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Masterworks of Early 20th-Century Literature

Examine works of literature by famous and influential Modernist authors who changed the landscape of literature forever.
Masterworks of Early 20th-Century Literature is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 54.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course & Outstanding Lecturer This is one of the best lit courses I’ve enjoyed with Great Courses, and I have listened to quite an few over the years. Dr. Thorburn’s content and delivery is excellent. Although I enjoy them, the early 20th Century modernists can be very challenging - at least for me. Dr. Thorburn’s approach makes them accessible while not dumbing down the content in the least. I have enjoyed several of Dr Weinstein’s Great Lit courses herein and would give them a very positive review also. However, I found Dr Thorburn’s lectures had a better defined and steadier line of exploration and clarity. Both these professors’ courses are excellent, but I did find this course offering preferable for these modernist authors. Lastly, I’ll mention one of my all time favorite Teaching Company courses - The Western Literary Canon in Context with Dr John Bowers. If you are going to do only one lit course, I suggest this is it. The course structure, content and delivery is really excellent and, for me, gave a grand macro view of the evolution of western lit.
Date published: 2023-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from DESCRIBING THE SURFACE IN DEPTH I am taken with the professor's passion. One stands under a water falls of words and feels bathed in enthusiasm. Wonderful stuff.
Date published: 2022-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A masterful teacher at work This was by far the most exciting course (out of 50+) I've taken from The Great Courses. Especially at the beginning of the courses, the professor took the role of teaching, rather than imparting his synthesis of information and interpretation. As much as this is possible in a lecture setting, he was geared toward the student discovering something - in this case the joys of 20th century literature - rather than simply gaining knowledge. In those early lectures, he was trying to teach us how to read. He believes that the value of literature is the direct experience of reading, not scholarship or received wisdom about authors and books. His discussion of modernist painting, also early in the course, was a brilliant way to introduce general 20th century perspectives on art, consciousness and reality. After he moved on to specific authors, the best section was on Virginia Woolf. He inspired me to order a new biography of her and to reread her novels. The professor had some interesting thoughts about which of the novels in the course might and which might not survive in the literary canon, and why. I was a bit disappointed in the course conclusion by how much time he spent on James Joyce again, rather than drawing together threads about what made all the fiction in the course distinctive and great. However, all in all this was a superb learning experience, and highly recommended to those who appreciate Western high culture.
Date published: 2020-11-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great overall presentations. Working with granddaughter on her appreciation and interpretations of modernism in Literature. She is a senior in HS and we are honing her skill for university.
Date published: 2020-07-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pay No Attention to This Review I realized about halfway through the course (I did finish it) that the subject was not my cup of tea. I have only read a couple of the books discussed (Dubliners and To the Lighthouse, both of which I loved) and greatly appreciated our professor's treatments of them. But listening to his quite well-done presentations of the other works, I felt that I was getting far less out of them than I would have if I were already familiar with the texts. Of course this is not Professor Thorburn's fault. I enjoyed, for the most part, his highly spirited, off-the-cuff speaking style, which sounds like he is making it up as he goes along, searching for the next word in the midst of a plethora (one of my favorite sound-as-if-you-are-highly-literate words) of um's, uh's, and digressions, as if at a cocktail party after a couple of drinks. He clearly loves his subject, and knows it deeply. I wish I did. None of his descriptions of the modernist novels with which I am not familiar, or of modernism itself, attracted me. The ideas that you have to work to figure out what the author is talking about, and that a novel cannot or should not provide an omniscient narrator with an ability to describe clearly and coherently, seem silly and off-putting to me. To emphasize the obvious, this is an extremely subjective response, as can readily be seen from the many positive reviews. (For what it's worth, my favorite work of literature is Moby-Dick.) If you do enjoy the novels covered, or have an interest in learning more about them and modernist literature in general, I think you will find this course very worthwhile. Enjoy.
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The best literature course I have purchased. I can't say enough good things about this course. It is one of a handful of courses on thin site that genuinely changed the way I thought about the subject. The professor's technique models the way good readers interact with a text, instead of simply summarizing the analysis of a great fiction.
Date published: 2019-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Highly Recommended Although I have read several of the works in this course, Prof. Thorburn has provided fresh insights into the fiction of this period and has inspired me to read more. His occasionally halting delivery is like a real person talking, instead of reading from a script, and I did not find it distracting.
Date published: 2018-10-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring Over 30 years ago I had the honor of taking Prof. Thorburn's extraordinary class on American television at MIT and I've talked about that course ever since. It's one of the few classes from that time whose content and professor I can remember distinctly. Even though he only gave me a B on my term paper :-( I jumped at the chance to hear him again. This is a wonderful introduction not only to 20th century literature but to the larger role of literature in a cultured life. It inspired me to read new fiction for the first time in many years. I went through most of the books of Joseph Conrad after listening to his in-depth discussion of the "drama of the telling." (And, as a side benefit, it explained to me why a bar in my town is called "Marlow's Tavern," displayed in an old typewriter font.) I'm sure his presentation isn't for everyone. Unlike most of the Great Courses professors, Prof. Thorburn speaks off-the-cuff, drawing from his vast knowledge and teaching experience. He needs no written script. But he is capable of inspiring a listener to become a practicing writer/reader, which is an amazing gift.
Date published: 2018-05-04
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Overview

Joyce, Faulkner, Conrad, Woolf, Kafka, Lawrence. Their works are some of the most challenging—yet rewarding—you'll ever encounter. But their novels are not what you might expect. The style is unfamiliar, the narrative is fragmented, and there isn't a clear plot. It's like nothing you've ever read before. Now you can explore this remarkable literary movement and gain insights into the secrets behind Modernism with Masterworks of Early 20th-Century Literature. See how Modernist authors created new techniques to reflect and help us cope with an increasingly complex post-Victorian world, and understand why they are great.

About

David Thorburn

Whether you’re coming to these great writers for the first time, or returning to them after a long separation, I urge you to aim for as close to an unmediated connection to this fiction as possible.

INSTITUTION

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Dr. David Thorburn is Professor of Literature at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Director of the MIT Communications Forum. He earned his A.B. degree from Princeton University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. Professor Thorburn previously taught in the English Department at Yale University for 10 years. Professor Thorburn is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including Fulbright, Woodrow Wilson, and Rockefeller foundation fellowships. He was the founder and for 12 years the Director of the Film and Media Studies program at MIT. He has won teaching awards at both MIT and Yale, and he was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT's highest teaching award, in 2002. Professor Thorburn is the author of Conrad's Romanticism and many essays and reviews on literary, cultural, and media topics in publications such as The New York Times, Partisan Review, and The American Prospect. Professor Thorburn has edited a widely used anthology of fiction, Initiation: Stories and Novels on Three Themes. Professor Thorburn's courses at MIT in modern fiction and film are among the most popular in the Humanities Department. He has lectured widely in the United States and Europe on literature and media.

Road Map—Modernism and Moral Ambiguity

01: Road Map—Modernism and Moral Ambiguity

In addition to providing an overview of the course, the opening lecture introduces a method of literary interpretation called Formalism, which allows readers to appreciate fiction regardless of their literary background. You'll explore some major themes of Modernism through a reading of John Crowe Ransom's poem "Captain Carpenter."

30 min
How to Read Fiction—Joyce's

02: How to Read Fiction—Joyce's "An Encounter"

Using a story from James Joyce's "Dub­liners," Professor Thorburn demonstrates how close attention to the text can produce an insightful and valid interpretation. He contrasts this kind of reading to the over-ingenious and grandiose interpretations of some scholars who rely too heavily on evidence external to the text under discussion.

31 min
Defining Modernism—Monet's Cathedral

03: Defining Modernism—Monet's Cathedral

Revolutionary new ideas - the theories of Darwin and Einstein; the psychological insights from Freud and James; the philosophies of Marx, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche provide a powerful intellectual context for Modernism. But perhaps the most central precursor of literary Modernism is the Impressionist art of Claude Monet.

28 min
Defining Modernism—Beyond Impressionism

04: Defining Modernism—Beyond Impressionism

If Impressionism anticipates literary Modernism, Postimpressionism exemplifies a break with previous artistic modes. Artists such as Picasso and Beckmann create a new visual vocabulary to commu­ni­cate a profound sense of modern alienation.

29 min

05: "The Man Who Would Be King"—Imperial Fools

Rudyard Kipling serves as a transitional figure between 19th-century certitudes and the Modernist disillusionment. Though many of his most popular works betray a deep-seated racism and faith in the British Empire, his anti-imperial fable The Man Who Would Be King deconstructs the myth of the white man’s burden.

30 min

06: "Heart of Darkness"—Europe's Kurtz

A Polish expatriate, sailor, and English novelist, Joseph Conrad's life exemplifies the Modernist themes of isolation and alien­a­tion. In his masterpiece, "Heart of Dark­­ness," Conrad created the character Kurtz, the embodiment of Western civilization, its highest aspirations, profoundest myths, and most depraved violence.

30 min

07: "Heart of Darkness"—The Drama of the Telling

Central to Modernist literature is the idea that each story narrates the difficulties of its own telling. More than just a simple travel story, Conrad's "Heart of Dark­­ness" exemplifies this obsession with the problems inherent in storytelling.

27 min

08: "The Shadow-Line"—Unheroic Heroes

Conrad's late work, "The Shadow-Line," tells of a young sea captain whose failed first voyage is a journey into adulthood. The story serves as an example of many of Conrad's favorite literary devices and themes, including the use of doppelgangers and the antihero.

28 min

09: "The Good Soldier"—The Limits of Irony

Though less renowned than some of his contemporaries, Ford Madox Ford was a prolific writer, an influential editor, and a discoverer of literary talent. In The "Good Soldier,", he crafted a fable of infidelity that pushed to its furthest extreme a hallmark of Modernism: the unreliable narrator.

28 min

10: "The Good Soldier"—Killed by Kindness

This lecture takes a closer look at Ford's masterpiece of irony and examines how the author uses language and structure to enact the narrator's "drama of the telling."

30 min
Lawrence (and Joyce)—Sex in Modern Fiction

11: Lawrence (and Joyce)—Sex in Modern Fiction

A striking feature of Modernism is its willingness to confront the nature of sexuality. Through his controversial works, D.?H. Lawrence presents an unblinking view of the complexity of sexual passion, as seen in "Sons and Lovers," "Lady Chatterley's Lover," and "Women in Love."

28 min

12: "Horse Dealer's Daughter"—A Shimmer Within

Please note: Parts of Lecture 11 contain some explicit discussion of sexual matters and may be unsuitable for children.

29 min

13: "The Metamorphosis"—Uneasy Dreams

Lawrence's short story "The Horse Deal­er's Daughter" illustrates the continuities between Modernism and Romanticism, both of which celebrate the exhilarating, mysterious, and sometimes dangerous workings of passion and selfhood.

28 min

14: "Dubliners"—The Music of the Ordinary

Through the stories of his native city, Joyce explored the failures and revelations that mark the lives of ordinary men and women. His most accessible work, "Dubliners," introduces some of the themes and techniques he would later use in his masterpiece, Ulysses.

29 min

15: "Ulysses"—Joyce's Homer

Joyce's masterwork represents a new kind of fiction that pushes the limits of language. Joyce's retelling of the foundational text of Western literature, "Homer's Odyssey," is both an act of respect and of rebellion, an illustration of how we are and how we are not.

29 min

16: "Ulysses"—The Incongruity Principle

In "Ulysses," meaning is constructed by jux­taposing incongruous situations, perspectives, and themes. Through this "incongruity principle" Joyce aimed to dramatize the complicated, often contradictory experience of life in its actual fullness. He attempted to duplicate the way the world registers almost moment by moment in our consciousness.

31 min

17: "To the Lighthouse"—Life Stand Still Here

A prolific writer, perceptive literary critic, and member of the famous literary circle, the Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf is now one of the most widely read authors of the Modernist movement. This lecture explores how she sought to capture the experience of life through her art.

27 min

18: "To the Lighthouse"—That Horrid Skull Again

This lecture returns to Woolf's classic novel to take a closer look at its structure and narrative style. Through the story of Mrs. Ramsay and her family, Woolf dramatizes the self as fluid and celebrates the ability to stem the tide of mortality and flux (even if only momentarily) through art and community.

27 min
Isaac Babel—Jew and Cossack

19: Isaac Babel—Jew and Cossack

Ironic, ambivalent, often violent, the stories of Isaac Babel reflect his experience of the brutal anti-Semitism of prerevolutionary Russia. In ironic fables and "Red Cavalry" stories, he reveals another face of Modernism: affectless, numbed, and precise.

28 min
Isaac Babel—Odessa's Homer

20: Isaac Babel—Odessa's Homer

In his tales of Odessa, Babel teases the reader with the idea of autobiography, but his accounts of the brutal pogroms of his childhood in Russia is more ironic and morally ambiguous than mere self-confession. In his mock-heroic stories about Benya Krik, the Russian-Jewish gangster, he sings, like an ancient poet, of a lost world.

28 min
Faulkner's World—Our Frantic Steeplechase

21: Faulkner's World—Our Frantic Steeplechase

William Faulkner's difficult, multivoiced novels demand active collaboration from readers. This lecture describes Faulkner's rich portrait of a fictional Mississippi county.

30 min

22: "Absalom, Absalom!"—The Fragile Thread

Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" synthesizes a variety of genres (adventure, family melodrama, detective novel, gothic novel and mythological allusions) to create a complex "drama of the telling" that is simultaneously a deeply American fable of race, gender, and ambition.

29 min

23: "Pale Fire"—Modern or Postmodern?

In "Pale Fire,", Vladmir Nabokov creates a complicated parody of scholarship in his portrayal of the mad editor, Kinbote, and a verbally dazzling meditation on the nature of art and creativity.

29 min
The Moral Vision of Modern Fiction

24: The Moral Vision of Modern Fiction

The course concludes with an overview of Modernist themes, emphasizing the respect for the past these authors shared. A key to their modernity, Professor Thorburn says, is their mission to dramatize the nearly irretrievable complexity of life.

28 min

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