Classics of Russian Literature

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Could have been better I was really looking forward to this course but after having finished it I feel it left me wanting more. I was hoping to know more about the writers Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and their writings but it felt like a surface level treatment. I love Russian literature because I think that of all the natonaislt literature in the world, I feel that the Russian literary works approach and seek to answer deeply human questions. While at times, the professor did touch upon that in this course, I felt that it have too cursorily a treatment of the most important works that make up the pantheon of great world literature.
Date published: 2020-09-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "Golden Age Classics" of Russian Literature Enjoyed listening to Prof Weil. Adequate coverage of some books/authors. Wished I could see some images or theatrical scenes of a play. I'm interested in listening to some of these books with critical comments by Prof Weil. Audio download was a bit trying; this download should be strung Heather togeather in a single package.
Date published: 2020-08-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I enjoy the lectures of Dr. Weil very much. He is a mutual friend of me and my Russian teacher. But I was extremely disappointed to realize that even though there are 36 lectures, Dr. Weil leaves out one of the great Russian authors (and one of my favorites) Mikhail Lermontov. Did Dr. Weil simply forget? I had also expected more photos along with the lectures.
Date published: 2020-06-14
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
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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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