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Publisher's Summary

The major texts of Western culture are a gateway to wisdom that can widen your views on self and society in enduring ways. The extraordinary body of literature given us by writers from antiquity to the present day, as Professor Weinstein notes, "is potent stuff, serving not only as transcription of history but also as a verbal Pandora's box, capable of shedding light on those transactions which remain in the dark for many of us: love, death, fear, desire. We are talking about more than artful language; we are talking about the life of the past and the life of the world."

It is truly a monumental legacy. And now you can examine its most important works - whether drama, poetry, or narrative - in this series of 64 penetrating lectures that reveal astonishing common ground. You'll see how this award-winning teacher uses several different analytical perspectives, including Feminism, Marxism, Freudianism, Deconstruction, Postmodernism, and New Historicism, to give us fresh insight into persisting human themes like rites of passage; the "fit" or "misfit" between self and society; the creation of an identity; and the play, weight, and presence of the past in understanding our present.

You learn how drama makes visible the conflicts and wars of culture in ways other forms cannot manage. How poetry can go to the heart of human existence with a purity and power akin to surgery, bidding us to challenge and change the way we usually do business. And how narrative can tell life stories in ways that enable a possession of that life that is hardly imaginable any other way.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©1995 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)1995 The Great Courses

What listeners say about Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative

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  • AnneN
  • 05-08-2014

Great Course, Great Professor, Great Book!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I have already recommended to several friends and my family; Prof. Weinstein is a thoughtful, intelligent and humorous teacher.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative?

Prof. Weinstein's reading I Am Ceded by Dickinson.

Which character – as performed by Professor Arnold Weinstein – was your favorite?

Walt Whitman

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I laughed, I cried, and I will listen to it again.

Any additional comments?

I am an old English major, retired librarian, and this was the best course I have ever taken. Thank you for offering it and thank you Professor Weinstein.

38 people found this helpful

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  • justme
  • 10-05-2017

Shockingly Good

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

30-years ago, I read a few of these books in college. After hearing the lectures on those books, it's as if I was hearing about them for the first time. I was stunned stupid, and eager for more insight.
--> Oedipus: Aristotle's "tragic flaw" is an adolescent understanding...go deeper to see everyman's struggle against fate and self-knowledge. Maybe the worst unmasking is the mask that we didn't know we are wearing. We think the answer to the riddle of the sphynx is that man crawls in infancy, walks in mid-life, and walks with a cane before death. But the reality is more grueling: at the end of life, we are blinded by the self-knowledge that pains us so -- it's not a cane, but someone we're leaning on to lead us in our blindness.
--> Othello: Men fear women's sexuality & harbor a double-standard in that they feel they own their woman's body but do not feel their own body is owned by their partner.
--> Tartuffe: Really? What kind of deep insight can he possible give here? More than I was ready for. Where am I so blindly loyal to someone that it would take him disrobing my wife on the kitchen table for me to overcome my blindness? Isn't that exactly what's happening in U.S. politics in 2017? He translates this "comedy" from the trite to the profound.

And that was just the first series of lectures. He gives three lectures per work. And I've got to tell you, I was really uncomfortable by lecture three on each of the three topics above. He was under my skin. He had questioning some of my own essential understandings about life. I think that's the point, and he makes that point very well.

Have you listened to any of Professor Arnold Weinstein’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

My first one, and I'm going to buy others. Anyone this insightful is a pleasure to learn from.

20 people found this helpful

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  • michael
  • 23-12-2015

Extraordinary insight. A work of professorial art.

Would you consider the audio edition of Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative to be better than the print version?

Absolutely. The professor lectures in his southern accent but does a phenomenal job of mimicking speech as he recites texts from diverse sources.

What did you like best about this story?

There was a consistent theme of "finding ones own voice" throughout.

What does Professor Arnold Weinstein bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

His passion, his focus, his voice, especially the latter: he can blend in to his object of interest so well as to transmit its essence to the listener, as if the listener were discovering it on his or her own.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

By no means. This is one which ought to be interrupted by forays into source texts.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Patricia
  • 20-03-2015

What a PrivilegeTyp

I wasn't the best student, so the hallowed halls of the Ivy League wouldn't be open to someone like me. That makes this series of lectures so profound. It's as if I met a whole new world of depth and thought. All I really want to say is thank you.

21 people found this helpful

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  • J.B.
  • 28-10-2017

Good but Lacking in Giddiness

Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative, The Great Courses, Lecturer, Professor Arnold Weinstein. This is a three-part course. The first third is dedicated performing theater. The second course educates one on poetry and the third, the novel. I could not image a more enjoyable course of study then to talk about great literature and how it communicates life concepts. Professor Weinstein is, certainly, a thorough and substantial thinker into each system of communication, styles of writing, the purpose of the plot and how the story is told. Even if you resist, you cannot help coming away from this study a much deeper reader. You undoubtedly will enjoy your literature thereafter better.

I learned more about Oedipus than I realized was there in my prior three readings of the play. Walt Whitman, was revealed, and I now know how to marvel at his works (although I am still practically a dysfunctional reader of poetry). I have never read Faulkner, but after Professor Weinstein’s insights I will and look forward to the reading. Each category of play, poetry and novel, has a review of several important authors, a breakdown of their style and their influence on literature through time. Each study is an in-depth view of the focused upon work. Interesting structural presentation.

Yet, and I am sorry to provide this conditional limit to my praise of the work, Professor Weinstein is not a good lecturer. This is almost 33 hours of listening. I love considering literature and its communicative functions, but to me this book felt like it was 99 hours. The study was laborious to listen to. Yet, much to learn, and the lecturer is inciteful, if you can bear trudging along. I would only recommend to those who are seriously committed to English literature as a profession. As a learning experience; pretty good. Stated colloquially, it lacks the giddiness one should get from leaning.

8 people found this helpful

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  • SAMA
  • 14-02-2014

Could have been more

This is an analysis of a select few classic literary works and discussing the themes within it to a contemporary audience, with a consideration of the societal elements present when it was written.

It could have been doubled in length and not have covered everything available to analyse. It is an excellent, ambitious attempt in a subject that is massive in scope.

21 people found this helpful

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  • Rubin
  • 17-07-2015

The Best on My List

What did you love best about Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative?

This is the best course I've listened to so far--intensely interesting topics, captivating teaching style and beautifully written lecture full of thought provoking ideas,. I finished the course within a week, often forgetting what I was doing. I cannot wait to listen to this course again.

6 people found this helpful

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  • N. Kerr
  • 09-04-2018

Gifted Professor, Brilliant Curriculum!

What made the experience of listening to Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative the most enjoyable?

Professor Weinstein is exceptionally interesting, insightful, and articulate. His presentation style is natural, knowledgeable, and thought-provoking.

What did you like best about this story?

With every creative work he discussed, I had an "ah-ha" moment -- and new perspective, understanding, or appreciation I didn't have prior to the course. My life is richer because of Professor Weinstein's expertise and excellent teaching.

What does Professor Arnold Weinstein bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

His choice of words, sentence structure, and personality enthralled me every lecture. The expanse of his knowledge is astounding! Listening to him highlights his humor and delight, emphasis on key elements, and even biases.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

About halfway through my first class by Professor Weinstein, I jumped back onto Audible to order other Great Courses he teaches. He's that powerful and profound. I want to be his student and seize every opportunity to learn from his great mind and experience!

Any additional comments?

I'm hooked on The Great Courses! I listen during my daily 30 minute walk; often I'm so absorbed in the topic I circle around the block one more time. It's empowering - and a modern day blessing - to have access to credible instruction by the world's greatest scholars on a vast range of meaningful topics.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Richard Guillory
  • 11-09-2015

Great and Zooming with info

This first part of these lectures is amazing. The delivery is astoundingly good. Did here and stood firm principles of psychoanalysis as well as literary analysis or great.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-10-2019

Fails to deliver on its promise

The description of the course promises "The course has been designed to exhibit not only the themes and techniques of great literature but also to expose both the power and limitations of several different analytic tools in assisting our understanding of these monuments of the human spirit", and reading the full description hints even more strongly to a course that will provide the listener with tools to understand and analyse literature. In practice, however, the course is a stroll through an anthology of works (which, like every anthology, makes its own choices, which are at some cases odd) that is organized somewhat chronologically, but without any other meaningful order. During the lectures we are hearing a summary of the novel, poem or play, and dwell on some (usually uninteresting) minutia the professor chose to focus on. What I expected to get but did not were tools and approaches in literary critique - when dealing with Sonnets there was nothing about the structure of the sonnet (rhyming scheme, meaning in each structural part, the difference between the Shakespearean and the Petrarchan sonnet, nothing about what is a metaphor and how it is used, nothing about reading strategies such as close reading, reader's response, and subversive reading, during the entire part on novels and narrative (I still have about an hour of listen, I don't expect any change), not even a mention of fabula and sujet, narrator types, or almost anything else. The one single exception to that is the mention of the picaresque novel, which looks like an attempt to draw the development of the novel, but this effort stops immediately after this short mention. All in all, if this was a course titled "a tour through works of literary significance" it would have been completely acceptable course (Though, as mentioned, some of the choices are questionable). But for something that promises to provide the listener with tools to understand literature, it is a complete failure

1 person found this helpful

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  • Farniboy
  • 21-04-2015

Interesting, Informative English Literature course

A great, if sometimes heavy listen. The issue for me was that I'm not particularly well read (one of the reasons I listen to The Great Courses!) so I hadn't heard of some of the poets and playwright's discussed here. T Weinstein's strength his he gets across the information in an easy listening way. Like all the Great Courses that I've listened to, well worth a listen!

13 people found this helpful

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  • Jess Hoare
  • 01-12-2014

A great intoduction

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is a great and wide sweeping introduction. Professor Arnold Weinstein is engaging and interesting.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative?

This book has expanded my understanding greatly.

10 people found this helpful

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  • tofpy
  • 13-12-2016

Really great lectures but poor sound quality.

What did you like most about Understanding Literature and Life: Drama, Poetry and Narrative?

The lessons are great and show a great insight.
Great scope too, though some authors can be said missing.

How could the performance have been better?

By improving the recording!
The sound is really poor, it's like listening to radio on AM bandwaves. Any small local independent radio or studio can have a better recording quality. It's really a shame because because the lessons are really interesting.

Also, I'm not a native English speaker but I'm still able to get most Great Lectures series without a problem - and I sometimes find that the professor doesn't articulate enough, or mumbles a bit- which added to the poor sound quality, makes him hard to understand.
Which has never been the case for someone like Elisabeth Vandiver for instance.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Magdalena
  • 01-04-2016

Very enjoyable narrative to listen

Prof. Weinstein's way of presentation is engaging and interesting. The lectures are chronologically structured and different literary genres are introduced. I would definitely recommend the course.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Chris N.
  • 23-06-2019

Would have been five without the music!

Excruciating music. Excellent course. Incredibly good value. Professor is very good.The repeating introductory music is painfull.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Michael J Birdsall
  • 27-01-2018

An example of what is wrong with education.

This a course of a professor picking and choosing facts, embellishing, and simply making things up. For the example, that neither law or literature about humans existed before the Greeks. It is logically inconsistent and proceeds like a con man slowly trying to convince you that you can only understand literature through a university professor. The professor uses spurious correlation as evidence. It is everything that is wrong with modern education.

4 people found this helpful

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