Lectures on Literature  

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"[M]arx would have called Flaubert a bourgeois in the politico-economic sense and Flaubert would have called Marx a bourgeois in the spiritual sense; and both would have been right since, Flaubert was a well-to-do gentleman in physical life and Marx was a philistine in his attitude towards the arts."

"In Bloom's mind and in Joyce's book the theme of sex is continually mixed and intertwined with the theme of the latrine. God knows I have no objection whatsoever to so-called frankness in novels. On the contrary, we have too little of it,and what there is has become conventional and trite, as used by so-called tough writers, the darlings of the book clubs, the pets of clubwomen. But I do object to the following : Bloom is supposed to be a rather ordinary citizen. Now it is not true that the mind of an ordinary citizen continuously dwells on physiological things. I object to the continuously, not to the disgusting. All this very pathological stuff seems artificial and unnecessary in this particular context. I suggest that the squeamish among you regard the special preoccupation of Joyce with perfect detachment."

"In a sense, we all are crashing to our death from the top story of our birth to the flat stones of the churchyard and wondering with an immortal Alice in Wonderland at the patterns on the passing wall. This capacity to wonder at trifles - no matter the imminent peril - these asides of the spirit, these footnotes in the volume of life are the highest forms of consciousness, and it is in this childishly speculative state of mind, so different from commonsense and its logic, that we know the world to be good."

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Lectures on Literature is a collection of essays by Vladimir Nabokov. The essays derive from a course called “Masters of European Fiction”, which Nabokov taught at Cornell in his capacity as Associate Professor of Slavic Literature. It includes lectures on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (“The Walk by Swann’s Place”) and James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Nabokov's Lectures on Literature reveals his controversial ideas concerning art. He firmly believed that novels should not aim to teach and that readers should not merely empathize with characters but that a 'higher' aesthetic enjoyment should be attained, partly by paying great attention to details of style and structure. He detested what he saw as 'general ideas' in novels, and so when teaching Ulysses, for example, he would insist students keep an eye on where the characters were in Dublin (with the aid of a map) rather than teaching the complex Irish history that many critics see as being essential to an understanding of the novel.

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