The English Bildungsroman Essay

1697 words - 7 pages

The English Bildungsroman

    The novel has a strong tradition in English literature. In Great Britain, it can trace its roots back to Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe in 1719 (Kroll 23). Since then, the British novel has grown in popularity. It was especially popular in Victorian England. The type of novel that was particularly popular in Victorian England was the novel of youth. Many authors of the time were producing works focused on the journey from childhood to adulthood: Charlotte Bronte wrote Jane Eyre, George Eliot wrote The Mill on the Floss, and Charles Dickens wrote David Copperfield and Great Expectations. All of these novels trace the growth of a child. In this respect, some of the most popular novels of the nineteenth century were part of the genre called the Bildungsroman.

In the simplest sense of the word, a Bildungsroman is a novel of the development of a young man (or in some cases a young woman). In fact, the Webster's College Dictionary definition of Bildungsroman is "a novel dealing with the education and development of its protagonist". The Bildungsroman as a genre has its roots in Germany. Jerome Buckley notes that the word itself is German, with Bildung having a variety of connotations: "portrait," "picture," "shaping" and "formation," all of which give the sense of development or creation (the development of the child can also be seen as the creation of the man) (13-14). Roman simply means "novel." The term Bildungsroman emerged as a description of Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. This was the first Bildungsroman, having been published between 1794 and 1796 (Buckley 9). The word "lehrjahre" can be translated as "apprenticeship" (Buckley 10). "Apprenticeship" has many connotations, most of which deal with education and work. An apprentice goes to work for an experienced worker and learns and develops his trade and also to a greater extent his identity. Similarly, the Bildungsroman is characterized by the growth, education, and development of a character both in the world and ultimately within himself.

The Bildungsroman is subcategorized into very specific types of the genre, most often found in German literature. There is the Entwicklungsroman, which can be defined as "a chronicle of a young man's general growth rather than his specific quest for self-culture" (Buckley 13). In other words, a story recounting a man's life rather than focusing on the inner changes that contribute to his maturity. Another form within German literature is the Erziehungsroman; this form is primarily concerned with the protagonist's actual educational process (Buckley 13). Again, the concern is not the overall development of the main character, but a specific aspect of that character's life. Finally, there is the Kunstlerroman. The root Kunstler translates as artist in English. Therefore, this is the development of the artist from childhood until his artistic maturity, focusing on the man as artist rather than the man...

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