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Origin of the bildungsroman

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It is far more difficult to locate the source of the bildungsroman—a term combining the German words Bildung, personal growth, with roman, novel—than it is to credit the book that is its exemplar. The Encyclopedia of German Literary History claims that the philosopher and literary historian Wilhelm Dilthey famously defined the term in an analysis in 1870 of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-1796, 4 vols.; Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, 1824), almost eighty years after the publication of Goethe’s masterpiece. In the bildungsroman, Dilthey wrote, [a] regulated development within the life of the individual is observed, each of its stages has its own intrinsic value and is at the same time the basis for a higher stage. The dissonances and conflicts of life appear as the necessary growth points through which the individual must pass on his way to maturity and harmony.

In 1942, in his comprehensive English Novel in Transition, 1885-1940, William C. Frierson applied the terms “life-novel” and “spiritual autobiography” to many of the novels that can be categorized as bildungsromans. As if unwilling to get bogged down by the Germanic bildungsroman and its cognates, Frierson never mentions the word or the novel by Goethe that exemplifies it. Other scholars prefer “education novel” or “apprentice novel.” Thousands of novels—from Samuel Richardson’s Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740-1741) to J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), from Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749) to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925)—could lay claim, if barely, to being chronicles of passage.

This survey discusses only a select few novels that both follow Dilthey’s lead and meet the main criterion for any classic—endurance—concentrating on landmark works, most of them originally written in English. American literature is notable for writers whose oeuvres—career-long or in a sequence—have moved from innocence to experience but whose heroes, especially in contemporary novels (notably those of John Updike), are unchanging.

In the closing third of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, the bildungsroman was given new vitality by novels dramatizing alternative patterns, especially women striving toward commensurate status with men. The feminist bildungsroman, given scant attention earlier, has become a major force in the revival of the form.

Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship

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The paragon for the nineteenth century novel of education was Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, translated by Thomas Carlyle. The earlier work introduces a hero whose object is to seek self-realization in the service of art: As actor and later manager of a stage company, he will make the German theater a primary agent of cultural change. In Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, this aim must compete with many other intentions and values.

Scattered throughout the novel are many details and impressions adapted from Goethe’s own experience: a childhood delight in puppets, the tension between visionary son and hardheaded practical father, efforts at amateur acting and firsthand observations of the vagaries of fellow-players, responses to the esoteric rituals of freemasonry, even Wilhelm’s lovesick wandering of the streets. In most scenes, Wilhelm appears, sometimes as protagonist but more often as spectator or auditor, a young man whom Goethe viewed with marked ambivalence. Wilhelm’s involvement with the theater makes possible an exploration and broadening of his personality. It offers him an adventurous life, a chance to broaden the self by accepting various roles, but it is life without direction. Following “Confessions,” which closes the first half, Wilhelm gradually quits the theater for new rites, literal and figurative: those of passage and those of the secret Society of the Tower. Characteristically for the bildungsroman, entry...

(This entire section contains 231 words.)

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is achieved only after many missteps.

The nineteenth century English bildungsroman

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William Makepeace Thackeray’s The History of Pendennis: His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends, and His Greatest Enemy (1848-1850, serial; 1849-1850, book) is called by Thackeray’s biographer Gordon N. Ray “the first true Bildungsroman in English fiction.” Jerome Buckley rejects it as too conventional, perhaps because its hero comes to maturity more by accident than by design.

George Meredith’s major bildungsromans derive from Charles Dickens, whom he dismissed as “a caricaturist who aped the moralist.” Still, as Buckley argues, the later Victorian was indebted to the earlier, especially in The Adventures of Harry Richmond (1871) and in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859). The method of narration and even the plotting of The Adventures of Harry Richmond recall Dickens’s character David Copperfield, and the theme, the shattering of false illusions, resembles that of Great Expectations (1860-1861, serial; 1861, book). The frequent caricatures in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel are suggestive, according to Buckley, of “Dickensian shorthand.”

Dorothea Brooke’s two marriages in George Eliot’s Middlemarch (1871-1872) symbolize a journey from naïve impressionability to practical wisdom and humane sympathy. Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh (1903) is the most directly autobiographical bildungsroman in English before D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers (1913) and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The Way of All Flesh remains, in Buckley’s view, a “scientific” bildungsroman. Overloaded by digressions, The Way of All Flesh has gone virtually unread since World War II. Its author’s hatred of the middle-class evangelism in which he had been brought up and his disavowal of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories, which were rampant during the 1870’s, when he wrote the novel, have affected the novel’s later reception. The theme of Ernest Pontifex’s childhood (the book’s main link to the bildungsroman) is not developed with any dramatic immediacy.

In Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895), Jude Fawley’s life appears to have been doomed from the day of his birth. As the protagonist of a novel of education, Jude pays much attention to the hero’s private study and none to formal schooling. A university education, however, is his great objective. The lure of learning fights an unequal battle with the appeals of sex as embodied in Arabella, the swine girl, who throws a piece of pig’s flesh at Jude when they meet—an obvious symbol of the dismantling of Jude’s illusions. Sue Bridehead, a truly interesting woman, becomes his mistress and mentor, but he buckles under her teaching.

Because it affirms the classic bildungsroman, Dickens’s Great Expectations bears a closer look than any of the novels previously mentioned. The story of Pip falls into three phases that clearly display a progression. The reader first sees the boy in his natural condition in the country, responding and being instinctively virtuous. The second stage involves a negation of childlike simplicity; Pip acquires his “expectations,” renounces his origins, and moves to the city. He rises in society, but because he acts through calculation rather than instinctive charity, his moral values deteriorate as his social graces improve. This middle phase culminates in a sudden fall, the beginning of a redemptive suffering that is dramatically concluded by an attack of brain fever leading to a long coma. Pip rises from it regenerate. In the final stage of growth he returns to his birthplace, abandons his false expectations, and achieves a partial synthesis of the virtue of his innocent youth. Critic G. Robert Strange views Great Expectations as a moral fable in the tradition of stories of education. Like Stendhal’s Julien Sorel and Honoré de Balzac’s Eugène de Rastignac, Pip belongs in the nineteenth century gallery of children of the century.

The later English bildungsroman

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In 1948, literary critic and historian Mark Schorer wrote a famous essay, “Technique as Discovery,” in which he declared that literary technique is nearly everything. It is the means by which the writer’s experience, which is his subject matter, compels him to attend to it; technique is the only means he has of discovering, exploring, developing his subject, of conveying its meaning, and, finally, of evaluating it.

Without explicitly citing it as the high point in English of the bildungsroman, Schorer extols Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man as the crowning fictional study of passage in an especially rich period, the first quarter of the twentieth century. There is another reason to apply Schorer’s strictures in the present context: He not only sets up Joyce’s work as a classic in the bildungsroman tradition but also creates a literary rogues’ gallery from other famous bildungsromans, including H. G. Wells’s Tono-Bungay (1908), Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Thomas Wolfe’s Of Time and the River (1935), and Farrell’s Studs Lonigan trilogy (1935).

As the bildungsroman’s poet, Joyce, with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, made the intuited destiny of Stephen Dedalus an attainment nonpareil. He utilized the subliminal so convincingly that it rendered the intrusive author in the long biographical novels of Goethe, Dickens, and Stendhal unnecessary. No writers of bildungsromans until Joyce had succeeded in making narrative serve theme contrapuntally. As a famous essay by poet and critic Hugh Kenner puts it, Each of the [five] chapters begins with a multitude of warring impressions, and each develops toward an emotionally apprehended unity; each succeeding chapter liquidates the previous synthesis and subjects its elements to more adult scrutiny in a constantly enlarging field of perception, and develops toward its own synthesis and affirmation.

Joyce presents a variety of styles, each appropriate to the movement of Stephen from childhood through boyhood into maturity. Flow of consciousness delineates the mind of the child not yet amenable to selection or judgment. Evocation of the world of sensual and bodily detail is rendered by internal and external emotional bursts—moments rescued from flux that Joyce called epiphanies—that mark Stephen’s rejection of domestic and religious values. Gradually, Joyce conveys the intellectually assured Dedalus by dialectic as he asserts to himself his soul’s call to be a poet.

Other English bildungsromans

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Working from opposite directions, fiction’s two principal figures in modernism between the two world wars were Joyce and Lawrence. Joyce, as noted, internalized fiction by evoking consciousness. Lawrence, who pioneered few technical innovations, broke down any notion that ego was stable. Books such as Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow (1915), and Women in Love (1920) blurred the usual partitions between and within genders and installed the primitive and savage emotions of “blood” over civilization’s crippling decrees of “mind.”

Neither the voluntarily exiled, hard-drinking Dubliner nor the Midlands coal miner’s son who in his brief span would roam the world in a vain search for transcendence had anything good to say about the other. When Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) began to vie with Ulysses (1922) as a book for tourists in Paris, the nearly blind Joyce asked a friend to read it to him. He listened carefully, then pronounced only one word: “Lush!” To Lawrence’s puritan mind, Ulysses was a “dirty” book, a reduction of Sex (uppercase)—to him an icon in the merging of consciousnesses—to sex (lowercase)—a mechanical act for prurient readers.

A more fruitful pairing links Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers with W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (1915). In their sexual bildungsromans, the introspective hero that the reader met in Joyce’s Künstlerroman, the artist-protagonist, gives way to lovers under siege. Paul Morel and Philip Carey spoke with candor to beleaguered young men everywhere. Lawrence’s bildungsromans provided what Patricia Alden calls “the basis for a new, classless elite of the initiate [in which] sexual relationships recapitulate the fundamental conflict between bourgeois individualism and working-class communalism.” More simply, Lawrence’s novels always turn on crucial “splits.” In Sons and Lovers, the conflict between Paul and his mother, Gertrude, vies with the conflict between kinds of love, physical and spiritual, which draw the son away and are represented by two young women, Miriam and Clara.

Critic V. S. Pritchett, whose short stories and autobiography celebrate his own emergence from late-Victorian squalor, demonstrates in a memorable essay how Sons and Lovers bears the defects of its virtues. Galvanic as he is in revealing Paul’s drift into spiritual quandary, Lawrence “cheats” too: He almost entirely omits the story of Paul’s education, his early teaching, and his gradual separation from the mining village of his birth. Alden agrees with Pritchett. For her, Lawrence isolates Paul’s drive to become an individual from any social context. The story of how Lawrence left the Midlands becomes the story of how Paul leaves his mother; he is seen as the passive victim of three women who embody unmet social ambitions they seek to realize through him.

Joyce and Lawrence represent contrasting traditions with regard to the relationship in literary art between the creator and the created. Joyce, like Henry James and Gustave Flaubert, held that the artist must remain detached from life, producing narratives of experience somehow finished, exhausted, controllable, and manipulable. Lawrence confessed “one sheds one’s sicknesses in books, repeats and repeats again one’s emotions—to be master of them.” Lawrence lives his experiences in the process of writing about them. Both Joycean and Lawrencean traditions have served bildungsromans well.

As a study of a youth’s search for meaning and truth in a world of cruelty and deceit, Of Human Bondage stands apart from the remainder of Maugham’s works. No one is spared, least of all its hero, Philip Carey. In a variation on Lawrence’s confession that the writer “sheds” his or her “sicknesses in books,” Maugham said he wrote Of Human Bondage to rid himself of his obsessions. Although written in characteristically spare prose, in contrast to the tropes of Joyce, Of Human Bondage joins A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in conveying the hero’s life in stages. However, unlike the decisive Stephen, Philip matures in agonizing waltz-time, his steps advancing and retreating methodically. His ambivalence mirrors the way of troubled innocence.

Maugham titled the 1915 published version of his novel after the name of the fourth book of seventeenth century philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s Ethica (1677; Ethics, 1870): “Of Human Bondage: Or, Of the Strengths of the Affects”—whose preface glosses perfectly the novel’s theme. The impotence of man to govern or restrain the affects I call Bondage, for a man who is under their control is not his own master, but is mastered by fortuneso that he is forced to follow the worst, although he sees the better before him.

Philip’s Bildung, or apprenticeship, can best be told as a series of releases whose permanency depends on his being able to understand a riddle. Critic Forrest Burt notes that the author’s placement of the puzzle at the heart of the novel reflects the aging Maugham’s “greatest drive,” namely, to reshape his life into a pattern that would enable him to overcome a lifelong stammer, a desperate childhood, and rejection by an actor named Sue Jones, daughter of the playwright Henry Arthur Jones. Philip, following the lead of his creator, must free himself from a clubfoot, social restrictions, religious and moral hypocrisy, delusions, unrequited passion, and fear.

Of Human Bondage opens with the death of Philip’s mother. Like the young Willie Maugham, the orphaned Philip is forced to move from his French home to England. There he lives with his uncle, the vicar of Blackstable, and kindly Aunt Louisa. They are childless and live a life quite unsuitable for their nine-year-old nephew, who speaks French more fluently than English. These early pages comprise a Victorian deprived-child paradigm. Unhappy school days with bullying masters and cruel classmates are reversed by an extraordinary year studying in Heidelberg, Germany, where Philip comes intuitively to the same conclusion he reached emotionally when his prayers to be delivered of his clubfoot went unanswered: There is no God. The intuition of a kind of nihilism brings Philip not despair but joy. He will fail in a journeyman bid to study art in Paris but finds himself as a medical intern in London delivering babies. Philip will have his first sexual experience—brief and unsatisfying—before encountering a London waitress, Mildred Rogers, who, although ordinary in every way, holds him in near-fatal thrall.

Philip deludes himself about Mildred, suffers her brutal insults, rejects her and repeatedly takes her back, hates and adores her, and increasingly curses “the fate which [has] chained him to such a woman.” It can be noted that Maugham, whose works are frequently adapted for film, lived to see three film versions of the novel, between 1933 and 1964—none of which reached beyond the theme of bondage to Mildred to explore the book as bildungsroman. As critic Buckley notes, “The novel is ultimately concerned with Philip’s development and not just with his obsession.”

It is easy for Philip to assume that he is fated to suffer and fail—that regret or blame is useless. He is also, however, eager to discover a pattern in his destiny. A drunken minor poet named Cronshaw tells him that he will find the answer to his questions in the pattern of a Persian carpet. One day, depressed by word of his close friend Hayward’s useless death in the Boer War, he contemplates Greek funerary sculptures in the British Museum. Something reminiscent of Stephen Dedalus’s vision of a maiden on the strand—an epiphany—comes to Philip: Life has no objective meaning; the design is in the mind of the individual.

The bildungsroman and time

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Shortly before beginning Sons and Lovers, the novel that launched his career, Lawrence revealed to his lover, Jessie Chambers, his despair upon reading Wells’s Tono-Bungay: “Most authors write out of their own personality,” Lawrence, then twenty-three, averred. “Wells does, of course. But I’m not sure that I’ve got a big enough personality to write out of.”

Thus, Lawrence is awed by the same quality in Tono-Bungay that critic Schorer deplores: a richness of vision, both retrospectively and futuristically, able to embrace at once the death of Victorianism and the emergence of the new spirit of advertising. For Schorer, in his manifesto favoring Henry James and formalism, Wells’s best book proves to be not a novel but a hypothesis. Nearly a century later the issues between fiction and journalism still seethe.

What cannot be denied is that Tono-Bungay’s George Ponderevo—like Stephen Dedalus, Paul Morel, and Philip Carey—is the personification of a consciousness that seeks a secure handhold on life. Again and again this kind of hero proves a human test-site for every level and phase of society, with life always crowding in. As a boy living belowstairs in an estate called Bladesover, George becomes secularized early, inclined to follow the liberating force of scientific discovery late, and a survivor of the charlatanry of a bogus patent medicine called “tono-bungay” in between. The novel pursues a vertical—a futuristic—course. It presents a rocketlike macrocosm that allows Ponderevo to survive the wreckage of a marriage and a love affair, to withstand the “woosh” and sputter of tono-bungay, and, at last, to be the embodiment of a life force whose ambiguous symbol is a battleship forging ahead into the limitless sea. The purveyor of tono-bungay quackery—the catalyst for George’s fall and rise—is a bubbling sprite of an uncle, Teddy Ponderevo. He, like the early Wells having escaped from pill dispensing, storms the bastions of society. Yet for this arriviste, to the manor born too late, the wages are corruption, defeat, and death.

It is curious that John Fowles has never mentioned Wells. In The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), Charles Smithson, marooned in the midst of the Victorian era a generation before George Ponderevo, is also viewed as the man between. Each has lifted one leg out of one time frame and is about to put it down in another of whose substance he is uncertain. Like Tono-Bungay, Fowles’s novel ends in a dramatizing of “postcultural man” through imagery of the sea. In Fowles’s case, it is borrowed from Matthew Arnold’s poem “To Marguerite.” [L]ifeis not a symbolnot one riddle and one failure to guess it, is not to inhabit one face alone or to be given up after one losing throw of the dice; but is to be, however inadequately, emptily, hopelessly into the city’s iron heart, endured. And out again, upon the unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea.

Written three quarters of a century apart, these novels apply the bildungsroman strategies of passage to time itself. They instruct their audience imaginatively in the ways nineteenth century humans became twentieth century humans.

The American bildungsroman

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Writing his doctoral dissertation in 1948, Philip Young mounted a convincing wound-and-bow theory on Ernest Hemingway. The so-called Hemingway hero, as Young defined him, was Hemingway himself. For any real understanding of either the heroes of the novels or their creator, a Hemingway aficionado must take into account the young Ernest’s severe injuries in the Italian campaign of World War I, which, according to Young, left permanent scars, visible and invisible. Over Hemingway’s initial protests—he told Young that to try to psychoanalyze a writer is tantamount to destroying that writer—Young published the first literary study of Hemingway in 1952, and in 1965, four years after Hemingway’s suicide, applied his “wound” thesis to all of Hemingway’s books.

Young’s ideas gave rise to the term “code hero,” whose notion is that in a world dominated by violence and evil a decent young man, placed in testing situations, will maintain his “purity of Line” (a phrase applied to the matador Romero in Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises). Grace under pressure requires an earned style of conduct, a code that is a variation on the bildungsroman’s conventional rites of passage. In his first book, In Our Time (1924, 1925), Hemingway combined stories and sketches that introduced Nick Adams, the young man who would grow up to be Jake Barnes, Lieutenant Frederic Henry, and all Hemingway’s other war-born heroes. Young Nick is the outdoor man whose bliss is hunting and fishing. Even as an adolescent he reveals, always understatedly, a quality contemporary detractors call “macho” but which forces on Nick a “reckoning with his nerves” that leads to the ritual shutoff of mind necessary to ward off the demons. Young aligns Nick Adams and Huckleberry Finn as exemplars of “a great American story because [theirs] is based not only on the experience of every man as he grows up but also on the particular and peculiar experience of this nation.” The Huck-Nick stories tell what happens when a spontaneous virtue meets something alien.

After the appearance of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, critics throughout the 1950’s extended Young’s Huck-to-Nick line to Holden Caulfield. Huck and Holden speak in the first person and in boyish vernacular. Both heroes, in established bildungsroman custom, long to escape corrupting adult forces for a state of natural innocence. The unfunny Nick Adams lacks Huck and Holden’s comedy, but his pattern is the same as theirs: improvisation.

A 1990’s version of the bildungsroman is Frank Conroy’s Body and Soul (1993). When this novel appeared, it was taken as either an anachronism or a refreshing return to the classic bildungsroman. Body and Soul, Conroy’s only novel (he also wrote a distinguished autobiography, Stop-Time, published in 1967, and published a short-story collection, Midair, in 1985), records the romantic history of a musical prodigy’s development from humble beginnings to concert fame as a piano virtuoso. The novel offers a chance for young readers to experience a genuinely happy novel, in which virtue and fidelity are rewarded and joy is made as plausible as divorce or nuclear meltdown. This is Dickens, updated and undistorted.

American chronicles as bildungsromans

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Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is a decent, unintelligent man who finds that the momentum that sustained him as a high school basketball star has slowed to a crawl in a dingy apartment where the dinner is always late and his wife has stopped being pretty. John Updike takes this common domestic tableau and turns it into a subtle expose of the frailty of the American Dream.

Written entirely in the present tense—in 1960, a virtually unheard-of technique in American fiction—to stress the immediacy of Rabbit’s crisis, Rabbit, Run (1960) details the sterility of a society that offers television sets and cars but ignores spiritual loss and belief. As critic Donald J. Greiner puts it, All [Harry’s wife Janice] wants is for him to be like other husbands, to give in to the nine-to-five routine of selling Magi-peelers in the local dimestore, but Rabbit senses that loss of life’s momentum means loss of life itself. So he runs.

Updike’s quester is suggestive of Huck, Nick, and Holden, but Rabbit is neither as improvisatory as they nor as articulate—inside or outside. When asked to explain what he wants, all the uncomprehending Rabbit can do is hit a perfect tee shot, point to the grace of the soaring ball, and shout, “That’s It!”

A decade later, in 1971, Updike reintroduced Harry, age thirty-six, in Rabbit Redux (Rabbit led back). The junk of ashtrays and closets from which Harry has run earlier is replaced by national events that promise to overwhelm him: Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the drug culture. For Rabbit, these “disasters” are redeemed by the first Moon shot but, try as he might to turn the spaceflight into a metaphor for his own need to soar gracefully and far, he can see in it only depersonalized technology making contact with a dead rock. In Rabbit Redux, any “lighting out for the territory” (Huck’s solution) is negated by Rabbit’s futility. He returns to his dingy house in the plastic suburb. The last words of the novel—“Sleeps. O.K.?”—are a long way from “Runs.”

Rabbit Is Rich (1981) is about the 1970’s. Now forty-six years old, Rabbit does not blame anyone for shopping malls or overflowing garbage cans beside failing restaurants. When he thinks of himself as “the star and spear point of the flourishing car dealership his family owns,” readers know that he remains unreconstructed, his value system still defined in terms of athletic prowess. His youthful running has been slowed to gliding in golf carts. He acknowledges neither his son’s drug addiction nor his own failing heart.

For Rabbit at Rest (1990), Updike combines reprise with sputtering evidence that passage for an unresponsive oldster like Harry merely repeats unalterable patterns. Rabbit runs one final time. He returns to the basketball court despite his weight, his age, and his heart. In short, he tries. His fear, however, presages the final stillness. Finally, in the novella Rabbit Remembered (2000), the family of the deceased Harry Angstrom continues life without him, after his wife, Janice, has remarried, his illegitimate daughter Annabelle has turned up, and his son, Nelson, has separated from his wife. Rabbit Angstrom has forged entry into the terrain of the modern bildungsroman’s losers. Yet, as Greiner sums up the Rabbit books, “Harry has [also] joined the pantheon of American literary heroes like Natty Bumppo, Ahab, Huck Finn, Gatsby, Ike McCaslin, Holden Caulfield [in having learned] that no matter how far he runs in space, he cannot outrace time.”

The feminist bildungsroman

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Ellen Morgan, in “Humanbecoming: Form and Focus in the Neo-Feminist Novel” (1972), identifies the bildungsroman as “the most salient form for literature influenced by” the feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. The feminist bildungsroman is a “recasting” of the old genre by modern women authors to meet their particular needs. The traditional bildungsroman is often an autobiographical novel depicting adolescent self-development and the educative experiences of youth. Endings to novels such as Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, Sons and Lovers, Of Human Bondage, and Tono-Bungay become the beginnings for the protagonists, who either merge into their societies, like Philip Carey, or escape into the promise of a new world, like George Ponderevo.

The modern feminist bildungsroman concentrates on crises in which the female protagonist finds herself facing problematical dilemmas with no assurance, if they persist, of safe passage. A woman awakens in her late twenties or early thirties to what Bonnie Hoover Braedlin calls “the stultification and fragmentation of a personality devoted not to self-fulfillment and awareness, but to a culturally determined, self-sacrificing, self-effacing existence.” These crises and concomitant struggles for oneness in cultures that fragment women into accepted roles provide the central themes of the feminist bildungsroman. Scholars have divided feminist bildungsromans into those that convey a “social quest” and those that focus on a “spiritual quest.” The distinguishing factors are, with the former, a search for identity in the socioeconomic sphere and, with the latter, a journey involving a “transcendent deity.”

Some structural features of female bildungsromans often stem from their confessional nature. The prevalence of first-person narration follows cause and effect. The recollection and reconstruction of memories and the utilizing of flashback are central strategies. Vivid recollections dominate—of girlhoods haunted by images of deadly mothers and absent fathers, demanding friends, first loves. Later, these heroines find themselves torn apart by the conflicting demands of marriage and motherhood on one hand and the longing for personal freedom and self-actualization on the other. Though the women in bildungsromans arrive at self-awareness through recalling, retelling, and analyzing their lives, they finally achieve the wholeness of selfhood by exploring their inner natures to unite the conscious elements of personality with the unconscious.

Included in an expanding list of authors of feminist bildungsromans cited frequently by scholars are Lisa Alther (Kinflicks, 1975), Margaret Atwood (Surfacing, 1972, and Lady Oracle, 1976), Sheila Ballantyne (Norma Jean, the Termite Queen, 1975), Francine du Plessix Gray (Lovers and Tyrants, 1976), Marge Piercy (Small Changes, 1973), and Doris Lessing (The Golden Notebook, 1962, and the five novels of the Children of Violence series, 1952-1969).

Contemporary bildungsromans

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The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw no shortage of novels concerned with an adolescent’s battle for an adequate extension of personality, a quest that brings the initiate into conflict with the constraining factors of parental wishes, first love, and economic and social sanctions. Many landmarks of world literature belong to this distinguished subgenre. In its classic form, the bildungsroman reached its peak in the nineteenth century. The twentieth century added more direct autobiography, an increasingly depersonalized society, and battles between the genders.

One of the first modern lesbian bildungsromans was Rita Mae Brown’s first novel, Rubyfruit Jungle (1973). Writer Edmund White, author of an honored biography of French writer and iconoclast Jean Genet, published the coming-out novel A Boy’s Own Story (1982) and The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988), bildungsromans of alternative patterns of living as compelling as D. H. Lawrence’s works of nearly a century ago. A coming-out novel such as A Boy’s Own Story, besides depicting rites of initiation as the bildungsroman has always done, reveals the harm psychotherapy can do to gays and lesbians and the self-hatred forced on a young man by society when it conceives of homosexuality only as a sickness, sin, or crime. E. Lynn Harris’s Invisible Life (1991, self-published; 1994) is a bildungsroman about a gay African American man who comes out in law school.

There also has been a blossoming of novels that conflate the bildungsroman with the quest for ethnic and cultural identity by postcolonial, disfranchised, oppressed, immigrant, and other marginalized peoples. Readers have proven receptive to these works, which include Chicana author Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street (1984); The Buddha of Suburbia (1990), by Hanif Kureishi, a British writer whose father was Pakistani; Irish novelist Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke, Ha-Ha-Ha (1993); Breath, Eyes, Memory (1994) by Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-born American writer; and The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007), by Afghani American Khaled Hosseini.

The bildungsroman continues as an important form into the twenty-first century, accompanied by a new, intense interest in the memoir. Readers cannot get enough of stories—whether fictional or true—about the struggle for adulthood and selfhood. Many of these novels have also been made into feature films, including White Oleander (1999), by Janet Fitch; The Secret Life of Bees (2002), by Sue Monk Kidd; and Brick Lane (2003), by Monica Ali. Another twenty-first century bildungsroman, Middlesex (2002), by Jeffrey Eugenides, won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

Historical Context

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Development of the Novel Beginning in the early eighteenth century, long narratives began to be written in prose. The modern novel developed in England with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722). These works were followed shortly by Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740) and Henry Fielding’s The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1747). These novels were highly episodic plot-driven stories. In Germany in 1766–1767, Wieland wrote TheHistory of Agathon, the first example of a Bildungsroman. Then in 1795, Goethe produced Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. The term Bildungsroman was coined in 1817 by Karl von Morgenstern but not commonly applied until about 1870. The genre flourished through the middle decades of the nineteenth century, both in England and the United States. The historical novel, developed by Sir Walter Scott, was written also by Dickens and others. The popularity of the Bildungsroman genre waned in the early twentieth century, but variations of the form continued to be written throughout the twentieth century.

Cultural Climate In 1789, the French Revolution began, followed by the Reign of Terror from 1793 to 1794 and the Napoleonic period from 1804 until 1815. In 1798 in England, Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads, the preface to which marked a literary watershed that came to be known as the beginning of the Romantic period. The Victorian Age spanned the years of Queen Victoria’s reign, from 1837 to her death in 1901. The era of greatest popularity for the Bildungsroman, the nineteenth century, thus spanned the Romantic and Victorian periods in literature. This time of economic and political turbulence saw repeated wars in Europe and social and mechanical transformations wrought by the Industrial Revolution. Germany got its first constitution in 1816. At the same time, several European countries strengthened their colonial territories.

According to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, perceptive Victorians suffered from a sense of “being displaced persons in a world made alien by technological changes which had been exploited too quickly for the adaptive powers of the human psyche.” With the Industrial Revolution came the rise of the middle class that gradually took control of the means of production, especially in England and the United States. Many middle-class Victorians wanted the stability of a set of rules to live by. Readers demanded guidance and edification from literature. The Bildungsroman, noted for exemplifying middle-class standards, met their needs. Often times, its hero went from the lower working class to respectability as a gentleman. Along the way, he reviewed his values and usually concluded that a settled middle-class lifestyle was the best choice.

By the end of the Victorian period, writers were seeking more realism. Victorian values and self-assurance gave way to pessimism and stoicism. The French promoted a bohemian lifestyle that scoffed at notions of respectability. Novelists began experimenting with the time structure of their works, and stream-of-consciousness began to be written. As a genre so tied to convention, German influence, and orderly chronology, the Bildungsroman lost popularity as twentieth-century literary interests and innovations led elsewhere. Still, James Joyce chose the Bildungsroman form for his masterpiece A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916, and the genre is still popular.

Literary Style

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Audience The Bildungsroman doesn’t just tell a story. It involves the reader in the same process of education and development as the main character. The aim is to affect the reader’s personal growth as well. However, at some point in the narrative, the reader may be in disagreement with the protagonist. Realizing that the hero has made a mistake in judgment, the reader, in effect, learns from the situation before the protagonist or otherwise compares his/her own morality against the moral of the story that the hero eventually learns.

Character In the Bildungsroman, the focus is on one main character. The structure of the Bildungsroman is to follow this one character from youth to adulthood. Other characters exist in the story, of course, but only in roles that have some kind of tie or relationship that contributes to the growth and development of the protagonist. With this concentration, it is then possible for the reader to become engrossed in the maturation process of the hero and learn the same life lessons.

Chronicle A Bildungsroman is the chronicle, or record of events, of the protagonist from youth to adulthood. However, it is not an unbiased record, but more like a diary recording the life of a young person on the way to self-understanding and maturity. Consequently, the Bildungsroman uses a chronological time period to follow the hero from year to year.

Conflict Growing up and finding one’s purpose in life is difficult. There are many pitfalls, mistakes, and forces beyond one’s control along the way. These conflicts between the protagonist and fate, or nature, or others, or self are part of the process of maturation that the Bildungsroman chronicles. Each crisis the hero endures helps to deepen his selfknowledge and strengthen or challenge his moral fortitude. Multiple conflicts are essential to the credibility of the Bildungsroman as a reflection of the real life experience.

Dialogue Dialogue is the conversational interaction among the characters of a story. Since the Bildungsroman is focused on the main character, plot and narrative are secondary to dialogue. Using dialogue to carry the story makes the reader feel more of a witness to an actual scene. The reader knows little more than the hero has learned from talking with others and thus makes the same discoveries as the protagonist as events happen.

Movement Variations

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American Novels The American style of the Bildungsroman is a combination of the German Bildungsroman and the Spanish picaresque. The American Bildungsroman follows the pattern of moral growth for the protagonist as he discovers his identity in conflict with social norms. Blended into the story is the picaresque element of the hero being a traveler who has an outsider’s perspective on what he encounters. Two American classics exemplify this structure: Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

English Novels In an English Bildungsroman, the protagonist is often a poor orphaned boy whose goal is to become a cultured gentleman of means. As part of his self-education, he moves from his provincial home to an urban setting. While the German Bildungsroman emphasizes internal conflicts within the main character, the English Bildungsroman uses the outside world to threaten the hero’s quest for identity. Many English bildungsromane draw from the author’s own experience.

Entwickslungroman Another name for Bildungsroman is the general term Entwickslungroman, or novel of development. This name applies to novels constructed to follow the personality development of the protagonist. However, it is sometimes reserved for only those works that describe the hero’s physical passage from youth to maturity without delving into his psychological progress. In other words, Bildungsroman- type novels that pay less attention to the hero’s intellect and emotions than more fully developed works fit into the category of Entwickslungroman.

Erziehungsroman Meaning “novel of education,” this variation is a more pedagogic form of the Bildungsroman. Not only is it more concerned with the formal education and training of the protagonist, but the novel also intends to teach certain lessons about values to the reader as well.

Female Protagonist The female protagonist of a Bildungsroman encounters problems specific to growing up female in a male-dominated world. Early female bildungsromane with female protagonists mostly follow the traditional pattern that the mature female sees marriage as her fulfillment. Intellectual and social development is often achieved through the mentorship of a knowledgeable and sophisticated man. In some early nineteenth-century female bildungsromane, the female’s education occurs through an older and wiser husband. Later novels portray women entering marriage as the culmination of the mutual growth that occurs in a loving relationship.

While a male protagonist in a Bildungsroman may meet his pivotal crisis in the course of his professional career, the female protagonist’s turning point may result from a romantic entanglement. Her journey of discovery may be more internal, or psychological, than that of her male counterpart.

Künstlerroman This form of the Bildungsroman focuses on the development of the artist. In this case, the protagonist achieves a place and opportunity in which to practice his or her art. Thus, graduating from apprenticeship not only ends the formative stage of life but also establishes the destiny that the hero has sought. Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus are examples of this type.

Medical Subgenre As defined by Anne Hudson Jones for Lancet, in this subgenre

. . . a young physician, often but not always an intern or resident, sets out to find his special calling and to master his craft. Whether he journeys from city to city or from rotation to rotation within the same hospital, his quest is the same.

Two examples of this subgenre are Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith and Samuel Shem’s The House of God.

Military Subgenre In this variation of the Bildungsroman, the protagonist enters the military as a young man. His path of discovery causes him to leave home, not necessarily for a city but for wherever the military sends him. Through the rigors of training and combat, the hero is challenged not only to find himself as a person but to find out how good he is as a soldier.

Social Protest Subgenre The Bildungsroman may be a work of social protest when its female or male hero is a dispossessed or marginalized person. The female Bildungsroman may concern itself with gender issues in a patriarchal society, as in Jane Eyre. In other cases Bildungsromane explore the difficulties of growing up as a member of a minority group and may involve the fight for civil rights. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man belongs to this group. Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple combine female and minority issues interwoven in works of social protest.

Zeitroman This variation of the Bildungsroman blends the development of the era in which the hero lives with his or her personal development. The protagonist thus serves as a reflection of his or her times. This type of novel provides an interesting study of the effects of historical context on character. For example, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage dramatizes the effects of being a Civil War soldier on the protagonist.

Compare and Contrast

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1700–1800s: Christoph Martin Wieland and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe develop the Bildungsroman, but the novel is still in its infancy as a literary form until the 1800s, when it begins to be used widely in Germany. The genre also includes some of the finest works of English, French, and American authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Thomas Hardy, Gustave Flaubert, Mark Twain, and Kate Chopin.

1900s–Today: Continuing as a relevant genre for novelists, bildungsromane are written by English-speaking authors such as James Joyce, W. Somerset Maugham, D. H. Lawrence, J. D. Salinger, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Alice Walker.

1700–1800s: As a sign of maturity, the traditional male protagonist in the Bildungsroman is a person who finds his place in society and takes a responsible role in society.

1900s–Today: As a sign of maturity, the modern protagonist is just as likely to reject society and live in isolation as to accept a role in the mainstream.

1700–1800s: Bildungsromane with female protagonists slowly begin to appear, but the heroine is restricted by the domestic parameters of the times and seeks her education through a knowledgeable man and marriage.

1900s–Today: Female protagonists in the Bildungsroman gain the freedom to explore various paths to self-discovery and may find fulfillment outside the home and marriage.

Representative Works

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Like the Bildungsroman hero, Huck leaves home to find an independent life, has a surrogate father in Jim, is in conflict with his society, and reaches maturity when he repents his treatment of Jim and puts fairness and friendship over expected behavior.

Though considered by some to be a masterpiece of American literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn initially scandalized reviewers and parents who thought it would corrupt young children with its depiction of a hero who lies, steals, and uses coarse language. In the last half of the twentieth century, the condemnation of the book continued on the grounds that its portrayal of Jim and use of the word “nigger” is racist. While some justify the book as a documentation of the racial notions prevalent at the time of its writing, the novel continues to appear on lists of books banned in schools across the United States.

The Bell Jar Although Sylvia Plath is well known as a poet, her autobiographical Bildungsroman is one of the best-known works in modern American literature. The novel tells the story of Esther Greenwood, a student editor on an internship at a women’s magazine in New York City. It follows the standard Bildungsroman pattern of the young person who goes to the big city to pursue professional aspirations. But there is no traditional happy ending. The psychological anguish of Plath’s later poetry is related to the confessional revelations of The Bell Jar, in which she describes the events that led to her nervous breakdown. One month after the English publication of this book in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas, Plath committed suicide. The novel was published in England under Plath’s name in 1966 and in the United States in 1971.

Great ExpectationsGreat Expectations, published in 1861 by Charles Dickens, follows the tradition of the Bildungsroman. The young protagonist, Pip, leaves his rural home to become a gentleman and win the girl of his dreams. While most Bildungsroman heroes have to make their own way, Pip has a mysterious benefactor who provides the wealth that Pip thinks will make him happy. However, in the course of finding his true values, Pip comes to realize that happiness comes not from money but from the appreciation of good friends, regardless of their social status, and from personal integrity. This novel has become an all-time classic that is still required reading in many high school curricula.

Invisible Man Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man won the National Book Award when it was published in 1953. A first novel, it expresses in metaphorical language the Bildungsroman theme of searching for one’s identity. The nameless black protagonist, looking for his identity, comes to the realization that he has been living the roles prescribed for him by white society. But once he steps outside the assigned sphere, he becomes “invisible” to a dominant culture that does not recognize his individuality. Employing symbols of the traditions of the frontier, the black community, and music, Invisible Man achieved international fame and remains one of the most important American works of the twentieth century.

Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, published in 1847, is one of the first bildungsromane with a female protagonist. In this Victorian English novel, the female hero is constrained by social expectations determined by gender-specific beliefs. At age ten, Jane is sent to residential school where she acquires skills she later uses as a governess and a village schoolteacher. In its use of natural elements and the supernatural, the novel is both romantic and Gothic. Jane Eyre is a Bildungsroman in that it traces Jane’s development from a dependent child to a mature and independent woman. The novel dramatizes the love affair between Jane and Edward Rochester, who is married at the time they meet. Rochester keeps his insane wife sequestered in his estate, and after she dies, he and Jane are reunited. In Charlotte Brontë’s own life, she had been attracted to the married headmaster of the school in Brussels where she went to study French and to teach in 1842–1843. This unhappy experience, along with the author’s memories of early school years at Cowan’s Bridge, contributed to the composition of Jane Eyre, her first published work of fiction, which was an immediate success.

Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy introduced into Victorian literature the concept of fatalism. This belief assumes that humans are subject to arbitrary and random forces, like chance and timing, which shape their destinies. Jude the Obscure, published in 1895, received widespread criticism because it attacks the Anglican Church, the elitist admissions policies of Oxford University (called Christminster in the novel), and the rigid laws regarding marriage. As a Bildungsroman, the story follows Jude Fawley’s route to destruction from what Hardy called in his preface “the tragedy of unfulfilled aims.” Fawley, by trade a stonemason, has spiritual and intellectual ambitions that are thwarted by his exclusion from the university and his involvement with two women, the vulgar Arabella and the intellectual Sue. He marries the first and has one child with her; he does not marry the second, and he has two children by her. Tragedy overwhelms Jude when his oldest child kills the younger ones and hangs himself. Jude himself dies miserably, an alcoholic.

Of Human Bondage Like so many autobiographical bildungsromane, Of Human Bondage (1915) draws from the unhappy early years of its author, W. Somerset Maugham. A popular twentieth-century English novelist, Maugham was a physician who abandoned medicine to write plays and novels. The hero in Maugham’s most famous novel is a medical student with a clubfoot who falls in love with a promiscuous Cockney waitress. A still-admired 1935 film version of this obsessive and tragic love affair starred Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man James Joyce’s generally agreed upon masterpiece is Ulysses, but his autobiographical Bildungsroman is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, published in 1916. When Joyce’s hero Stephen Dedalus grows up, he says farewell to his home country and to his family and religion as well. The Norton Anthology of English Literature describes this novel as portraying “the parallel movement toward art and toward exile.” This novel of rebellion insists that the artist is an outcast and that his alienation is a necessary component of his being creative.

Sons and Lovers Another autobiographical Bildungsroman, Sons and Lovers was D. H. Lawrence’s third and most notable novel. Published in 1913, it is the comingof- age story of Paul Morel, the son of a coal miner father and a controlling and ambitious mother who gives up on finding any fulfillment in her marriage. She turns her possessive attention to her children, especially Paul. The resulting struggle for sexual power and individual identity causes Paul difficulties in finding his professional place and establishing a healthy relationship with a woman his own age. This novel dramatizes some of the psychological points Freud explored under the label Oedipus Complex.

Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship Written in 1795 by Wolfgang von Goethe as Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, this prototype of the Bildungsroman was translated into English by Thomas Carlyle in 1824. With this book, Goethe established the Bildungsroman as a novel of personal rather than philosophical development for the main character. His hero wanders through a series of love affairs, friendships, and occupations before settling down to marriage and responsible adulthood. Goethe’s model was emulated by many notable writers and has had a strong influence on the development of the novel.

Media Adaptations

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Image Entertainment produced James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1979 and released it on video in 2000. It starred Bosco Hogan and Sir John Gielgud.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man can also be found on a Blackstone Audiobooks recording made in 1995 and read by Frederick Davidson. It is ten hours long.

There are several film versions of Jane Eyre. A recent A & E Entertainment adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë book, starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, was released on video in 1998. The 1944 production from Twentieth Century Fox starred Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, and Margaret O’Brien.

Jane Eyre is also available as an audio book from Read by Maureen O’Brien, it is over twenty-one hours long. Another recording, done by Blackstone Audiobooks in 1994, is nineteen hours long and is read by Nadia May.

Blackstone Audiobooks produced Jude the Obscure in 1997. Read by Frederick Davidson, it is sixteen hours long.

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man was recorded as an unabridged audio book in 2001 by Audiobooks. com. It is six hours in length and read by Joe Morton.

One of the latest versions of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations was produced in 1999 by WGBH Boston Video. It is three hours long on a two-tape set and stars Ioan Gruufudd, Justine Waddell, and Charlotte Rampling.

Great Expectations is also available as an audio book from a several different distributors. Audible. com has a 1987 production, narrated by Frank Muller, which runs for sixteen hours and forty minutes. Blackstone Audiobooks carries a nineteen hour, thirty minute version read by Frederick Davidson.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Sources Abrams, M. H., ed., “James Joyce: 1882–1941,” in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., Vol. 2, W. W. Norton & Company, 1986, p. 2021.

—, ed., “The Victorian Age: 1832–1901,” in The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th ed., Vol. 2, W. W. Norton & Company, 1986, p. 919.

Bahr, Ehrhard, “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship: Overview,” in Reference Guide to World Literature, 2d ed., edited by Lesley Henderson, St. James Press, 1995, p. 3.

Caron, James E., “The Comic Bildungsroman of Mark Twain,” in Modern Language Quarterly, Vol. 50, June 1989, pp. 145–72.

Eichner, Hans, “Reflection and Action: Essays on the Bildungsroman,” in the Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. 92, No. 2, April 1993, p. 294.

Jones, Anne Hudson, “Images of Physicians in Literature: Medical Bildungsromane,” in Lancet, Vol. 348, Issue 9029, September 14, 1996, p. 734.

Kohn, Denise, “Reading Emma as a Lesson on ‘Ladyhood’: A Study in the Domestic Bildungsroman,” in Essays in Literature, Vol. 22, No. 1, Spring 1995, p. 59.

Morrison, Kristen, “William Trevor,” in Twayne’s English Authors on CD ROM, G. K. Hall & Co., 1997, p. 2.

Selinger, Bernard, “House Made of Dawn: A Positively Ambivalent Bildungsroman,” in Modern Fiction Studies, Spring 1999, pp. 38–40.

Swales, Martin, “Bildungsroman as a Genre,” in The German Bildungsroman from Wieland to Hesse, Princeton University Press, 1978, p. 36.

Further Reading Buckley, Jerome Hamilton, Season of Youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding, Harvard University Press, 1974. A study of the Bildungsroman in British literature that reviews a dozen major novels and several minor ones, this book shows the wide variations achieved in the genre.

Deck, Alice A., “Ten Is the Age of Darkness: The Black Bildungsroman,” in African American Review, Vol. 33, Issue 1, Spring 1999, pp. 159–161. This article is a review and synopsis of Geta LeSeur’s book that examines the successful use of the Bildungsroman genre by black authors in the United States and the Caribbean.

Kontje, Todd Curtis, The German Bildungsroman: History of a National Genre, Camden House, 1993. This book is a critical overview of the Bildungsroman from the 1790s to the 1990s. Kontje examines the history and culture surrounding the origin of the genre, the connection of the genre to German nationalism, the reaction of critics during the fascist period, and the eventual use of the genre throughout world literature.

Kornfeld, Eve, and Susan Jackson, “The Female Bildungsroman in Nineteenth-Century America: Parameters of a Vision,” in Journal of American Culture, Vol. 10, No. 4, Winter 1987, pp. 69–75. This article discusses Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and several other examples of female Bildungsroman with the premise that these works about women by women created a unique world for women and sent a distinctive message.

Minden, Michael, The German Bildungsroman: Incest and Inheritance, Cambridge University Press, 1997. This book offers a critical examination of the genre that considers social, psychological, and gender themes. Each chapter discusses a different German novel’s plot, themes, and scholarly criticism.


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Alden, Patricia. Social Mobility in the English Bildungsroman: Gissing, Hardy, Bennett, and Lawrence. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. Confirms the difficulty of economically vulnerable youths, uncertain about aspiration and talent, and under no illusions that the provincial world of their childhood offers an alternative to their effort to escape.

Buckley, Jerome H. Season of Youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding. 1974. Reprint. Bridgewater, N.J.: Replica Books, 2000. Engagingly written scholarly survey of more than a century of the English bildungsroman. Buckley demonstrates that gradual imaginative enlightenment has been vital to the hero’s initiation and endurance. An indispensable book.

Castle, Gregory. Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006. Argues that the “vitality” of the bildungsroman comes from, primarily, “its ability to represent, in a self-consciously critical fashion, the complex and contradictory modes of self-development that have arisen in late modernity.”

Feng, Pin-chia. The Female Bildungsroman by Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston: A Postmodern Reading. New York: Peter Lang, 1998. Analyzes repressed memory in African American writer Toni Morrison’s bildungsromans The Bluest Eye and Sula, and Asian American writer Maxine Hong Kingston’s bildungsromans The Woman Warrior and China Men.

Frierson, William C. The English Novel in Transition, 1885-1940. 1942. Reprint. New York: Cooper Square, 1965. Decades after it was originally published, this classic remains fresh and relevant. Displays Frierson’s deep commitment to what he calls “life” novels. Especially sensitive to the relative darkness of “passage” novels of the 1930’s, compared with those of the 1920’s.

Gohlman, Susan Ashley. Starting Over: The Task of the Protagonist in the Contemporary Bildungsroman. New York: Garland, 1990. Protagonists are considered in this study in terms of their specific roles in the bildungsroman. Includes bibliographical references.

Japtok, Martin. Growing Up Ethnic: Nationalism and the Bildungsroman in African American and Jewish American Fiction. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005. Comparative study of the literary similarities between African Americans and Jews in interpreting “ethnicity”—in the early decades of the twentieth century—through their writing of bildungsromans, or coming-of-age novels.

Minden, Michael. The German Bildungsroman. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Traces the development of the German bildungsroman during the nineteenth century, culminating in a discussion of early twentieth century examples of the form.

Moretti, Franco. The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture. New ed. Translated by Albert Sbragia. New York: Verso, 2000. Using a unique combination of narrative and social and cultural histories, this study examines the profound effects of the bildungsroman on European literary culture. Argues the form ended in Europe with the advent of modernist experimentation around the time of World War I. Includes an informative new preface.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide