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In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman (German pronunciation: [ˈbɪldʊŋs.ʁoˌmaːn] , plural Bildungsromane, German pronunciation: [ˈbɪldʊŋs.ʁoˌmaːnə] ) is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood (coming of age), [1] in which character change is important. [2] [3] [4] [lower-alpha 1] The term comes from the German words Bildung ("education", alternatively "forming") and Roman ("novel").



The term was coined in 1819 by philologist Karl Morgenstern in his university lectures, and was later famously reprised by Wilhelm Dilthey, who legitimized it in 1870 and popularized it in 1905. [5] [6] The genre is further characterized by a number of formal, topical, and thematic features. [7] The term coming-of-age novel is sometimes used interchangeably with Bildungsroman, but its use is usually wider and less technical.

The birth of the Bildungsroman is normally dated to the publication of Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1795–96, [8] or, sometimes, to Christoph Martin Wieland's Geschichte des Agathon of 1767. [9] Although the Bildungsroman arose in Germany, it has had extensive influence first in Europe and later throughout the world. Thomas Carlyle's English translation of Goethe's novel (1824) and his own Sartor Resartus (1833–34), the first English Bildungsroman, inspired many British novelists. [10] [11] [12] In the 20th century, it spread to France [13] [14] and several other countries around the globe. [15]

The genre translates fairly directly into the cinematic form, the coming-of-age film.

Plot outline

A Bildungsroman is a growing up or "coming of age" of a generally naive person who goes in search of answers to life's questions with the expectation that these will result in gaining experience of the world. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest child going out in the world to seek his fortune. [16] Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on their journey. In a Bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and they are ultimately accepted into society—the protagonist's mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.

Franco Moretti "argues that the main conflict in the Bildungsroman is the myth of modernity with its overvaluation of youth and progress as it clashes with the static teleological vision of happiness and reconciliation found in the endings of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and even Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice ". [17]

There are many variations and subgenres of Bildungsroman that focus on the growth of an individual. An Entwicklungsroman ("development novel") is a story of general growth rather than self-cultivation. An Erziehungsroman ("education novel") focuses on training and formal schooling, [18] while a Künstlerroman ("artist novel") is about the development of an artist and shows a growth of the self. [19] Furthermore, some memoirs and published journals can be regarded as Bildungsroman although being predominantly factual (e.g. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac or The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto "Che" Guevara). [20] The term is also more loosely used to describe coming-of-age films and related works in other genres.



18th century

19th century

20th century

21st century

See also


  1. Engel explains that the term has in recent years been applied to very different novels but originally meant a novel of formation of a character, of an individual personality on interaction (including conflict) with society. He also points out that it was, like the "novel of education" (Erziehungsroman), a subgenre of the "novel of development" (Entwicklungsroman). [5]
  2. Back of the French translation in the "Folio" collection (éditions Gallimard, 2010): "[...] Avec ce roman d'apprentissage, Philip Roth poursuit son analyse de l'histoire de l'Amérique – celle des années cinquante, des tabous et des frustrations sexuelles – et de son impact sur la vie d'un homme jeune, isolé, vulnérable."

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Further reading