A German word for "novel of education" or "novel of formation", a novel which traces the spiritual, moral, psychological, or social development and growth of the main character from (usually) childhood to maturity.
The Bildungsroman (the novel of personal development or of education) originated in Germany in the latter half of the 18th century and has since become one of the major narrative genres in European and Anglo-American literature .
It charts the protagonist’s actual or metaphorical journey from youth to maturity. Initially the aim of this journey is reconciliation between the desire for individuation (self-fulfilment) and the demands of socialisation (adaptation to a given social reality).
Since the genre deals with subjectivity and the relationship between self and society , many novels concerned with psychological characterisation and questions of identity use Bildungsroman elements.
The heyday of the Bildungsroman is undoubtedly the XIX century as a period of class-conflict , social change and educational reforms throughout Europe and Britain which challenge and change the relationship between the individual and society . Throughout the twentieth century, the genre undergoes many modifications, revisions and crises
M.Hirsch: The Novel of Formation as Genre
The term Bildungsroman denotes a novel of all-around self-development.
A Bildungsroman is, most generally, the story of a single individual's growth and development within the context of a defined social order. The growth process, at its roots a quest story, has been described as both "an apprenticeship to life" and a "search for meaningful existence within society."
To spur the hero or heroine on to their journey, some form of loss or discontent must jar them at an early stage away from the home or family setting.
The process of maturity is long, arduous, and gradual, consisting of repeated clashes between the protagonist's needs and desires and the views and judgments enforced by an unbending social order.
Eventually, the spirit and values of the social order become manifest in the protagonist, who is then accommodated into society. The novel ends with an assessment by the protagonist of himself and his new place in that society.
F.Moretti: Il romanzo di formazione
Il bildungsroman si basa sul compromesso in generale, e in particolare sul compromesso tra borghesia e aristocrazia, sulla vita quotidiana , sulla giovinezza inquieta, simbolo del nascente capitalismo, e sul concetto e la pratica della socializzazione, che spesso si conclude col matrimonio, e che coincide per l’appunto con la maturità
F.Moretti: The novel of formation
Bildungsroman focuses on compromise in general and on the compromise between aristocracy and middle class in particular. Il also focuses on everyday life, restless youth as a symbol of rising capitalism, and on the idea and practice of socialisation which often ends in marriage and marks the beginning of adulthood
Compiti del bilungsroman secondo Moretti
Il bildunsroman assolve a tre compiti fondamentali
Tiene sotto controllo l’imprevedibilità del mutamento storico incarnandolo nella rappresentazione della gioventù: un momento turbolento dell’esistenza m anche breve e delimitato nel tempo
Sul piano dell’episodio romanzesco mette a fuoco la natura antitragica dell’esperienza moderna
L’eroe romanzesco, multilaterale e antieroico afferma una forma inedita di soggettività, quotidiana, terrena, duttile, normale
Una storia ristretta e pacifica dove un io debole e versatile al tempo stesso compie il suo apprendistato. Slpendida miscela per la grande socializzazione delle classi medie europee
Aims of Bildungsroman
Bildungsroman fulfil three main aims
To keep the unpredictability of historical change under control. This aim is achieved by representing change through youth, a restless but short and limited age of life.
To highlight the anti-tragic nature of modern experience. This aim is achieved by focusing on everyday events rather than on major historical upheavals.
To highlight a new matter of fact, flexible, “normal” form of subjectivity. This aim is achieved by representing an anti-heroic and multilateral hero
Bildungsroman tell limited, uneventful stories in which weak but flexible heroes reach their maturity. Wonderful metaphors of socialisation for XIX century European middle classes.
End of Bildungsroman
According to Moretti it ended with world War I, for other scholars elements of Bildungsroman can still be found in many XX and XXI century novels in one form or another and of course themes ideas and convention from Bildungsroman have passed into films, not only those made from novel but even in original ones.
Examples from Victorian literature
Charles Dickens David Copperfield (1850) and Great Expectations (1861)
Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre (1859)
Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure(1895)
D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1913)
James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
Many of these novels have been made into films
David Copperfield or The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery is a novel by Charles Dickens, first published in 1850. Like almost all his works, it originally appeared in serial form (published in monthly instalments). Many elements within the novel follow events in Dickens' own life, and it is probably the most autobiographical of all of his novels. It is also Dickens' "favourite child."
Dickens worked on David Copperfield for two years between 1848 and 1850, carefully planning out the plot and structure. Seven novels precede it, and seven novels would come after it, Copperfield being his mid-point novel.
The story is told almost entirely from the point of view of the first person narrator, David Copperfield himself, and was the first Dickens novel to do so.
Critically, it is considered a Bildungsroman and would be influential in the genre.
As a bildungsroman, it has one major theme throughout, the disciplining of the hero's emotional and moral life. We learn to go against "the first mistaken impulse of the undisciplined heart", a theme which is repeated throughout all the relationships and characters in the novel.
Characters in the novel generally belong to one of three categories:
Those who have disciplined hearts. Characters who fall into the first category include the mature and caring Agnes Wickfield and the selfless and forgiving Mr. Peggotty.
Those who lack disciplined hearts. The greedy, scheming Uriah Heep and the egotistic and inconsiderate James Steerforth are examples of characters who belong in the second category.
Those who develop disciplined hearts over time. Members of the third category include David Copperfield himself, who learns to make wiser choices in his relationships through personal experience, and his aunt Betsy Trotwood, who lacks consideration for others early on, but becomes less inconsiderate over time.
Dickens uses characters and events throughout the novel as comparisons and contrasts for each other in terms of wisdom and discipline .
A good comparison is Agnes Wickfield and Dora Spenlow: Dora lacks maturity and is unable to handle stressful situations, often breaking out in tears, while Agnes remains calm and collected even when troubled, yielding to her emotions only rarely.
Another good comparison is Ham and Mr. Peggotty, and Mrs. Steerforth and Miss Dartle: The latter two become distraught at the loss of Steerforth, allowing it to trouble them their whole lives, while the former two bear the loss of Emily with dignity and reservation.
Tolstoy regarded Dickens as the best of all English novelists, and considered Copperfield to be his finest work, ranking the "Tempest" chapter the standard by which the world's great fiction should be judged
Henry James remembered hiding under a small table as a boy to hear installments read by his mother. Dostoevsky read it enthralled in a Siberian prison camp.
Franz Kafka called his first book Amerika a "sheer imitation." James Joyce paid it reverence through parody in Ulysses .
Virginia Woolf , who normally had little regard for Dickens, confessed the durability of this one novel, belonging to "the memories and myths of life". It was Freud's favourite novel.
Like Robinson Crusoe and Grimm's Fairy Tales and the Waverly Novels, Pickwick and David Copperfield are not books, but stories communicated by word of mouth in those tender years when fact and fiction merge, and thus belong to the memories and myths of life, and not to its aesthetic experience.
In David Copperfield (1849-50), autobiography has been subdued into art with remarkable skill. The richness, flexibility, and strength of this novel give it a special place among Dickens' work. Here self-pity is sublimated into ironic observation, and as the novel follows the fortunes of its hero from idyllic infancy through the powerfully drawn Murdstone period to his aunt Trotwood's protection and thence on to manhood and love with their consequences in emotion and action, the sense of life, individual and social, operating with all its complexity and inevitability on the hero and his friends, emerges persuasively.
There are the inevitable Dickens sentimentalities-the fate of Little Em'ly, David's relationship with Dora-but they pale beside the strength and vitality of the whole. There is the clash of different ways of life; different strata of society each with its own ideals of gentility and worth come into conflict with each other, and in the process Dickens explores once again the relationship between convention and reality, between public and private standards.