Classics of Russian Literature

Explore Russian masterpieces at all levels-characters, plots, scenes, and sometimes even single sentences-with an award-winning Professor Emeritus of Slavic Languages.
Classics of Russian Literature is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 85.
  • y_2021, m_9, d_17, h_20
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.19
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_2, tr_83
  • loc_en_CA, sid_2830, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getAggregateRating, 5.34ms
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An amazing tool to further your knowledge I first bought this to help my studies on Russian Literature and what a great and fun way to broaden my education. Dr. Weil is a very good lecturer and the curriculum is amazing as well. I have a love for Russian literature and these lectures fill in all the gaps to what I read on my own!
Date published: 2021-06-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have recently started this course, and Professor Weil’s knowledge of Russian literature is very impressive. I admire his ability to draw on Russian history and culture as he teaches. He also speaks Russian, has traveled to Russia, and has good friends in Russian academic circles. Never a dull moment!
Date published: 2021-06-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Series primarily just sketches plot outlines I did not need an outline of the plots of the books. I can get that on Wiki. I was looking for in-depth classic literary analysis such as focusing on the main social, economic, cultural etc. themes of the books, stylistic discussions, compare and contrast and other literary matters.
Date published: 2021-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it! The course was wonderful - informative, comprehensive, and very entertaining. The professor is enchanting - it's obvious that he is knowledgeable and passionate about his subject. His recitations and singing in Russian are delightful highlights in the lectures.
Date published: 2021-03-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not one of the better Great Courses I've found most of the lecture series in Great Courses to be informative and often inspiring; this one unfortunately was tedious and superficial. I was expecting more than a CliffNotes survey of Russian literature. The professor is clearly well-past his prime teaching days, and feels the need to make sophomoric political interjections.
Date published: 2021-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What an astonishing course! All my life I've read Tolstoy, Pushkin, and other Russian writers. But this course give me whole new insights about their life, work, and writings. Thank you Great Courses, taking me such wonderful journey.
Date published: 2020-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Riveting Journey Through the Art of Russia I adored this enthusiastic and excellent tour of Russian literature, including many of the great novels by Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev I'd read decades ago and several figures who were completely new to me, like Pushkin and Mayakovsky. Professor Weil regales us with historical background, engaging plot summaries, critiques of the authors' personal or literary flaws, and keen appreciation of the joys of beautiful poetry and deep works about human nature. He occasionally recites lines and verses in Russian to try to help us get a feeling for the music of the language and a couple of times even sings Russian poems that were transformed into songs or opera. Whenever he somewhat apologetically injects personal stories about his experiences in learning Russian or in living in the Soviet Union, it is always interesting and relevant. The parts of the course that I especially enjoyed included his background information on pre-Christian Russian culture; little tidbits like where the terms "Cyrillic" and "czar" came from; his discussion of Pushkin's operas and connections with both Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare; Gorky's struggles with the Revolution; and Mayakovsky's astounding ode to the Brooklyn Bridge. The very last couple of paragraphs in the last lecture, where Professor Weil encourages us to engage with the soul of Russia and its literature, left me in tears. If I were younger, this course might well have persuaded me to study Russian, the language...
Date published: 2020-12-02
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
  • y_2021, m_9, d_17, h_20
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.19
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_2, tr_83
  • loc_en_CA, sid_2830, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 4.23ms


Russian literature famously probes the depths of the human soul. This course explores masterpieces at all levels-characters, plots, scenes, and sometimes even single sentences. Professor Irwin Weil, a passionate and illuminating teacher, has chosen a rich sampling of Russia's greatest writers, based on his 50-year love affair with the language and its literature.


Irwin Weil
Irwin Weil

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


Northwestern University

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

By This Professor

Origins of Russian Literature

01: Origins of Russian Literature

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

32 min
The Church and the Folk in Old Kiev

02: The Church and the Folk in Old Kiev

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

31 min
Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, 1799-1837

03: Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, 1799-1837

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

30 min
Exile, Rustic Seclusion, and Onegin

04: Exile, Rustic Seclusion, and Onegin

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

29 min
December's Uprising and Two Poets Meet

05: December's Uprising and Two Poets Meet

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

30 min
A Poet Contrasts Talent versus Mediocrity

06: A Poet Contrasts Talent versus Mediocrity

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

29 min
St. Petersburg Glorified and Death Embraced

07: St. Petersburg Glorified and Death Embraced

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

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

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

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

31 min
Russian Grotesque-Overcoats to Dead Souls

09: Russian Grotesque-Overcoats to Dead Souls

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

30 min
Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, 1821-1881

10: Fedor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, 1821-1881

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

30 min
Near Mortality, Prison, and an Underground

11: Near Mortality, Prison, and an Underground

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

30 min
Second Wife and a Great Crime Novel Begins

12: Second Wife and a Great Crime Novel Begins

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

30 min
Inside the Troubled Mind of a Criminal

13: Inside the Troubled Mind of a Criminal

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

30 min
The Generation of the Karamazovs

14: The Generation of the Karamazovs

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

30 min
The Novelistic Presence of Christ and Satan

15: The Novelistic Presence of Christ and Satan

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

30 min
Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, 1828-1910

16: Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, 1828-1910

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

30 min
Tale of Two Cities and a Country Home

17: Tale of Two Cities and a Country Home

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

30 min
Family Life Meets Military Life

18: Family Life Meets Military Life

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

29 min
Vengeance Is Mine, Saith the Lord

19: Vengeance Is Mine, Saith the Lord

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

30 min
Family Life Makes a Comeback

20: Family Life Makes a Comeback

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

29 min
Tolstoy the Preacher

21: Tolstoy the Preacher

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

30 min
Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, 1818-1883

22: Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev, 1818-1883

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

30 min
The Stresses between Two Generations

23: The Stresses between Two Generations

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

30 min
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, 1860-1904

24: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, 1860-1904

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

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

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

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

30 min
Literature and Revolution

26: Literature and Revolution

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

30 min
The Tribune-Vladimir Maiakovsky, 1893-1930

27: The Tribune-Vladimir Maiakovsky, 1893-1930

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

30 min
The Revolution Makes a U-Turn

28: The Revolution Makes a U-Turn

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

30 min
Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, 1905-1984

29: Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov, 1905-1984

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

30 min
Revolutions and Civil War

30: Revolutions and Civil War

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

30 min
Mikhail Mikhailovich Zoshchenko, 1895-1958

31: Mikhail Mikhailovich Zoshchenko, 1895-1958

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

30 min
Among the Godless-Religion and Family Life

32: Among the Godless-Religion and Family Life

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

30 min
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, 1890-1960

33: Boris Leonidovich Pasternak, 1890-1960

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

30 min
The Poet In and Beyond Society

34: The Poet In and Beyond Society

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

30 min
Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, Born 1918

35: Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, Born 1918

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

30 min
The Many Colors of Russian Literature

36: The Many Colors of Russian Literature

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

32 min