It took over a year, but I finally finished the Classics of British Literature lecture series from "The Great Courses" of The Teaching Company. This 48 lecture course explores not only the great works themselves, but also how the societies of the times influenced the works, and how the works, in turn, influenced society.
Professor John Sutherland, who is affiliated with University College London, California Institute of Technology, and Edinburgh University, gives the lectures with a wonderful blend of wit, charm, and professionalism. My sisters said the he sounded like Kamen-rah off of Night at the Museum 2, but I actually liked his approach and style.
What was so great about this series is that it didn't just focus on novels (partial as I am to them). Poets like Byron, Wordsworth, and Yeats are in the mix as are playwrights like Shakespeare and Shaw and non-fiction writers like Gibbon and Equiano. It really showed how broad the scope of British literature really is. I also enjoyed the insight into British history that each of the works provided. It really showed how Britain's unique history inspired it's colorful literary past.
I had a few problems with some of the lectures, the biggest one being with the one on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. In that particular lecture, Professor Sutherland says that Christian loses his burden after crossing the River Jordan. Those who have read the book know that his burden of sin actually comes off at the foot of the cross. To say otherwise not only is incorrect according to the story, but is also wrong in the theological department. I also differed on a few of the conclusions that he offered for some of the other works (like Jane Eyre).
But overall, I found this to be an interesting, fun, and stimulating series. Those of you who are interested in learning more about you favorite authors, their works, and the times they lived in should really check these out. These lectures take you beyond the page and into the midst of what might just be the greatest literary tradition in history.