Bildungsroman Explained

Candy Spilman By Candy Spilman, 3rd Jul 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>General Non-Fiction

Many people have never heard the term "bildungsroman", but most people have read one.

What it is

While the term bildungsroman may sound like something from an exotic, ancient empire, it is actually derived from two simple German words. The term began to be commonly used a little over 100 years ago. Bildung is German for “education”, and roman is the word for “novel”. Therefore, a bildungsroman would be an educational novel, often referred to as a “coming of age” story. Merriam-Webster's defines it as “:a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character”.

One of the most well-known bildungsromans

Perhaps one of the best known literary works that fits this description is J.D. Salinger’s novel, “The Catcher in the Rye “. Most people are familiar with Holden Caulfield’s struggles as he begins to realize that actions have consequences, and accepts the fact that he is growing up, and that there is no need for a fantasy “catcher” to save children from adulthood.


Another classic account that features the development of a young protagonist is "Rebecca", by Daphne Du Maurier. Although the story is unfolded as a flashback, the reader is able to follow the unnamed narrator/heroine’s journey from a shy, naïve young girl to the mature woman who is telling the tale, and who has clearly survived the horrors and ghosts of Manderley.

When she became the second Mrs. de Winter, the main character was unsure of herself and easily intimidated. She was constantly reminded of Rebecca, the seemingly perfect first Mrs. de Winter, who died in a tragic boating accident. In part due to the influence of the hateful servant, Mrs. Danvers, the new bride feared that her husband, Max, secretly and unfavorably compared her to Rebecca. She further worried that he must regret having married her; no doubt out of loneliness.

The heroine’s growth process began after a series of plot twists when Max confided a shocking secret. Not only did he not love Rebecca, whom he described as evil, but he had, in fact, killed her, making it look like an accident. Rather than being appalled by the revelation, the new Mrs. de Winter was elated to know that Rebecca did not hold her husband’s heart, as she had suspected. This knowledge, and the realization that Max was indeed happy with his second wife, made her a stronger person. She became willing to stand up to the servants and attempt to protect her husband’s life and reputation.

Although Max’s guilt in the death of his first wife was never proved, after her body was unexpectedly discovered, it was assumed. As an act of vengeance by Rebecca’s supporters, Manderley, the deWinter estate, was set ablaze. The couple embarked on a self-imposed exile, where an upbeat Mrs. de Winter stayed by her husband’s side as a true helpmeet, finding her own contentment while attempting to support him.


Bildungsroman, Catcher In The Rye, Coming Of Age, Daphne Du Maurier, Manderley, Rebecca, Writing

Meet the author

author avatar Candy Spilman
Former journalist turned freelancer. I'm a mom and grandma and love to write about family or Christian topics.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
4th Jul 2015 (#)

Thanks for this share and review of two books - siva

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
4th Jul 2015 (#)

Thanks for sharing this article. I've learned something new today and that is a very good thing.

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