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", alternatively "forming") and Roman ("novel").



The term was coined in 1819 by philologist Johann Karl Simon 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's English translation of Goethe's novel (1824) and his own Sartor Resartus (1833–34), the first English bildungsroman, inspired many British novelists.[10][11][12] In the 20th century, it spread to France[13][14] and several other countries around the globe.[15]

Barbara Whitman noted that the Iliad might be the first Bildungsroman. It is not just "the story of the Trojan War. The Trojan War is in effect the backdrop for the story of Achilles' development. At the beginning Achilles is still a rash youth, making rash decisions which cost dearly to himself and all around him. (...) The story reaches its conclusion when Achilles has reached maturity and allows King Priam to recover Hector's body".[16]

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

Plot outline


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 their fortune.[17] Usually in the beginning of the story, there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on their 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 they are 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".[18]

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,[19] while a Künstlerroman ("artist novel") is about the development of an artist and shows a growth of the self.[20] Furthermore, some memoirs and published journals can be regarded as bildungsroman although claiming to be predominantly factual (e.g. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac or The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto "Che" Guevara).[21] The term is also more loosely used to describe coming-of-age films and related works in other genres.





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 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. Archived from the original on 28 March 2020.
  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 (PhD). University of Tromsø. hdl:10037/2486 – via 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 Press, ISBN 978-0-67479-640-9.
  11. ^ Ellis, L. (1999). Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman Archived 26 April 2023 at the Wayback Machine, 1750–1850, London: Bucknell University Press, ISBN 978-0-83875-411-5
  12. ^ a b Golban, Petru (December 2013). "Tailoring the Bildungsroman within a Philosophical Treatise: Sartor Resartus and the Origins of the English Novel of Formation". Journal of Faculty of Letters. 30 (2). Archived from the original on 26 April 2023. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  13. ^ Moretti, Franco, and Albert Sbragia (1987), The Way of the World: the Bildungsroman in European Culture, London: Verso, ISBN 978-0-86091-159-3.
  14. ^ Hirsch, Marianne. "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.
  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), New York: Fordham University Press, ISBN 978-0-82322-817-1; doi:10.5422/fordham/9780823228171.001.0001.
  16. ^ Whitman, Barbara C. "The Iliad as a Bildungsroman". In Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Roundtable on Classical Greece (eds. Victor Kromberg and Amalia Stanton, pp. 71, 73.
  17. ^ "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" Archived 4 June 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Le Télémaque, 2010/2 (n° 38), pp. 57–70. DOI: 10.3917/tele.038.0057.
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  • 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, vol. 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.
  • 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.
  • Iversen, Anniken Telnes (2009), Change and Continuity: The Bildungsroman in English (PDF) (PhD), University of Tromsø, archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  • Japtok, Martin Michael (2005), Growing up Ethnic: Nationalism and the Bildungsroman in African-American and Jewish-American Fiction, University of Iowa Press.
  • Jeffers, Thomas L. (2005), Apprenticeships: The Bildungsroman from Goethe to Santayana, New York: Palgrave, ISBN 1-4039-6607-9.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, pp. 414–435.
  • Summerfield, Giovanna; Downward, Lisa (2010), New Perspectives on the European Bildungsroman, London; New York: Continuum, ISBN 978-1441108531.

Further reading

  • 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. Vol. 1. Oxford; Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 93–97. ISBN 978-1-4051-6184-8.