A Bildungsroman is a novel which concerns itself with the development of a youthful protagonist as he or she matures. It is analogous in many ways to the "Apprenticeship Novel" (the so-called Erziehungsroman) or "Education novel," which explores the youth and young adulthood of a sensitive protagonist who is in search of the meaning of life and the nature of the world.
The terms derive from German literary criticism. Goethe's Wilhelm Meister is the prototypical Apprenticeship novel, but there have been many written in English: Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, which is in part a parody of the genre, Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh, James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dickens's David Copperfield (technically a Kunstleroman, since it deals with the development of a writer), and, of course, Great Expectations.
Last modified 25 December 2004