actually understand the structure of Russian proper names now. And, yes, he actually sings. He is a master at comparing the rythmn of English especially iambic pentameter with the rythmn of Russian poetry and song. There is a lot going on here. I listended to a chapter, then read the handbook, then listened again before I could be comfortable with my understanding of the course material. I listen in my car as I commute. So, really, each chapter was a three trip thing for me.. Do you like the voice of the butler, Mr. Carson on Downton? This fellow is a dead ringer for him in speech. If you want to know how life chances, lust and love and war and politics have shaped Russian literature this is the course for you. I rarely write reviews. But, I want to encourage others to give this course a try.
Date published: 2016-03-03
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Worst Purchase Ever and Waste of Time and Money I have purchased 11 literature courses through the Teaching Company and this was by far the worst and most frustrating waste of time and money. While the topic of Russian literature is of great interest- no insights, broadened historical/literary context or erudition/wisdom was gained after labouring through a lecture. The professor rambles on - just summarizes the plot of the novel (not very eloquently at that - reading a summary on Wikipedia would be 30 times more illuminating which is also free) and gives a few anecdotes about the author paparazzi style which does not really add any knowledge about the author's development as a writer or relevance in history. Very very disappointing- having professors like these contribute to the Teaching Company reflects badly on the quality and reputation of Great Courses products and in turn makes one hesitant to make future purchases.
Date published: 2015-11-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Literature and History I listened to the audio version of this course and definitely enjoyed it. I was pleasantly surprised how much Russian history I learned from the course, most specifically, the early history. Weil does an excellent job of placing the early works in the context of the politics and religion of their age. His speaking voice is very clear and strong - the audio production on this course was excellent. (Some courses have a large dynamic range causing either the soft sounds to be too soft or the loud sounds to be too loud.) There are long passages read, and sometimes sung, in Russian. Or, at least, they seemed long to me as I do not understand any Russian. In my opinion, these passages should have been shortened, if not eliminated. However, if you know Russian, they may be more meaningful to you. As another reviewer has noted, there were a number of quite strange pronunciations. They were jarring at times, distracting me from what Weil was saying. My final criticism is that the final lecture was a complete waste: summaries of the various works he'd already discussed, including further quotes. That last lecture should have covered another classic! When it comes to the literature courses, there is contention among reviewers about which should be covered in more detail: the life and times of the author, a summary of their work, or an analysis of the work. I felt there was a good balance here. In my opinion, unless you understand the world in which an artist lived, you can't really understand the works of the artist. And, if you haven't read the particular work, a deep analysis isn't of much use. Even though I have read some of these works, it has been years and the summaries were very useful. I do recommend this course. You will learn about Russian history, literature, and politics.
Date published: 2015-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I adore this course I adore this course. I suppose for the Russian literature scholar, it might not be what was expected. But this is what I feel courses *should* be - not tearing works apart but loving what they have to offer, sharing them with enthusiasm, and connecting them to the real life that exists around any piece of literature. I bought the course mostly to get to the (shorter) works of the last 50 years or so, assuming I might skip past the older works (which seemed too simplistic) and yawn through the endlessly long Tolstoy and such. However, from lecture one I was drawn in. Yes, he does go over the stories (so you don't need to have read them), but he doesn't just say "here's the plot, this and this happened," but more like "see how this so remarkably illustrates something in all our life experiences, and notice how important this struggle was to the author or to the readers at the time, and there was even a response from the government...," and sometimes even, "you really must hear how this particular expression sounds in the Russian language..." This professor (an American) clearly loves Russian literature, knows the works inside and out, and has researched the world into which they were first published. To have all that shared with me over the CD player in my car made me feel like I took a trip to Russia, stayed in the homes of the regular people, and got to know life from a different cultural perspective. Thanks for this course.
Date published: 2015-06-19
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Origins of Russian Literature
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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
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.


Harvard University


Northwestern University

About Irwin Weil

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.

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