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Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd Edition

Survey over 70 literary geniuses and masterpieces of Western literature and discover landmark themes, unique insights into human nature, and dynamic characters—without having to pore over thousands of pages of writing!
Great Authors of the Western Literary Tradition, 2nd Edition is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 37.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too cursory and non-literatry I subscribed to this class to get a better grasp on literature. It might be good for historians as a cursory overview but provided little in depth understanding of the actual works themselves. My preference is that when Great Courses takes a single narrow work like Ulysses and provides an indepth analysis. This course created more frustration than satisfaction. After listening to a lecture, I found I had little understanding of the works and authors themselves simply because so little time was dedicated to a single author. How do you summarize Ovid in 30 minutes? You can't.
Date published: 2024-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Worthwhile If you're looking for a solid survey course on the great authors of the Western literary tradition, I feel certain you'll be very pleased with this offering. As those of you who've taken literature courses from TGC know, the five professors who have assignments here are among the best in the stable. The teaching is really fine. If, on the other hand, you're looking for an in-depth treatment of a particular period, genre, or author, you may be disappointed. For, to cover the great span of time they've chosen, the course can at most give each lesson a good treatment on the surface with a modestly effective dive into one or perhaps two of an author's works. This course endeavors to give learners a sure and strong exposure to the best Western writers throughout history. The idea is that you then can pick those you want to study in greater depth and/or read or study their works at a later time. This was just a superb experience for me. The survey was excellent. I had a nice review of many of the writers. And, I now have a list of 5-7 writers I will explore further. Superb experience!
Date published: 2021-12-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Most are excellent, a few skip This course offers great breadth of exposure from some really great professors. I would, however, recommend skipping lecture 25 to 36 and investing in other Great Courses series, such as Professor Voth's History of World Literature, which covers some of the same works with much more skill.
Date published: 2021-12-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Features Unidentifiable At This Time I have recently received Great Authors ....... Tradition. The 80 plus sessions will take a considerable time to go through. It is not reasonable for you to ask for a review in such a short time after sending it to me. The three stars are given arbitrarily as this is a required field. Please disregard this rating. Ask me to do this review again in three months.
Date published: 2021-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Great Course! I adore this set of lectures. Absolutely adore. I still go back and listen to some of favorites when I have spare time. And it’s led to me expanding my library substantially. I’m trying to catch up on many of the works. But even without that, just being introduced to some of these works has been worthwhile. Strongly, strongly recommended.
Date published: 2021-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good course Very helpful, informative & very very long! One needs some patience to go through it. I managed by listening to other courses, in between lessons.
Date published: 2021-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Authors, Wester Tradition 2nd Ed As usual, the course is informative, challenging and interesting. Having taught Western Lit in Hawaii, California and China, I find most of the lessons well focused and well taught. My complaint is a general one: What about Asian lit? A course on Asian Lit (Chinese Lit) or a Comparative Course, examining both Asian and Western lis, would be fantastic. The Great Courses, (I have purchased more than fifty!), would be greatly enhanced by an infusion of courses on Asian and world history, lit, and philosophy courses. Not taught by Western professors, who are inadvertently euro-centric and mispronounce Asian languages. This dearth is the great flaw of an otherwise great mental adventure.
Date published: 2020-07-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from disappointing too much extraneous info; often seemed too heavily focused on sociology & religion rather than the authors & their writings. some truly questionable choices - especially #s 5, 6, 23, 29, 37, 45, 51 & 59
Date published: 2019-11-25
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From Mesopotamia to Mississippi, from the anonymous writer of the Epic of Gilgamesh to William Faulkner, writing 3,600 years later, many of the greatest figures of Western culture have been its writers. This course is your guide to a rich sampling of their masterpieces, chosen, explained, and analyzed by five outstanding professors. In addition to novelists, poets, and dramatists, you will study historians, biographers, essayists, philosophers, and the anonymous chroniclers behind the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels.


Thomas F. X. Noble

One great scholar said that history was a process of challenge and response. Surely we must ask what challenges remain.


University of Notre Dame

Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his B.A. in History from Ohio University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History from Michigan State University. Professor Noble has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and research grants from the American Philosophical Society. In 2008 he received the Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in Teaching from Notre Dame. In 1999 he was awarded the Alumni Distinguished Professor Award and a David Harrison III Award for outstanding undergraduate advising, both from the University of Virginia. Professor Noble is the author, coauthor, or editor of 10 books and has published more than 40 articles, chapters, and essays. His coauthored textbook, Western Civilization: The Continuing Experiment, is in its 5th edition. His research has concentrated on late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, focusing on the history of the city of Rome, the history of the papacy, and the age of Charlemagne.

By This Professor

Ronald B. Herzman

I am astonished and deeply grateful for all the feedback from people for whom the Dante course has made a difference in their lives.


State University of New York, Geneseo

Dr. Ronald B. Herzman is Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1969. He graduated with honors from Manhattan College and earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Delaware. Dr. Herzman's teaching interests include Dante, Chaucer, Francis of Assisi, Shakespeare, the Bible, and Arthurian literature. He has written many articles and book chapters and is the coauthor of The Apocalyptic Imagination in Medieval Literature and coeditor of Four Romances of England. Professor Herzman received the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1976, and in 1991, Manhattan College awarded him the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. Professor Herzman and Professor William R. Cook have been collaborating intensively since 1973, when they team-taught a course at SUNY-Geneseo called The Age of Chaucer. Subsequent courses included The Age of Dante and The Age of Francis of Assisi. Both prolific writers in their own right, together they have published The Medieval World View with the Oxford University Press, currently in its second edition. In 2003, Professors Cook and Herzman were presented with the Medieval Academy of America's first-ever CARA Award for Excellence in Teaching Medieval Studies.

By This Professor

Elizabeth Vandiver

I think many of the stories that we tell ourselves as a society–the stories that encode our hopes, aspirations, and fears–preserve the traces of classical culture and myth and are part of our classical legacy.


Whitman College

Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her MA and PhD from The University of Texas at Austin.

Prior to taking her position at Maryland, she held visiting professorships at Northwestern University, the University of Georgia, the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome, Loyola University of New Orleans, and Utah State University.

In 1998, The American Philological Association recognized her achievements as a lecturer with its Excellence in Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching prize given to American classicists. In 2013 she received Whitman College's G. Thomas Edwards Award for Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship. Her other awards include the Northwestern University Department of Classics Excellence in Teaching Award and two University of Georgia Outstanding Honors Professor Awards.

Professor Vandiver is the author of Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War and Heroes in Herodotus: The Interaction of Myth and History. She has also written numerous articles and has delivered many papers at national and international conferences.

By This Professor

Classical Mythology
James A. W. Heffernan

Ultimately, my teaching springs from a passion to learn, which is what I strive to share with my listeners.  School is just the beginning of education. If you want to stay alive to the very end of your life,  never stop learning.


Dartmouth College

Dr. James A. W. Heffernan is Professor of English, Emeritus at Dartmouth College, where he was also Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing. He earned his A.B. cum laude from Georgetown University and his Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Professor Heffernan taught a range of courses at Dartmouth, including European Romanticism, English Romantic poetry, methods of literary criticism, and the 19th-century English novel. For many years he also taught a senior seminar on Joyce's Ulysses that was regularly oversubscribed. Professor Heffernan received five grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He published, among other books, Representing the French Revolution: Literature, Historiography, and Art (1992) and Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (1993). The volume titled British Writers: Retrospective Supplement (Scribner's) includes his comprehensive essay on Joyce's work. He is the coauthor of Writing: A College Handbook, now in its fifth edition. He also published nearly 50 articles. Widely known for his work on the relationship between literature and visual art, Professor Heffernan has lectured at international conferences in Israel, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Holland, and Germany, as well as in various parts of the United States.

Susan Sage Heinzelman

The fact that a book can offend people on both sides of the political spectrum, however, probably means that it’s doing something right as a work of art.


The University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Susan Sage Heinzelman is Associate Professor of English and Director of the Center for Women's and Gender Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, where she has been teaching since 1977 in the English Department and in the School of Law. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario. Professor Heinzelman has won many university teaching awards, including the President's Associates Teaching Award (2003). She is president of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and the Humanities. She is coeditor (with Zipporah Batshaw Wiseman) of Representing Women: Law, Literature, and Feminism (1994) and author of many articles on the representation of women in law and literature, including ìBlack Letters and Black Rams: Fictionalizing Law and Legalizing Literature in Enlightenment Englandî in Law/Text/Culture (2002).


01: Foundations

This lecture introduces both the first two parts of this seven-part course, and the course in general. Professor Vandiver defines the key terms, "Western" and "literature," and describes the course's objectives.

32 min
The Epic of Gilgamesh

02: The Epic of Gilgamesh

The "Epic of Gilgamesh" is the earliest surviving work of Western literature. We explore its themes and the parallels between the Mesopotamian flood story as reflected in "Gilgamesh" and the story of Noah as it appears in Genesis.

31 min
Genesis and the Documentary Hypothesis

03: Genesis and the Documentary Hypothesis

We examine the Documentary Hypothesis, which posits four different source documents for the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Then we compare the Book of Genesis to other Mesopotamian creation stories.

31 min
The Deuteronomistic History

04: The Deuteronomistic History

This lecture considers the Books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings, and discusses the theory that these books were edited and reworked to form a unified whole, perhaps around the time of the Babylonian Captivity. We analyze the story of David and Bathsheba.

30 min

05: Isaiah

The Book of Isaiah contains some of the finest poetry in the Bible. We examine its role as a prophetic text during a critical period of Jewish history. Later, Christians read certain passages as foretelling the birth of Christ.

29 min

06: Job

We conclude our treatment of the Hebrew Scriptures by considering one of the most remarkable books of the Bible, the Book of Job - the story of a righteous man who undergoes great suffering through no fault of his own.

31 min
Homer—The Iliad

07: Homer—The Iliad

Beginning our survey of ancient Greek literature, we study the nature of Homeric epic. Then we turn to the Iliad, paying special attention to its themes of "kleos" (glory or fame) and "time" (honor).

31 min
Homer—The Odyssey

08: Homer—The Odyssey

We continue our discussion of Homeric epic by looking at the "Odyssey," focusing on its portrayal of the human condition through Odysseus's reunion with his wife and son after 20 years of absence.

31 min
Sappho and Pindar

09: Sappho and Pindar

This lecture considers the development of Greek lyric poetry, taking Sappho and Pindar as outstanding examples—Sappho for her exquisite love poetry and Pindar for his victory odes commemorating athletic competitions.

31 min

10: Aeschylus

From speculation on the origin of Greek tragedy, we move to Aeschylus, the first of the three great Athenian tragedians. We focus on his trilogy "The Oresteia," discussing how he used myth to reflect on social issues of the day.

32 min

11: Sophocles

Sophocles wrote 123 plays; only seven survive. We concentrate on the play "Ajax." The absence of the gods makes Sophocles's work in some ways the most realistic of the three tragedians.

31 min

12: Euripides

This lecture discusses how Euripides differs from Aeschylus and Sophocles. In particular, we focus on Euripides's unorthodox treatment of the gods, especially in "The Bacchae" and "Hippolytus."

32 min

13: Herodotus

The first great prose narrative in Western literature is the "Histories" by Herodotus, which describe the Persian invasions of Greece in the 5th century BCE Professor Vandiver explains the nature and significance of this work.

32 min

14: Thucydides

Many scholars see Thucydides rather than Herodotus as the true father of history. This lecture examines Thucydides's Peloponnesian Wars and looks at the key differences between his methodology and that of Herodotus.

32 min

15: Aristophanes

Aristophanes is the only 5th-century comic playwright whose work has in part survived. This lecture pays particular attention to two plays, "Clouds" and "Frogs," that satirize philosophers and tragedians respectively.

31 min

16: Plato

This lecture offers an overview of Plato by concentrating on one work, "The Republic," and its treatment of literature and poetry. Among other issues, we consider why Plato banishes poets from his ideal state.

31 min
Menander and Hellenistic Literature

17: Menander and Hellenistic Literature

Menander wrote a new style of comedy that took its subject matter from the troubles of everyday people. After discussing his plays, we consider other writers from the Hellenistic age and their influence on later Roman authors.

30 min
Catullus and Horace

18: Catullus and Horace

We begin with a brief summary of Rome's cultural borrowings from Greece, and then examine two Roman lyric poets, Catullus and Horace, who used Greek models to transform the poetic possibilities of Latin.

31 min

19: Virgil

Inspired by the Iliad and the Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid went on to become one of the most influential texts in Western culture. This lecture examines how Virgil infused his epic with a psychological complexity beyond that of Homer.

32 min

20: Ovid

Ovid's most important work is the "Metamorphoses," which features stories linked as much by themes of love, desire, and sexual passion as by the stated subject of "bodies changed into other forms."

31 min
Livy, Tacitus, Plutarch

21: Livy, Tacitus, Plutarch

The Roman historians Livy and Tacitus reflect the contrasting styles of their Greek predecessors Herodotus and Thucydides. We also study the immensely influential Roman biographer Plutarch, who wrote in Greek.

31 min
Petronius and Apuleius

22: Petronius and Apuleius

This lecture considers the development of the ancient novel, exemplified by the two remarkable extant Roman novels, the fragmentary Satyricon of Petronius and the Metamorphoses of Apuleius.

31 min
The Gospels

23: The Gospels

We examine the four Gospels of the New Testament, whose importance to Western culture cannot be overestimated. As literary works, they pioneered the presentation of common people as subjects for serious rather than comic writing.

31 min

24: Augustine

We consider Augustine as both one of the last great writers of Roman antiquity and one of the first great writers of Christianity, concentrating on his powerful works Confessions and the City of God.

30 min

25: Beowulf

After introducing this part of the course, Professor Noble begins his study of medieval literature with Beowulf, a stirring tale of monsters and dragons that in our own era inspired the themes and stories of J. R. R. Tolkien.

33 min
The Song of Roland

26: The Song of Roland

French literature emerges with stunning rapidity in The Song of Roland, an epic tale of Christians versus Muslims that is the earliest and perhaps finest of the genre called "chansons de geste," stories about great exploits.

30 min
El Cid

27: El Cid

Probably composed between 1201 and 1207, "El Cid" is the oldest epic in Spanish. The poet creates a new epic hero who is a more complete and believable character than either Beowulf or Roland.

30 min
Tristan and Isolt

28: Tristan and Isolt

In this lecture, we study the origins of romance. We turn to the greatest of the German romances, Tristan and Isolt, which immerses us in the Arthurian world of quests, courtly love, mistaken identity, and enchantment.

31 min
The Romance of the Rose

29: The Romance of the Rose

Though long, complex, and difficult, The Romance of the Rose enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the Middle Ages. In this lecture, we unravel its sustained allegory "in which the entire art of love is contained."

31 min
Dante Alighieri—Life and Works

30: Dante Alighieri—Life and Works

The first of two lectures on Dante considers his life and some of his "minor" works, including La vita nuova, which narrates his love for Beatrice. Also covered are Convivio, De volgari eloquentia, and De monarchia.

31 min
Dante Alighieri—The Divine Comedy

31: Dante Alighieri—The Divine Comedy

We discuss different aspects of The Divine Comedy, which comprises the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, especially noting Dante's growing wisdom as he moves from the hideous visage of Satan to the ineffable face of God.

30 min

32: Petrarch

Petrarch is sometimes called the "Father of the Renaissance." We examine his letters, My Secret Book, and beautiful lyric poems called the Canzoniere. A central theme is his attempt to reconcile Humanism and Christianity.

30 min
Giovanni Boccaccio

33: Giovanni Boccaccio

After reviewing Boccaccio's early Italian writings and his Latin works based on classical literature, we turn to his prose masterpiece The Decameron, 100 short stories told by 10 fashionable young people taking refuge from the plague.

32 min
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

34: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

We study the celebrated poem in which a hideous Green Knight appears at Arthur's Camelot at Christmas and offers to let anyone cut off his head who will, one year hence, consent to the same fate. Gawain accepts the challenge.

30 min
Geoffrey Chaucer—Life and Works

35: Geoffrey Chaucer—Life and Works

The first of two lectures on Chaucer sets his life in context, discusses the many influences that affected him, and analyzes The Book of the Duchess, The Parliament of Fowls, and the exquisite Troilus and Criseyde.

31 min
Geoffrey Chaucer—The Canterbury Tales

36: Geoffrey Chaucer—The Canterbury Tales

In The Canterbury Tales, we meet almost every kind and class of person in medieval England. To form a sense of Chaucer's art, this lecture considers the "General Prologue" and then several types of tales.

31 min
Christine de Pizan

37: Christine de Pizan

Professor Herzman begins his exploration of Renaissance literature with Christine de Pizan, believed to be the first European woman to earn her living as a writer. We focus on The Book of the City of Ladies.

32 min

38: Erasmus

We study the great Dutch humanist scholar Erasmus, focusing on his satirical Praise of Folly. Erasmus uses Folly to criticize corruption in Christianity and show the way to live a proper Christian life.

30 min
Thomas More

39: Thomas More

Executed by order of Henry VIII, Thomas More was a high government official and humanist scholar. His best-known work is Utopia, which coined the term "utopia" and served as a powerful critique of contemporary society.

30 min
Michel de Montaigne

40: Michel de Montaigne

In his ceaseless attempt to understand himself and thereby the human condition, Montaigne invented a new literary form - the essay. We concentrate on his essay titled "On the Education of Children."

31 min
François Rabelais

41: François Rabelais

Imbued with humanist philosophy, Rabelais' great work Gargantua and Pantagruel combines comedy, satire, obscenity, fantasy, farce, parody, and politics. Fittingly, ribald exuberance has a name: "Rabelaisian."

30 min
Christopher Marlowe

42: Christopher Marlowe

Born the same year as Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe died young and is one of the great "what-ifs" of literature. He left us seven superb plays. We look in particular at Dr. Faustus.

30 min
William Shakespeare—The Merchant of Venice

43: William Shakespeare—The Merchant of Venice

The first of two lectures on Shakespeare looks at The Merchant of Venice as a representative comedy, shedding light on the qualities that give Shakespeare a central position in Western literature.

31 min
William Shakespeare - Hamlet

44: William Shakespeare - Hamlet

Turning to Shakespearean tragedy, we examine Hamlet, focusing on Shakespeare's genius for multiple plots. In particular, we look at the conflict between Hamlet's introspective world and the Machiavellian court of Claudius.

31 min
Lope de Vega

45: Lope de Vega

Lope de Vega was a remarkably gifted and prolific playwright of the Spanish Golden Age. We concentrate on his Fuente Ovejuna, a story of sex, love, and justice that was one of his most popular plays.

31 min
Miguel de Cervantes

46: Miguel de Cervantes

Cervantes's Don Quixote has been called both the first novel and the greatest novel. We study it as a work harking back to the world of the chivalric romance and looking forward to the mature modern novel.

31 min
John Milton

47: John Milton

After a brief overview of the career and writings of Milton, we concentrate on his Paradise Lost, the most important epic poem written in English. We look closely at Book Nine, narrating the Fall of Adam and Eve.

31 min
Blaise Pascal

48: Blaise Pascal

Pascal is claimed as an important figure by scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers, as well as by literary scholars. This lecture explores his Pensées, or Thoughts, an incomplete but profound work of religious meditation.

31 min

49: Molière

Professor Heinzelman begins this part with a discussion of the key terms "Neoclassical" and "Romantic." We then turn to Molière and through Tartuffe explore his representation of Neoclassical values.

31 min
Jean Racine

50: Jean Racine

Racine's re-creations of classical Greek tragedy are deeply moving representations of psychological conflict. In this lecture, we study Phaedra, an example of Racine's elegant simplicity of style and form.

31 min
Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz

51: Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz

What kind of life could an intellectual woman live in the 17th and 18th centuries? We study Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz, a Mexican nun, composer, poetess, dramatist, philosopher, and feminist.

29 min
Daniel Defoe

52: Daniel Defoe

Defoe exploited the public's appetite for new stories, publishing narratives about the sexual and commercial entrepreneurs of London, such as Moll Flanders, Roxana, and that essential guide to empire building, Robinson Crusoe.

29 min
Alexander Pope

53: Alexander Pope

This lecture focuses on two of Pope's works: An Essay on Criticism and The Rape of the Lock. The first is a poetic essay asserting the values of Neoclassical culture. The second is a mock-epic satire on Pope's social circle.

31 min
Jonathan Swift

54: Jonathan Swift

We use Swift's Gulliver's Travels and The Modest Proposal to analyze the "other" side of Neoclassical thought: the extremism produced by the single-minded pursuit of reason untempered by compassion.

31 min

55: Voltaire

Voltaire's work spans the spectrum of literary genres, from drama and satire to history and philosophy. We examine his satirical masterpiece Candide for its use of wit to expose the self-deceiving dogma of philosophical optimism.

30 min
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

56: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

We study several of Rousseau's works, including The Discourse on Inequality and The Social Contract, both of which played an inspirational role in the French and American revolutions.

30 min
Samuel Johnson

57: Samuel Johnson

Johnson wrote widely and prolifically. We look at "The Vanity of Human Wishes" as an example of his poetry. Then we examine some of his essays from "The Rambler" and "The Idler," as well as his "Life of Pope."

32 min
Denis Diderot

58: Denis Diderot

Diderot spent 20 years writing and soliciting articles for his Encyclopedia, the creation of which was arguably the defining intellectual event of the 18th century. We explore some of the articles and investigate another of his works, Rameau's Nephew.

30 min
William Blake

59: William Blake

For Blake, the Enlightenment heralded a progressive loss of meaning in the world. We study his deceptively simple and deeply ironic poems, "Songs of Innocence" and "Experience."

30 min
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

60: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Born at the height of the Enlightenment, Goethe symbolizes the transition to Romanticism. We concentrate on his Faust as a way to understand the philosophical and aesthetic concerns of the time.

29 min
William Wordsworth

61: William Wordsworth

Professor Heffernan opens this part of the course by briefly treating Wordsworth's autobiographical epic, The Prelude. Then he examines at length Wordsworth's first major poem, "Tintern Abbey."

33 min
Jane Austen

62: Jane Austen

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen makes the traditional fairy-tale romance fit the socioeconomic facts of life in early 19th-century England, but nonetheless contrives a fairy-tale ending.

30 min

63: Stendhal

In Stendhal's Red and Black, the hero is obsessed with the memory of Napoleon's glory, yet impelled to gratify his ambition by social rather than military triumphs. One conquest ultimately leads to disaster.

30 min
Herman Melville

64: Herman Melville

When Melville started writing Moby-Dick at age 30, he was already well known for his novels about sea life. In telling the tale of a maimed sea captain obsessed with revenge on a great white whale, he brings to modern fiction the mythic power of ancient epic.

31 min
Walt Whitman

65: Walt Whitman

In "Song of Myself," Whitman inaugurates the reign of free verse in American poetry and re-conceives the tradition of autobiographical writing reaching back to Rousseau's Confessions.

31 min
Gustave Flaubert

66: Gustave Flaubert

In writing Madame Bovary, Flaubert struggled to make his prose as poetic as possible while realistically depicting the commonplace life of a bourgeois adulteress.

31 min
Charles Dickens

67: Charles Dickens

In Great Expectations, Dickens transforms the familiar story of the foundling. Narrator Pip is an abused orphan whose innate gentility is "recognized" and nurtured by a mysterious benefactor, but his dream of wealth and marriage to the beautiful Estella becomes a nightmare of frustrated expectations.

30 min
Fyodor Dostoevsky

68: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment tells the story of a man who believes that his exemption from moral law gives him the right to murder an old woman for her money. In the end, however, he accepts and even wills his own punishment.

30 min
Leo Tolstoy

69: Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina, Tolstoy's psychologically complex novel of domestic life, shows why a socially distinguished woman who has left her unfeeling husband for a dashing and devoted Count takes her own life.

30 min
Mark Twain

70: Mark Twain

Like Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn tells the story of a boy's adventure, but this time Twain fuses the adventure with the history of the struggle to break the chain of slavery in America, and dramatizes the conflict between Northern and Southern morality.

30 min
Thomas Hardy

71: Thomas Hardy

In Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Hardy challenges us to see how a "pure" woman can remain so while losing her virginity to a seducer, living with him as his mistress, and ultimately killing him.

31 min
Oscar Wilde

72: Oscar Wilde

Wilde's wittiest play, The Importance of Being Earnest, dramatizes the varieties of suspense in courtship and resolves them in the end with a brilliant pun. A British law against homosexuality turned the ending of Wilde's own life into a tragedy.

32 min
Henry James

73: Henry James

James wrote a series of novels that chiefly aim to dramatize the interaction of American energy and innocence.

31 min
Joseph Conrad

74: Joseph Conrad

In Heart of Darkness, based on his experience in the Congo, Conrad reveals the insane rapacity of European traders bent on "civilizing" the African natives whom they exploit.

30 min
William Butler Yeats

75: William Butler Yeats

Yeats's early poems seek to reconfirm "the ancient supremacy of the imagination." In his late work, he became a visionary struggling to make order out of the "mere anarchy" war had loosed upon the world.

30 min
Marcel Proust

76: Marcel Proust

In Proust's oceanic novel, In Search of Lost Time, the narrator explores childhood memories awakened by the taste of pastry dipped in tea. In a rich tradition of autobiographical narrative, Proust paints an extraordinarily complex picture of social life in France at the turn of the 19th century.

30 min
James Joyce

77: James Joyce

In his autobiographical first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce creates one of the three leading characters of his later novel, Ulysses. By tracing the life of Stephen Dedalus - his fictional self - from infancy to early manhood, Joyce reveals the genesis of his own art.

30 min
Franz Kafka

78: Franz Kafka

In The Trial, a respectable banker is arrested for no reason, subjected to endless delays by an incomprehensible legal system, and executed without being tried. Josef exemplifies the Modernist focus on the isolated self, cut off from all traditional sources of support - emotional, institutional, legal, moral, or spiritual.

31 min
Virginia Woolf

79: Virginia Woolf

Woolf produced a remarkable body of fiction, essays, and criticism. In Mrs. Dalloway, she tells the story of a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a prominent London hostess giving an elegant party.

30 min
William Faulkner

80: William Faulkner

By turns grotesque, tragic, and comic, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying tells the story of a family taking a corpse to a burial ground on a journey menaced by fire and flood. It is narrated from 15 points of view.

31 min
Bertolt Brecht

81: Bertolt Brecht

At the outset of World War II, Brecht wrote the sympathetic Mother Courage to dramatize the effect of the Thirty Years' War in 17th-century Europe. An unmarried mother of three sons and a brain-damaged daughter makes her living off the war from a wagon she hauls herself.

30 min
Albert Camus

82: Albert Camus

In The Plague, which he wrote during World War II, Camus narrates a doctor's struggle against bubonic plague. The novel may be read as symbolizing the seemingly inexorable recurrence of war. Exemplifying the dogged faith of his landmark essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus' doctor strives to heal in the face of futility.

31 min
Samuel Beckett

83: Samuel Beckett

In Waiting for Godot, a play with no action in the conventional sense, Beckett depicts the human condition as one of interminable waiting for something that never comes.

29 min

84: Conclusion

Looking back on 3,000 years of literary history, is there a way to make sense of it all? This lecture shows how literature treats war, love, and humankind's relation to God in three basic literary forms: lyric, narrative, and drama.

30 min