Bildungsroman and Künstlerroman Introduction


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The Bildungsroman is often called the novel of formation, the novel of education (in the broad sense of the word), or the apprenticeship novel. It shows the development of the protagonist’s mind and character through a number of stages and a variety of experiences, often from childhood to early adulthood. He or she encounters conflicts and challenges, often including a spiritual crisis, which enable the protagonist to achieve a mature identity and eventually play his or her proper role in the world.

The Künstlerroman, also called the artist novel, is an important subtype of the Bildungsroman. It represents the growth of a writer or other artist into a condition of maturity that is marked by a recognition of art as the protagonist’s calling and by a mastery of an artistic craft. A related subtype is the Erziehungsroman (educational novel), which also presents the development of a hero from childhood to maturity, and has one or more teachers directly guiding the protagonist. Another subtype that occasionally overlaps with the Bildungsroman is the picaresque novel, which narrates the escapades of a rascal who lives by his wits in a sordid environment. The picaresque novel, however, has its origins in Spain; the Bildungsroman, as one might expect, has its roots in German literature.