In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman (German pronunciation: [ˈbɪldʊŋs.ʁoˌmaːn]; "bildung", meaning "education", and "roman", meaning "novel"; English: "novel of formation, education, culture"; "coming-of-age story")[a][2] is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood (coming of age),[3] in which character change is extremely important.[4][5]


The term was coined in 1819 by philologist Karl Morgenstern in his university lectures, and later famously reprised by Wilhelm Dilthey, who legitimized it in 1870 and popularized it in 1905.[1][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 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 Germany, Britain,[12] 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 relates the growing up or "coming of age" of a sensitive 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 his/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/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".[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.



17th century

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 in 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).[1]
  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. ^ a b Engel 2008, pp. 263–266.
  2. ^ "Bildungsroman: German literary genre". Encyclopædia Britannica. 22 April 2013.
  3. ^ Lynch 1999.
  4. ^ Bakhtin 1996, p. 21.
  5. ^ Jeffers 2005, p. 2.
  6. ^ Summerfield 2010, p. 1.
  7. ^ Iversen, Annikin Teines (2010). "Change and Continuity; The Bildungsroman in English". University of Tromsø: Munin open research archive.
  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 Pr. ISBN 978-0-67479-640-9
  11. ^ Ellis, L. (1999) Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman, 1750–1850, Bucknell University Press, London ISBN 978-0-83875-411-5
  12. ^ Stein, M., "The Black British Bildungsroman and the Transformation of Britain: Connectedness across Difference" in Barbara Korte, Klaus Peter Müller, editors (1998) Unity in Diversity Revisited?: British Literature and Culture in the 1990s, pp. 89–105, Gunter Narr Verlag, Tübingen ISBN 382-3-35192-3
  13. ^ Franco Moretti, Albert Sbragia (1987) The Way of the World : the Bildungsroman in European Culture, Verso, London ISBN 978-0-86091-159-3
  14. ^ Marianne Hirsch, "The Novel of Formation as Genre: Between Great Expectations and Lost Illusions" Archived 2014-12-11 at the Wayback Machine, Genre Vol. 12 (Fall 1979) pp. 293–311, University of Oklahoma
  15. ^ 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) Fordham University Press, New York ISBN 978-0-82322-817-1; doi:10.5422/fordham/9780823228171.001.0001
  16. ^ "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), p. 57-70. DOI : 10.3917/tele.038.0057. URL :
  17. ^ Carol Lazzaro-Weis, The Female "Bildungsroman": Calling It into Question, NWSA Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter, 1990), pp. 16–34.
  18. ^ David H. Malone, Faculty Development, or Faculty Life as a "Bildungsroman", Profession (1979), pp. 46–50.
  19. ^ a b Werlock, James P. (2010). The Facts on File companion to the American short story. 2. p. 387.
  20. ^ "The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara–HSC English Discovery", Real Teacher Tutors. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  21. ^ Joy Palmer; 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.
  22. ^ "El lazarillo de Tormes" (PDF) (in Spanish). Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte (Spain). 2004. p. 1. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Robison, James (1 June 2016). "Wrong Move: Utter Detachment, Utter Truth". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 9 June 2016.
  25. ^ Cortney Lollar (1996). "Jane Eyre: A Bildungsroman". The Victorian Web.
  26. ^ Frank, Joseph (2010). Dostoevsky His Life and Work. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. p. 114.
  27. ^ "The Bildungsroman in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism". Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  28. ^ Martin Coyle; et al., eds. (1990). Formalism and the Novel: Henry James. Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism. New York: Routledge Florence. p. 593.
  29. ^ Jed Esty (2012). "Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development". Oxford Scholarship Online. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  30. ^ "Martin Eden Summary – Jack London – Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition". Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  31. ^ 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).
  32. ^ "Sons and Lovers Lawrence's novel as a Bildungsroman". Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  33. ^ Hendriksen, Jack. This side of paradise as a Bildungsroman. ISBN 0-8204-1852-8.
  34. ^ Mukherjee, Meenakshi (1985). Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India. Oxford University Press. p. 128. ISBN 0-19-561648-0.
  35. ^ a b c "The Top 13 Coming-of-Age Novels". The Top 13. 9 December 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  36. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 2007 - Bio-bibliography". Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  37. ^ "George Lamming, West Indian author", Encyclopædia Britannica
  38. ^ Kercheval, Jesse Lee. "Continuing Conflict". Building Fiction. The Story Press. p. 101. ISBN 1-884910-28-9.
  39. ^ Peters-Little, Frances; Curthoys, Ann; Docker, John. "Epistemological vertigo and allegory". Passionate Histories: Myth, Memory and Indigenous Australia. ANU E Press. p. 62. ISBN 9781921666650.
  40. ^ McGregor, Gaile (1987). "The Technomyth in Transition: Reading American Popular Culture". Journal of American Studies: 387–409. doi:10.1017/S0021875800022891.
  41. ^ a b Melanie Kinchen; et al. (13 July 2006). "Bildungsroman Novels for Young Adults".
  42. ^ "Ursula LeGuin's Magical World of Earthsea". Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
  43. ^ Jay McInerney. "The Good Life". transcript of podcast.
  44. ^ "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Context". Sparknotes. 27 August 1959. Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  45. ^ Rosenberg, Alyssa (30 July 2010). "Norwegian Wood: On Having a Girl, and Losing Her". The Atlantic Monthly.
  46. ^ Lewis, Barry (2007). My Words Echo Thus: Possessing the Past in Peter Ackroyd. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1570036683.
  47. ^ Marty Beckerman. "An Interview with Stephen Chbosky". Word Riot. Word Riot. Archived from the original on 2005-01-13. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  48. ^ Tara Ann Carter (6 October 2013). "Reading Persepolis: Defining and Redefining Culture, Gender and Genre" (PDF). John Bartram High School.
  49. ^ "Secret Life of Bees-Character Analysis". Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  50. ^ Khaled Hosseini (4 March 1965). "Katherine C. (Berwyn, PA)'s review of The Kite Runner". Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  51. ^ Kurth, Peter (2003-09-12). "The dreamer of Brooklyn". Salon. Retrieved 2018-03-19.
  52. ^ Mcinerney, Jay (28 August 2005). "Indecision: Getting It Together". The New York Times.
  53. ^ "Wonder Year (Black Swan Green by David Mitchell)". The New York Times. 16 April 2006.
  54. ^ Sholes, Lucy (18 August 2018). "Washington Black is a slave story told with a fresh sense of urgency". The National.


  • Abel, Elizabeth, Marianne Hirsch, and Elizabeth Langland. 1983. The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England.
  • Bakhtin, Mikhail. Mikhail. 1996. "The Bildungsroman and its Significance in the History of Realism." In Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Edited by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 10–59.
  • Engel, Manfred (2008): Variants of the Romantic 'Bildungsroman' (with a Short Note on the 'Artist Novel')". In: Gerald Gillespie, Manfred Engel and Bernard Dieterle (eds.), Romantic Prose Fiction (= A Comparative History of Literatures in European Languages, vol. XXIII; ed. by the International Comparative Literature Association). Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins, pp. 263–295. ISBN 978-90-272-3456-8.
  • Iversen, Anniken Telnes (2009): Change and Continuity: The Bildungsroman in English. University of Tromsø, Munin.
  • 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, entry for bildungsroman, Rutgers University
  • Summerfield, Giovanna; Downward, Lisa (2010). New Perspectives on the European Bildungsroman. London; New York: Continuum. ISBN 978-1441108531.
  • Abrams, M. H. (2005). Glossary of Literary Terms (8th ed.). Boston: Thomson Wadsworth. ISBN 1-4130-0218-8.
  • 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.
  • 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, no. 2: 63–78.
  • 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 Publishing.
  • Otano, Alicia. 2005. Speaking the Past: Child Perspective in the Asian American Bildungsroman, Contributions to Asian American Literary Studies. Lit Verlag.

Further reading

  • 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. The Encyclopedia of the Novel. 1. Oxford; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 93–97. ISBN 978-1-4051-6184-8.

External links

A Song of Sixpence

A Song of Sixpence is a 1964 novel by A. J. Cronin about the coming to manhood of Laurence Carroll and his life in Scotland. Its sequel is A Pocketful of Rye.

As with several of his other novels, Cronin drew on his own experiences growing up in Scotland for this book. The titles of both novels come from the children's nursery rhyme, "Sing a Song of Sixpence".

Adrift in Soho

Adrift In Soho is a novel by Colin Wilson. It was first published in England in 1961 by Victor Gollancz. The novel describes the English beat generation. The novel was republished to great acclaim by New London Editions in 2011, when Cathi Unsworth wrote 'Adrift in Soho is currently in production by Burning Films and with such rich source material, perhaps Wilson will now receive some contemporary reassessment for his continuing fascination with the human condition and the wit, warmth and insight that he brings to his accounts of those he has shared his unusual journeys with.'

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (Spanish: La tía Julia y el escribidor) is the seventh novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa. It was published by Editorial Seix Barral, S.A., Spain, in 1977.

Blackbriar (novel)

Blackbriar is a 1972 supernatural young adult coming-of-age novel by William Sleator and was Sleator's first young adult novel. The book has been translated into German as Das Geisterhaus and into Danish as Det forheksede hus.

Coming-of-age story

In genre studies, a coming-of-age story is a genre of literature, film and videogames that focuses on the growth of a protagonist from youth to adulthood ("coming of age"). Coming-of-age stories tend to emphasize dialogue or internal monologue over action, and are often set in the past. The subjects of coming-of-age stories are typically teenagers. The Bildungsroman is a specific subgenre of coming-of-age story.


Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth is a Bildungsroman by Hermann Hesse, first published in 1919; a prologue was added in 1960. Demian was first published under the pseudonym "Emil Sinclair", the name of the narrator of the story, but Hesse was later revealed to be the author.


Hangsaman (1951) is a novel by Shirley Jackson, a bildungsroman about a college freshman named Natalie Waite attending a Bennington-like liberal arts school.

The novel was partially inspired by the story of Paula Jean Welden's disappearance in 1946, and includes satire of the 1950s university and psychological elements.The title comes from an old folk ballad.

High Fidelity (novel)

High Fidelity is a novel by British author Nick Hornby first published in 1995. It has sold over a million copies and was later adapted into a feature film in 2000 and a Broadway musical in 2006. In 2003, the novel was listed on the BBC's survey The Big Read.

Juvenile fantasy

Juvenile fantasy is children's literature with fantasy elements: fantasy intended for readers not yet adult.

The protagonists are usually children or teens who have unique abilities, gifts, possessions or even allies that allow them to face powerful adversaries. Harry Potter is a powerful young wizard, one of the children of The Dark Is Rising series is an immature Old One with magical abilities, and in the His Dark Materials series the children have magical items and animal allies. The plot frequently incorporates a bildungsroman.

In the earlier part of the 20th century, C. S. Lewis noted that fantasy was more accepted in juvenile literature, and therefore a writer interested in fantasy often wrote in it to find an audience.

Klingsor's Last Summer

Klingsor's Last Summer is a novella by Hermann Hesse.

Written over the course of a few weeks in July and August 1919, it was published in December 1919 in the Deutsche Rundschau. It was later published (by S. Fischer Verlag) in a volume which included Kinderseele and Klein und Wagner.

Metroland (novel)

Metroland is an English novel written by Julian Barnes and published in 1980. Philip Larkin wrote a letter to Barnes saying "that he had much enjoyed it, despite his prejudice against novels with people under the age of 21 in them. He added, gloomily, something like, 'but is that what life's like nowadays?'" Barnes described "this unexpected praise" as "the most gratifying moment of the strange passage of first publication."

Philosophical fiction

Philosophical fiction refers to the class of works of fiction which devote a significant portion of their content to the sort of questions normally addressed in discursive philosophy. These might include the function and role of society, the purpose of life, ethics or morals, the role of art in human lives, and the role of experience or reason in the development of knowledge. Philosophical fiction works would include the so-called novel of ideas, including some science fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, and the Bildungsroman.

Stephen Hero

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The Country Girls

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The Emperor of Ice-Cream (novel)

The Emperor of Ice-Cream is a 1965 coming-of-age novel by writer Brian Moore. Set in Belfast during the Second World War, the book tells the story of 17-year-old Gavin Burke, from a Nationalist Catholic family, who joins the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) over his father's objections. Based in part on Moore's own wartime experiences, he described it as the most autobiographical of his novels. Its title is taken from Wallace Stevens' poem "The Emperor of Ice-Cream".

The Fires of Spring

The Fires of Spring (1949) is the second book and first novel published by American author James A. Michener. Usually known for his multi-generational epics of historical fiction, The Fires of Spring was written as a partially autobiographical bildungsroman in which Michener's proxy, young orphan David Harper, searches for meaning and romance in pre-World War II Pennsylvania.

The Green Years

The Green Years is a 1944 novel by A. J. Cronin which traces the formative years of an Irish orphan, Robert Shannon, who is sent to live with his draconian maternal grandparents in Scotland. An introspective child, Robert forms an attachment to his roguish great-grandfather, who draws the youngster out of his shell with his raucous ways.

The Idiot (Batuman novel)

The Idiot is a 2017 novel by Turkish American writer Elif Batuman. It is a bildungsroman, and concerns a college freshman, Selin, attending Harvard University in the 1990s.

This River Awakens

This River Awakens is the first novel by Canadian author Steve Lundin, best known by his pseudonym Steven Erikson. The book was first published in 1998, with funding by the Manitoba Arts Council.

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