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Julia Kristeva and her thesis of intertextuality . . . proposes a communal relationship between writers. For example: in the late 1840s and early 1850s there was an outburst of autobiographical fiction - otherwise awkwardly known as the Bildungsroman: Pendennis (Thackeray), David Copperfield (Dickens), The Mill on the Floss (George Eliot), Barbara’s History (Amelia Edwards), Nemesis of Faith (J. A. Froude). The ur-text is, arguably, G. H. Lewes’s Ranthorpe and the remoter “ur” Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister. But the flurry of Bildungsromane is not imitation. It is major writers bandying, in their differently creative ways, the same core idea, at the same time. It is a conversation. — John Sutherland, TLS (20 December 2019)

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.

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Created 1988

Links added 29 September 2019

Epigraph added 28 December 2019