In the last third of the eighteenth century there arose a type of novel, usually autobiographical and principally concerned with the spiritual and psychological development of the protagonist, that is now known as the Bildungsroman. This new kind of novel, which depicted the secular education of a young protagonist, was embraced by the leading prose writers of the period and became, after the appearance of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship in 1795, the most important novel type in Germany. It can be argued that the greatest German novels, from this point until well into the twentieth century, are Bildungsromane of one sort or another. Yet, in spite of the efforts of a few scholars of German literature, American literary criticism has in general failed to inform itself about this type of novel, more talked about than understood. The purpose of this collection of essays by eminent American and European scholars is to provide an overview of the state of research on the history and theory of the Bildungsroman and to enrich our understanding of the term. This overview is supplemented with "case studies" of some of the most significant novels in the genre. Such a survey in English is long overdue. Rarely is another term applied more frequently to a novelistic form, and scarcely is one used more imprecisely.
James N. Hardin specializes in German and European Baroque literature, textual and bibliographical studies, and in the German novel to 1933. His previous books have dealt primarily with seventeenth-century writers including Johann Beer, Christian Gryphius, and the physician-novelist-alchemist Johann C. Ettner, but his interests also range to writers outside the field of German, such as G. B. Shaw. He is co-founder and managing editor of the series Studies in German Literature, Linguistics, and Culture and more recently became the editor of the series Understanding Modern European and Latin American Literature published by the University of South Carolina Press. He has received Fulbright, Woodrow Wilson, and Alexander von Humboldt grants and was named a recipient of the Russell Award in scholarship at the University of South Carolina.