Friday, November 3, 2017

The Classics of British Literature by John Sutherland

Political correctness has made the study of classic literature a scary proposition. Now that all white male authors are taboo, what exactly are we supposed to read? Knowing the propensity of modern scholasticism to disparage traditional classics,  I went into this series with some trepidation, but, happily, my fears were relieved.

Professor John Sutherland covers 600 years of British literature in witty, bite-sized chunks and he isn't afraid to give each author his due. It's true that he occasionally gives a nod to political correctness, but for the most part I found him to be even-handed. He doesn't ignore the Bible's impact on literature. Nor does he try to portray Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë as ardent feminists.

One reviewer said the lectures were superficial, but what would you expect with a half hour lecture on Milton? Or Dickens? Several authors merited two lectures (Shakespeare and Austen for example), but most were given a brief overview - just enough to whet your appetite for more. Sutherland is so apt at drawing out the positive traits of each author that he made me want to read every book he mentioned (even the ones I've hated in the past.)

Sutherland extols the beauty of specific novels and plays, while at the same time using precise and lovely language himself. I enjoyed his description of the "verbal technicolor" of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and of a non-Spenserian knight (i.e. one without a pure heart) as "just another brute on horseback."

Another delight was the way he cited opinions of authors about other authors. One example was that the members of the Bloomsbury group (no paragons of virtue) spoke of James Joyce's works as vulgar. E.M. Forster said, "He covers everything with mud." This brings me to another plus: Sutherland's discretion. He describes sexual tawdriness in books (and in the lives of their authors) without a hint of crudeness, which is no easy feat.

I picked up these 48 lectures when they were on sale at Audible. Little did I know what a bargain I was getting. I look forward to revisiting them in the future. A lovely overview of many wonderful classics.



Carol said...

I had no idea Audible sold this type of product. Great review, thanks!

Michele Morin said...

I consistently find resources at your site that I was unaware of. Thanks for sharing all the good things you have found!

Susan @ Reading World said...

I love The Great Courses. They have such variety.

Cathy said...

This sounds like a wonderful book! I'm going to add it to my TBR pile! Glad I stopped by from the, Saturday Review of Books link-up. : )

Barbara H. said...

I've never looked into any courses on Audible, but this sounds like a wonderful one.

Jan said...

This book sounds fantastic and it's great to know it's available on Audible. I'd much rather read (& learn about 😉) classics than many of the current books on the market. Adding it to my TBR/wish list.