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Publisher's Summary

What exactly is the Western literary canon? Why does it contain certain works and not others? And what do particular works in the Western canon tell us about the development of literature and civilization? Explore these and other thought-provoking lectures with a thorough investigation of more than 30 key works of the Western canon and the critical roles they played - and continue to play - in the development of Western literature. Over the course of 36 lectures, you'll discover the exciting stories behind these classic works and their often surprising connections with one another.

You'll gain invaluable insights into the stories behind these masterpieces and some of the important elements involved in canon formation, including the influence of editors on the New Testament, the influence of culture on Homer's and Virgil's epics, and the influence of education on J.R.R. Tolkien.

You'll also examine the unique connections between each work and its predecessors, allowing you to participate in a riveting literary discussion and examine how history's greatest writers have "talked" with one another, from the way Virgil's Aeneid echoes the Homeric epics the Iliad and the Odyssey to the way John Milton's Paradise Lost is a catalog of the canonic works that precede it, from Plato's "The Apology of Socrates" to William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

A panoramic look at literature, this course is your opportunity to witness a rich literary dialogue and take an amazing journey through thousands of years of literary beauty, grace, and humanity.

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

©2008 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2008 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Western Literary Canon in Context

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    5 out of 5 stars

This is what I was looking for

I grew up in the states reading from Norton anthologies, Great Political Theories, and the like.
I live in Asia now, and so, will be solely responsible for the western part of my children’s education.
I needed a good overview of the whole picture so I could think about how to tackle what is a monumental task.
This has really helped me conceptualize the approach.

Also, he doesn’t exclude authors who are female (unfortunately, I wasn’t—in my formal education—encouraged to read any work written by a women until I was in university...and even then, it was only Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Aphra Behn’s The Rover, and some poems of Emily Dickinson. ...and I was a theatre major, so I assume that may even be more than what was usual at the time (ten years ago).

This audio lecture also comes with a helpful outline that makes referring back to information much more convenient.

Oh, and the presentation is both informative and entertaining. I ended up listening to the entire thing over the weekend while remodeling my house.

8 people found this helpful

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I loved this course from beginning to end

I’m still pretty novice in my understanding of the great works of literature but I’m always anxious to learn more and understand why certain books are regarded so highly.

These courses were so fascinating and enjoyable to listen to. Hearing about the place that each work was created in and how it has remained or been added to the “Survivors List” was endlessly interesting and entertaining. I can’t recommend this enough for folks of all experience levels.

3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Nice set of lectures

This course is well-named. It presents the works in context, especially in context with each other. I enjoyed it, especially the segments on Jane Austen and Tolkien. The professor is clear, engaging and focused.

10 people found this helpful

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Excellent review with valuable insight

Excellent sweep through the literary canon. Knowledgeable and insightful professor with a thorough grasp on subject. Very educational with enjoyable and enlightening tidbits of history and context—sad to see it end, and off to search for more courses by this professor.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars

Great content marred by post-modern self-hatred

[{ answer : I shouldn't be surprised by now, given how infected the Academy is with the radical chic posturings of post-modernism. Here is a man, of prodigious knowledge, charged with the transmission of our Western cultural memory. And yet he drops, without any hint of critique or self-awareness, the petrie dish of terms which serve to undermine it: \DWEMs, as in Dead White European Males,\ Greek \sexism\, \Eurocentrism,\ \xenophobia,\ and \Orientalism.\ He is so submerged in this decadent mindset that he appears to find these viciously ideological and precisely anti-Western terms as obvious and unproblematic as sunshine. And apparently most of his audience fails even to notice. Well, I did. And I'll pass., type : Overall, question : Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?, id : 43, typeString : overall }, { answer : No. See above. It's a shame, because the man knows his stuff. But his PoMo toss offs poisoned it., type : Story, question : Would you recommend The Western Literary Canon in Context to your friends? Why or why not?, id : 13, typeString : story }, { answer : His performance was fine, if you edit out the ideology., type : Performance, question : What about Professor John M. Bowers’s performance did you like?, id : 35, typeString : performance }, { answer : Yes, never rent anything from The Great Courses again. Too many of these academics take positions which, when carried through, lead to the de-legitimizing of the very civilization which makes their careers and paychecks possible., type : Genre, question : Did The Western Literary Canon in Context inspire you to do anything?, id : 90, typeString : genre }, { answer : How many Chinese or Indian or Islamic academics do you think would engage in this kind of self-invalidating virtue signalling? The West is in deep trouble., type : Misc, question : Any additional comments?, id : -1, typeString : misc } ]

54 people found this helpful

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Good, but not great.

Too many anecdotes and not enough analysis. For the narrator, a book is often canonical because of luck, rather than the quality of the book itself.

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Outstanding!

This remarkable course might be the best of the Great Courses I ever listened to, in how the professor brings up historical facts and authors of different times and places to the authors or books he is analyzing.

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  • LR
  • 04-14-22

Comprehensive and honest

Thoughtful and thorough review of a giant subject! Could also be helpful in finding lesser-known literary treasures, or deciding which Great Works you’re gonna skip.
Alert: if you are a cancel-culture advocate better skip this. Prof Bower mentions how many DWEMS (dead white European males) are in the Canon, discusses homophobia and sexual prudery among readers and writers, as well as their opposites. If you can’t bear this unless it is accompanied by diatribes about the Injustice of it All, you’d best save yourself the credit.

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  • Amanda Frost
  • 06-07-19

Great overview of the historical context

this is a highly listenable overview of how and why some books have come to be considered literary classics, and get taught in schools and universities. There are some interesting choices for inclusion, such as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which other academics might not consider sufficiently literary to be included in the official canon. The narrator is very good, although he dies have a few idiosyncratic turns if phrase which become a little irritating after a while, such as continually starting sentences by saying "I myself ...", or referring to England or English when he actually means Britain or British. On the whole however, I enjoyed this, and would recommend it.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mr C Soyel
  • 02-09-21

Definitely one of the best!

Absolutely loved every single lecture in this course. The lecturer is bursting with knowledge, constantly making fascinating connections and is very VERY easy and interesting to listen to. If you're interested in literature, the circumstances that allowed the great iconic canons of the West and Europe to be created and circulated and generally in the history of literary figures and their works, then this course is definitely for you! Highly recommended! Enjoy!

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  • Guðrún Pétursdóttir
  • 08-20-18

Exelant guide through the canon

But read the works he talks about it gives you a deeper inside to them and you understand better what he is talking about . As a student of literature I had read most of them (at least until the 1900). Bowers has nice soothing voice and a wast knowledge although I sometimes I did not agree with him.
There where two things that bothered me though about it minor things, number one the way he pronounces some names in particular Göthe he opts for some reason to pronounce it in English instead of German. The second thing where in hell are Flaubert, Baudilere and last but not least Rousseau his confessions rhyme delightfully with Augustine's. But to each his own now I have at least 6 books I can add to my ever expanding reading list.