[bil-doongz-roh-mahn; Ger. beel-doongks-raw-mahn]
A bildungsroman (ˈbɪldʊŋs.roˌmaːn; "novel of formation") is a novelistic genre that arose during the German Enlightenment (and is regarded by some as a variation on the concept of the monomyth), in which the author presents the psychological, moral and social shaping of the personality of a (usually young) protagonist.


The Bildungsroman generally takes the following course:

  • The protagonist grows from child to adult.
  • The protagonist must have a reason to embark upon their journey. A loss or discontent must, at an early stage, jar them away from their home or family setting.
  • The process of maturation is long, arduous and gradual, involving repeated clashes between the hero's needs and desires and the views and judgements enforced by an unbending social order. This bears some similarity to Sigmund Freud's concept of the pleasure principle versus the reality principle.
  • Eventually, the spirit and values of the social order become manifest in the protagonist, who is ultimately accommodated into the society. The novel ends with the protagonist's assessment of himself and their new place in that society.

Within the genre, an entwicklungsroman is a story of general growth rather than self-culture, an erziehungsroman focuses on training and formal education, and a künstlerroman is about the development of an artist and shows a growth of the self.

Many other genres, separate from the bildungsroman genre, can include elements of the bildungsroman as a prominent part of their story lines, while not in themselves fitting the criteria of the bildungsroman. A military story will frequently show a raw recruit receiving a baptism of fire and becoming a battle-hardened soldier, while a high-fantasy quest may show a transformation from an adolescent protagonist into an adult aware of their powers or lineage. Neither of those genres or stories, however, corresponds exactly to the bildungsroman.


See also


  • Abrams, M. H. (2005). Glossary of Literary Terms. Eighth Edition, Boston: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Jeffers, Thomas L. (2005). Apprenticeships: The Bildungsroman from Goethe to Santayana. New York: Palgrave.
  • Szweykowski, Zygmunt (1972). Twórczość Bolesława Prusa. 2nd ed., Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy.
  • Manfred Engel: 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, Bd. XXIII; ed. by the International Comparative Literature Association). Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins 2008, pp. 263-295. ISBN 978-9027234568.

Search another word or see bildungsromanon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature