In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman (German pronunciation: [ˈbɪldʊŋs.ʁoˌmaːn]; German: "novel of formation, education, culture"),[lower-alpha 1] novel of formation, novel of education,[2] or coming-of-age story (though it may also be known as a subset of the coming-of-age story) 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 legitimated 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 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 from gaining experience of the world. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son 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 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.

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.[16] Furthermore, some memoirs and published journals can be regarded as Bildungsroman although being predominantly factual (an example being The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto "Che" Guevara).[17] 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. 1 2 Engel 2008, pp. 263–266.
  2. "Bildungsroman: German literary genre". Encyclopædia Britannica. April 22, 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. 1 2 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", 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. Werlock, James P. (2010). The Facts on File companion to the American short story. 2. p. 387.
  17. "The Motorcycle Diaries by Che Guevara – HSC English Discovery", Real Teacher Tutors. Retrieved 12 July 2016.
  18. 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.
  19. "El lazarillo de Tormes" (PDF) (in Spanish). Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte (Spain). 2004. p. 1. Retrieved 24 November 2013.
  20. 1 2 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.
  21. Cortney Lollar (1996). "Jane Eyre: A Bildungsroman". The Victorian Web.
  22. "The Bildungsroman in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism". Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  23. Martin Coyle; et al., eds. (1990). Formalism and the Novel: Henry James. Encyclopedia of Literature and Criticism. New York: Routledge Florence. p. 593.
  24. "Martin Eden Summary – Jack London – Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition". Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  25. 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).
  26. "Sons and Lovers Lawrence's novel as a Bildungsroman". Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  27. James Joyce. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Summary & Study Guide – James Joyce". Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  28. Hendriksen, Jack. This side of paradise as a Bildungsroman. ISBN 0-8204-1852-8.
  29. Mukherjee, Meenakshi (1985). Realism and Reality: The Novel and Society in India. Oxford University Press. p. 128 . ISBN 0-19-561648-0.
  30. 1 2 3 "The Top 13 Coming-of-Age Novels". The Top 13. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  31. "George Lamming, West Indian author", Encyclopædia Britannica
  32. Kercheval, Jesse Lee. "Continuing Conflict". Building Fiction. The Story Press. p. 101. ISBN 1-884910-28-9.
  33. McGregor, Gaile (1987). "The Technomyth in Transition: Reading American Popular Culture". Journal of American Studies: 387–409. doi:10.1017/S0021875800022891.
  34. 1 2 Melanie Kinchen; et al. (2006-07-13). "Bildungsroman Novels for Young Adults".
  35. "Ursula LeGuin's Magical World of Earthsea". Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, National Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  36. Jay McInerney. "The Good Life". transcript of podcast.
  37. "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Context". Sparknotes. 1959-08-27. Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  38. Rosenberg, Alyssa (2010-07-30). "Norwegian Wood: On Having a Girl, and Losing Her". The Atlantic Monthly.
  39. Lewis, Barry (2007). My Words Echo Thus: Possessing the Past in Peter Ackroyd. University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1570036683.
  40. Marty Beckerman. "An Interview with Stephen Chbosky". Word Riot. Word Riot. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  41. Tara Ann Carter (October 6, 2013). "Reading Persepolis: Defining and Redefining Culture, Gender and Genre" (PDF). John Bartram High School.
  42. "Secret Life of Bees-Character Analysis". Archived from the original on 3 May 2011. Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  43. Khaled Hosseini (March 4, 1965). "Katherine C. (Berwyn, PA)'s review of The Kite Runner". Retrieved 2011-04-21.
  45. Mcinerney, Jay (August 28, 2005). "Indecision: Getting It Together". The New York Times.
  46. "Wonder Year (Black Swan Green by David Mitchell)". The New York Times. April 16, 2006.


  • 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

External links

Look up bildungsroman in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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