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] is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood (coming of age), in which character change is important.
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. The genre is further characterized by a number of formal, topical, and thematic features. 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, or, sometimes, to Christoph Martin Wieland's Geschichte des Agathon of 1767. 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. In the 20th century, it spread to Germany, Britain, France, and several other countries around the globe.
The genre translates fairly directly into the cinematic form, the coming-of-age film.
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. 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".
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, while a Künstlerroman ("artist novel") is about the development of an artist and shows a growth of the self. 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). The term is also more loosely used to describe coming-of-age films and related works in other genres.
- Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, by Ibn Tufail (12th century)
- Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach (early 13th century)
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (late 14th century)
- Lazarillo de Tormes (1554)
- Simplicius Simplicissimus, by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1668)
- The Adventures of Telemachus, by François Fénelon (1699)
- Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (Fanny Hill), by John Cleland (1748)
- The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, by Henry Fielding (1749)
- Candide, by Voltaire (1759)
- The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne (1759)
- Emile, or On Education, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1763)
- Geschichte des Agathon, by Christoph Martin Wieland (1767)—often considered the first "true" Bildungsroman
- Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship by Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1795–96)
- Emma, by Jane Austen (1815)
- Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley (1818)
- The Red and The Black, by Stendhal (1830)
- The Captain's Daughter, by Alexander Pushkin (1836)
- Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
- Pendennis, by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848–1850)
- Netochka Nezvanova, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1849)
- David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens (1850)
- Green Henry, by Gottfried Keller (1855)
- Phantastes, by George MacDonald (1858)
- Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (1861)
- Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott (1869)
- Sentimental Education, by Gustave Flaubert (1869)
- The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi (1883)
- The Story of an African Farm, by Olive Schreiner (1883)
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (1884)
- Pharaoh, by Bolesław Prus (1895)
- What Maisie Knew, by Henry James (1897)
- Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling (1897)
- Kim, by Rudyard Kipling (1901) 
- The Confusions of Young Törless, by Robert Musil (1906)
- Martin Eden, by Jack London (1909)
- The Book of Khalid, by Ameen Rihani (1911)
- Le Grand Meaulnes, by Alain-Fournier (1913)
- Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence (1913)
- "Araby" by James Joyce (1914)
- Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce (1916)
- Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair's Youth by Hermann Hesse (1919, prologue added in 1960)
- Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919)
- This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
- The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924)
- Pather Panchali, by Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay (1929)
- The Red Pony by John Steinbeck (1933)
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1936)
- Native Son by Richard Wright (1940)
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
- Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (1943)
- The Green Years by A. J. Cronin (1944)
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)
- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (for plot character Eustace Scrubb) by C. S. Lewis (1952)
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
- Children of Violence by Doris Lessing (1952–1969)
- The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
- In the Castle of My Skin, by George Lamming (1953)
- Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth (1959)
- A Separate Peace, by John Knowles (1959)
- The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, by Mordecai Richler (1959)
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (1960)
- Wake in Fright, by Kenneth Cook (1961)
- The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander (1964-1968)
- Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965)
- The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton (1967)
- A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin (1968)
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (1969)
- Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (1972)
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
- The World According to Garp by John Irving (1978)
- The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (1980–1983)
- Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray (1981)
- The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny (1983)
- The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1984)
- Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (1984)
- Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
- The Cider House Rules by John Irving (1985)
- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (1985)
- Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (1987)
- A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving (1989)
- Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry (1989)
- Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder (1991)
- English Music by Peter Ackroyd (1992)
- The Gods Laugh on Mondays by Reza Khoshnazar (1995)
- Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling (1997)
- About a Boy by Nick Hornby (1998)
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000)
- Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
- The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd (2002)
- The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
- The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem (2003)
- Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
- Looking for Alaska, by John Green (2005)
- Indecision, by Benjamin Kunkel (2005)
- Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell (2006)
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie (2007)
- A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah (2007)
- The Name of the Wind and the rest of the Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss (2007–present)
- Anathem, by Neal Stephenson (2008)
- Breath, by Tim Winton (2008)
- Indignation, by Philip Roth (2008)[b]
- Submarine, by Joe Dunthorne (2008)
- The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano (2008)
- Why We Took the Car, by Wolfgang Herrndorf (2010)
- My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante (2012)
- The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (2013)
- The Idiot, by Elif Batuman (2017)
- Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan (2018)
- 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).
- 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."
- Engel 2008, pp. 263–266.
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- Jeffers 2005, p. 49.
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- Ellis, L. (1999), Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman, 1750–1850, London: Bucknell University Press, ISBN 978-0-83875-411-5
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- "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.
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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.
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