Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature
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Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature

by Jorge Luis Borges

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In English at last, Borges’s erudite and entertaining lectures on English literature from Beowulf to Oscar Wilde

Writing for Harper’s Magazine, Edgardo Krebs describes Professor Borges:“A compilation of the twenty-five lectures Borges gave in 1966 at the University of Buenos Aires, where he taught English literature. Starting with


In English at last, Borges’s erudite and entertaining lectures on English literature from Beowulf to Oscar Wilde

Writing for Harper’s Magazine, Edgardo Krebs describes Professor Borges:“A compilation of the twenty-five lectures Borges gave in 1966 at the University of Buenos Aires, where he taught English literature. Starting with the Vikings’ kennings and Beowulf and ending with Stevenson and Oscar Wilde, the book traverses a landscape of ‘precursors,’cross-cultural borrowings, and genres of expression, all connected by Borges into a vast interpretive web. This is the most surprising and useful of Borges’s works to have appeared posthumously.”

Borges takes us on a startling, idiosyncratic, fresh, and highly opinionated tour of English literature, weaving together countless cultural traditions of the last three thousand years. Borges’s lectures — delivered extempore by a man of extraordinary erudition — bring the canon to remarkably vivid life. Now translated into English for the first time, these lectures are accompanied by extensive and informative notes by the Borges scholars Martín Arias and Martín Hadis. 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This mesmerizing volume preserves the eclectic, erudite, and charismatic style of Argentine writer Borges (Labyrinths) and his insights on English literature, via his 1966 class at the University of Buenos Aires. Working from the transcriptions of tapes made by students, the editors have reconstructed the course, which traced English literature from its Saxon roots through the 19th century. The 25 lectures, on subjects including Beowulf, Anglo-Saxon elegies, and the novels of Charles Dickens, are bookended by informative essays and extensive, helpful endnotes. Borges moves effortless between subjects, almost overloading the senses with facts, digressions, and interpretations. While the lectures are not all equally compelling, there is enough here to keep the reader moving forward, and Borges’s delight and passion for every author shines brightly. As the afterword explains: “What Borges tries to do as a professor, more than prepare his students for exams, is excite and entice them to read the works and discover the authors.” Over 40 years later, he is still achieving that goal. (May)
The Globe & Mail
“Picture this: You’re an Argentine teenager, sitting in a lecture hall on the first day of classes, ready to learn about the history of English literature. In walks your kindly, elderly professor, and suddenly he starts speaking, about everything from The Dream of the Rood to Treasure Island, sometimes quoting entire paragraphs, without any notes whatsoever. He’s also blind (and has been for more than a decade). What would your reaction be?”
Will Glovinsky - The Rumpus
“Readers will probably find Professor Borges more enthralling as a document of Borges himself than as a guide to English literature. Borges’s vast erudition is felt everywhere in these pages, and he is at his best when he digresses.”
New York Daily News
“Borges’ delivery will engross you — he is an excellent storyteller.”
Library Journal
Borges was famous for his love of British literature and especially its Anglo-Saxon guts, the thorny, Germanic, Viking-inflected language he learned in his childhood. Here Borges scholars Arias and Hadis have collected 25 of his lectures on English literature, covering Beowulf to Robert Louis Stevenson, which he delivered at the University of Buenos Aires in 1966. The book’s thorough notes prove Arias’s assertion that “editing this book was like running after a Borges who was constantly getting lost among the books in a library.” As much as these lectures are shaped by Borges’s wide-ranging, omnivorous mind, they are also a demonstration of the great pleasure he found in these works of literature. This dense thicket of allusions (as only Borges could perform them) is also a profound testament of love.

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Kirkus Reviews
Edited and translated transcripts of recordings of a university class in English literature taught in the fall of 1966 by the celebrated Argentinian author. In 1966, Borges (1899–1986) had been teaching for 10 years at the University of Buenos Aires, and his lectures communicate a comfortable familiarity with the material; they also offer some piercing insights into specific works in the English canon. His 25 class sessions began with the Anglo-Saxons and ended with Robert Louis Stevenson and the notion of schizophrenia evident in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and other works. (Shakespeare is present only in allusions.) His approach is highly traditional--mostly lecture and explication--though in some later classes, he invited students to read aloud from the texts; he periodically interrupted to illuminate. Also astonishing were his expectations for his students. He routinely alluded to other texts outside the syllabus (The Picture of Dorian Gray, In Cold Blood) and stated and/or implied that his students surely knew these works. Among the texts and authors he dealt with directly were Beowulf, Johnson and Boswell, James MacPherson, Wordsworth and Coleridge (he calls the latter "lazy"), Blake, Carlyle, Dickens (who "suffers from an excess of sentimentalism"), Robert Browning and William Morris. Borges--who had lost his eyesight by 1966--occasionally confesses some personal frailties--e.g., "I have a poor memory for dates." He also clearly believed in the importance of an author's biography: He continually introduced works with some details about the writer's personal life. Evident, too, is a trait that many contemporary students would probably find off-putting: a lack of humor. The classes were unrelievedly earnest and academic and included very few references to popular culture or contemporary history. A sobering, even startling, view of an academic world that has fundamentally altered and softened in the last half-century.

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New Directions Publishing Corporation
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Meet the Author

Jorge Luis Borges (1890-1982), Argentine poet, critic, and short-story writer, revolutionized modern literature. He was completely blind when appointed the head of Argentina’s National Library.
Katherine Silver is an award-winning literary translator and the co-director of the Banff International Literary Translation Centre (BILTC).
Martín Hadis is a professor, writer, and researcher.
Martín Arias is a writer, journalist, and senior researcher at the National Library's Center for Research in Argentina.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
August 24, 1899
Date of Death:
June 14, 1986
Place of Birth:
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Place of Death:
Geneva, Switzerland
B.A., Collège Calvin de Genève, 1914

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