DIKSIA.COM - What is a bildungsroman? How did this genre emerge and evolve? Why is it still relevant and popular today? These are some of the questions that this article will explore, using examples from various literary works that belong to the bildungsroman tradition.
A bildungsroman is a type of novel that focuses on the psychological and moral development of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood, often through a series of challenges, experiences, and discoveries. The term comes from the German words “Bildung” (education, formation) and “Roman” (novel). It is also known as a coming-of-age novel, a novel of education, or a novel of formation.
The bildungsroman genre originated in Germany in the 18th century, with the publication of Christoph Martin Wieland's Geschichte des Agathon (1767) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795-96), which are considered the classic examples of the genre. The genre spread to other European countries and later to the rest of the world, influencing many famous authors and works, such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Mark Twain, James Joyce, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee, and many more.
The bildungsroman genre is characterized by a number of formal, thematic, and stylistic features, such as:
- A single protagonist, usually a young and naive person, who undergoes a significant change in character, personality, or worldview.
- A chronological and linear narrative structure, following the protagonist's life from childhood to adulthood, or from one stage of life to another.
- A realistic and detailed depiction of the social, historical, and cultural context of the protagonist's life, often reflecting the author's own background and perspective.
- A conflict between the protagonist's individual aspirations and the expectations and norms of society, family, or other external forces.
- A quest for identity, meaning, or purpose, often involving a journey, a mentor, a love interest, or a crisis.
- A resolution that involves a balance or a compromise between the protagonist's personal goals and the demands of reality, often accompanied by a sense of maturity, wisdom, or acceptance.
Examples of Bildungsroman Novels
To illustrate the diversity and richness of the bildungsroman genre, here are some brief summaries of some well-known novels that belong to this category, along with their main themes and features.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
Jane Eyre is the story of a young orphan girl who grows up in a harsh and oppressive environment, first at the hands of her cruel aunt and cousins, then at a boarding school where she suffers from poverty, disease, and injustice. She becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall, where she falls in love with the mysterious and brooding Mr. Rochester, who hides a dark secret. Jane faces many obstacles and temptations in her quest for happiness, independence, and self-respect, until she finally finds her true place in the world.