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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][a] The term comes from the German words Bildung ("education") 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 translated Goethe's novel into English, and after its publication in 1824, many British authors wrote novels inspired by it.[10][11] In the 20th century, it spread to France[12][13] and several other countries around the globe.[14]

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

Plot outline[edit]

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.[15] Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on his or her 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 he or she is 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".[16]

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,[17] while a Künstlerroman ("artist novel") is about the development of an artist and shows a growth of the self.[18] 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).[19] The term is also more loosely used to describe coming-of-age films and related works in other genres.



18th century[edit]

19th century[edit]

20th century[edit]

21st century[edit]

See also[edit]


  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."


  1. ^ Lynch 1999.
  2. ^ Bakhtin 1996, p. 21.
  3. ^ Jeffers 2005, p. 2.
  4. ^ "Bildungsroman: German literary genre". Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 April 2013.
  5. ^ a b Engel 2008, pp. 263–266.
  6. ^ Summerfield & Downward 2010, p. 1.
  7. ^ Iversen, Annikin Teines (2010). "Change and Continuity; The Bildungsroman in English". University of Tromsø: Munin open research archive. hdl:10037/2486. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Jeffers 2005, p. 49.
  9. ^ a b Swales, Martin. The German Bildungsroman from Wieland to Hesse. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978. 38.
  10. ^ Buckley, J. H. (1974), Season of Youth: The Bildungsroman from Dickens to Golding, Harvard Univ Press, ISBN 978-0-67479-640-9.
  11. ^ Ellis, L. (1999), Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman, 1750–1850, London: Bucknell University Press, ISBN 978-0-83875-411-5
  12. ^ Moretti, Franco, and Albert Sbragia (1987), The Way of the World: the Bildungsroman in European Culture, London: Verso, ISBN 978-0-86091-159-3.
  13. ^ Marianne Hirsch, "The Novel of Formation as Genre: Between Great Expectations and Lost Illusions" Archived 11 December 2014 at the Wayback Machine, Genre Vol. 12 (Fall 1979), pp. 293–311, University of Oklahoma
  14. ^ Slaughter, J. R. (2006), "Novel Subjects and Enabling Fictions: the Formal Articulation of International Human Rights Law", Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law, Ch. 2 (2007), New York: Fordham University Press, ISBN 978-0-82322-817-1; doi:10.5422/fordham/9780823228171.001.0001.
  15. ^ "Franco Moretti et John Neubauer, historiens de la littérature, ont tous deux insisté sur le rôle fondamental qu'a joué le roman, depuis la fin du XVIIIe siècle jusqu'à la Première Guerre mondiale, dans la construction des âges de la vie, de l'adolescence et la jeunesse. Si, avant cette période, les jeunes sont les laissés-pour-compte de la littérature romanesque, cette entrée tardive est compensée par la place centrale qu'ils occupent dans le roman de formation. Vers la fin du XIXe siècle, quand ce genre entre en crise, les jeunes sont remplacés par les adolescents, nouveaux protagonistes des œuvres de fiction. Après les écrits de Jean-Jacques Rousseau, le roman de formation, ou Bildungsroman, dont l'apogée se situe entre Les années d'apprentissage de Wilhelm Meister de Goethe (1795–1796) et l'Éducation sentimentale de Flaubert (1869), invente la figure littéraire du jeune homme voyageur. C'est à partir donc de cette période qu'il faudra retrouver certains traits des voyages fictionnels, que j'appelle matrices , qui hantent encore notre imaginaire, et que l'on retrouve dans les séjours Erasmus contemporains" (Cicchelli Vincenzo, "Les legs du voyage de formation à la Bildung cosmopolite", Le Télémaque, 2010/2 (n° 38), pp. 57–70. DOI: 10.3917/tele.038.0057.
  16. ^ Lazzaro-Weis, Carol, "The Female 'Bildungsroman': Calling It into Question", NWSA Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter, 1990), pp. 16–34.
  17. ^ Malone, David H., Faculty Development, or Faculty Life as a "Bildungsroman", Profession (1979), pp. 46–50.
  18. ^ a b Werlock, James P. (2010). The Facts on File companion to the American short story. 2. p. 387. ISBN 9781438127439.
  19. ^ "The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara–HSC English Discovery Archived 2016-07-14 at the Wayback Machine", Real Teacher Tutors. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  20. ^ Palmer, Joy; Liora Bresler; David Edward Cooper, eds. (2001). Fifty major thinkers on education: from Confucius to Dewey. Routledge Key Guides. p. 34. ISBN 0-415-23126-4.
  21. ^ "El lazarillo de Tormes" (PDF) (in Spanish). Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte (Spain). 2004. p. 1. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  22. ^ Hanlon, Aaron (2019). "Fanny Hill and the Legibility of Consent". ELH. 86 (4): 941–966. doi:10.1353/elh.2019.0035.
  23. ^ McCracken, David (2016). "A Burkean Analysis of the Sublimity and the Beauty of the Phallus in John Cleland's Fanny Hill". ANQ. 29 (3): 138–141. doi:10.1080/0895769X.2016.1216388. S2CID 164429385.
  24. ^ a b McWilliams, Ellen (2009). Margaret Atwood and the Female Bildungsroman. Ashgate Publishing. p. 14. ISBN 978-0-7546-6027-9. The two early English Bildungsromane already mentioned, Tom Jones and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, are examples of coming-of-age narratives that predate the generic expectations of the German tradition.
  25. ^ Feder, Helena (2014). Ecocriticism and the Idea of Culture : Biology and the Bildungsroman. Routledge. p. 30. ISBN 9781315578644. Candide exhibits several of the traits of the "traditional" or Germanic Bildungsroman, particularly the depiction of the development of an individual through travel. As a catalogue of the horrors of the modern world, Candide — perhaps more than any of the other texts examined in this book—lives up to Moretti's articulation of the Bildungsroman as the "'symbolic form' of modernity" (5). Read from an ecocultural perspective, this philosophical Bildungsroman suggests the limitations of Dialectic 's conceptions of the Enlightenment and the subject with a model, albeit a modest one, for interaction with the world outside of rationalism's logic of domination.
  26. ^ Robison, James (1 June 2016). "Wrong Move: Utter Detachment, Utter Truth". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  27. ^ Stević & Prendergast 2017.
  28. ^ Lollar, Cortney (1996). "Jane Eyre: A Bildungsroman". The Victorian Web.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Stević & Prendergast 2017, p. 433.
  30. ^ Victorian Fiction as a Bildungsroman: Its Flourishing and Complexity. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. 2019. ISBN 9781527540798.
  31. ^ Frank, Joseph (2010). Dostoevsky His Life and Work. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 114. ISBN 9780691128191.
  32. ^ "The Bildungsroman in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism". Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  33. ^ Taft, Matthew (2020). "The work of love: Great Expectations and the English Bildungsroman". Textual Practice. 34 (12): 1969–1988. doi:10.1080/0950236X.2020.1834700. S2CID 227034524.
  34. ^ Trumpener, Katie (2020). "Actors, puppets, Girls: Little Women and the collective Bildungsroman". Textual Practice. 34 (12): 1911–1931. doi:10.1080/0950236X.2020.1834709. S2CID 227033016.
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  36. ^ Martin Coyle; et al., eds. (1990). "Formalism and the Novel: Henry James". Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism. New York: Routledge Florence. p. 593.
  37. ^ Jed Esty (2012). "Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development". Oxford Scholarship Online. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  38. ^ "Martin Eden Summary – Jack London – Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition". Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  39. ^ Geoffrey Nash (1994). "Ameen Rihani's The Book of Khalid and the Voice of Thomas Carlyle". New Comparison Journal. Colchester, UK: The British Comparative Literature Association, University of Essex (17).
  40. ^ "Sons and Lovers Lawrence's novel as a Bildungsroman". Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  41. ^ Hendriksen, Jack (1993). This side of paradise as a Bildungsroman. ISBN 0-8204-1852-8.
  42. ^ Mukherjee, Meenakshi (1985). Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India. Oxford University Press. p. 128. ISBN 0-19-561648-0.
  43. ^ a b c "The Top 13 Coming-of-Age Novels". The Top 13. 9 December 2009. Archived from the original on 25 December 2010. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  44. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2007 – Bio-bibliography". Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  45. ^ "George Lamming, West Indian author", Encyclopædia Britannica
  46. ^ Kercheval, Jesse Lee (1997). "Continuing Conflict". Building Fiction. The Story Press. p. 101. ISBN 1-884910-28-9.
  47. ^ Peters-Little, Frances; Curthoys, Ann; Docker, John (September 2010). "Epistemological vertigo and allegory". Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Australia. ANU E Press. p. 62. ISBN 9781921666650.
  48. ^ Hicks, Patrick (July–December 1999). "History and Masculinity in Brian Moore's 'The Emperor of Ice-Cream'". The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies. 25 (1/2): 400–413. doi:10.2307/25515283. JSTOR 25515283.
  49. ^ McGregor, Gaile (1987). "The Technomyth in Transition: Reading American Popular Culture". Journal of American Studies. 21 (3): 387–409. doi:10.1017/S0021875800022891.
  50. ^ a b Melanie Kinchen; et al. (13 July 2006). "Bildungsroman Novels for Young Adults". Archived from the original on 28 April 2012. Retrieved 12 April 2012.
  51. ^ Griffin, Jan M. "Ursula LeGuin's Magical World of Earthsea". The ALAN Review. 23 (3). Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  52. ^ Jay McInerney. "The Good Life". transcript of podcast.
  53. ^ "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Context". Sparknotes. 27 August 1959. Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  54. ^ Rosenberg, Alyssa (30 July 2010). "Norwegian Wood: On Having a Girl, and Losing Her". The Atlantic Monthly.
  55. ^ Lewis, Barry (2007). My Words Echo Thus: Possessing the Past in Peter Ackroyd. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1570036682.
  56. ^ Marty Beckerman. "An Interview with Stephen Chbosky". Word Riot. Word Riot. Archived from the original on 13 January 2005. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  57. ^ "Naruto is the quintessential Bildungsroman". The Lawrentian. 2 February 2018. Retrieved 7 June 2020.
  58. ^ Tara Ann Carter (6 October 2013). "Reading Persepolis: Defining and Redefining Culture, Gender and Genre" (PDF). John Bartram High School. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 January 2018. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
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  61. ^ Kurth, Peter (12 September 2003). "The dreamer of Brooklyn". Salon. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  62. ^ Mcinerney, Jay (28 August 2005). "Indecision: Getting It Together". The New York Times.
  63. ^ "Wonder Year (Black Swan Green by David Mitchell)". The New York Times. 16 April 2006.
  64. ^ Sholes, Lucy (18 August 2018). "Washington Black is a slave story told with a fresh sense of urgency". The National.


  • Abel, Elizabeth; Hirsch, Marianne; Langland, Elizabeth (1983), The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development, Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail (1996), "The Bildungsroman and its Significance in the History of Realism", in Emerson, Caryl; Holquist, Michael (eds.), Speech Genres and Other Late Essays, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, pp. 10–59, ISBN 978-0-292-79256-2, OCLC 956882417.
  • Bolaki, Stella (2011), Unsettling the Bildungsroman: Reading Contemporary Ethnic American Women's Fiction, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.
  • Engel, Manfred (2008), "Variants of the Romantic 'Bildungsroman' (with a Short Note on the 'Artist Novel')", in Gerald Gillespie; Manfred Engel; Bernard Dieterle (eds.), Romantic Prose Fiction, A Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages, XXIII, Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 263–295, ISBN 978-90-272-3456-8.
  • Esty, Jed (2011), Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development, Oxford University Press.
  • Iversen, Anniken Telnes (2009), Change and Continuity: The Bildungsroman in English (PDF) (PhD), University of Tromsø.
  • Jeffers, Thomas L. (2005), Apprenticeships: The Bildungsroman from Goethe to Santayana, New York: Palgrave, ISBN 1-4039-6607-9.
  • Lynch, Jack (1999), "Glossary of Literary and Rhetorical Terms", Guide to Literary Terms, Rutgers University, archived from the original on 5 August 2011, retrieved 24 May 2020.
  • Feng, Pin-chia Kingston A. (1997), The Female Bildungsroman by Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston: A Postmodern Reading, Modern American Literature: New Approaches, New York: Peter Lang.
  • Foley, Barbara (1993), Radical Representations: Politics and Form in U.S. Proletarian Fiction, 1929–1941, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  • Hegel, G. W. F. (1988), Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, Volume One, translated by T. M. Knox, Oxford: Clarendon.
  • Japtok, Martin Michael (2005), Growing up Ethnic: Nationalism and the Bildungsroman in African-American and Jewish-American Fiction, University of Iowa Press.
  • Karafilis, Maria (1998), "Crossing the Borders of Genre: Revisions of the Bindungsroman in Sandra Cisneros's the House on Mango Street and Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John", Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, 31 (2): 63–78, doi:10.2307/1315091, JSTOR 1315091.
  • Komm, Katrin (1997), "Entwicklungsroman", in Friederike Eigler; Susanne Kord (eds.), The Feminist Encyclopaedia of German Literature, Wesport: Greenwood Press.
  • Le Seur, Geta J. (1995), Ten is the Age of Darkness: The Black Bildungsroman, University of Missouri Press.
  • Minden, Michael (1997), The German Bildungsroman: Incest and Inheritance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Moretti, Franco (1987), The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture, London: Verso.
  • Nyatetu-Waigwa, Wangari wa (1996), The Liminal Novel: Studies in the Francophone-African Novel as Bildungsroman, New York: Peter Lang.
  • Otano, Alicia (2005), "Speaking the Past: Child Perspective in the Asian American Bildungsroman", Contributions to Asian American Literary Studies, Lit Verlag.
  • Stević, Aleksandar; Prendergast, Christopher (2017), "Realism, the Bildungsroman, and the Art of Self- Invention: Stendhal and Balzac", A History of Modern French Literature, Princeton University Press, p. 414-435.
  • Summerfield, Giovanna; Downward, Lisa (2010), New Perspectives on the European Bildungsroman, London; New York: Continuum, ISBN 978-1441108531.

Further reading[edit]

  • Abrams, M. H. (2005). Glossary of Literary Terms (8th ed.). Boston: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 1-4130-0218-8.
  • Madden, David (1980). "Bildungsroman". A Primer of the Novel: For Readers and Writers. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-0810812659.
    Revised edition, with bibliographic updates by Charles Bane and Sean M. Flory (Scarecrow Press, 2006). ISBN 978-0810857087
  • Slaughter, Joseph R. (2011). "Bildungsroman/Künstlerroman". In Logan, Peter Melville (ed.). The Encyclopedia of the Novel. 1. Oxford; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 93–97. ISBN 978-1-4051-6184-8.

External links[edit]