Friday, 21 June 2013

Bildungsroman - A Novel Youth

"I Live in Kashmir"
A portrait of a teenager by Ebtesam Ahmed


Noun. Plural bildungsromane. Early 20th century.
[German, from Bildung education + Roman novel.]

A novel dealing with one person's formative years or spiritual education.

From The Catcher in the Rye to The Hunger Games, Jane Eyre to Harry Potter, bildungroman is an expansive and enduringly popular genre, one that is certain to have touched every lover of literature. Its popularity is hardly surprising: a childhood is something we all have to experience, something we all have to get through and build on; therefore the bildungsroman, a charting of one character's journey from boy to man, from girl to woman, is something that resonates deep within all of us.

And the resonation is deep. As someone that was blessed with a remarkably happy and stable childhood, I still experienced times of profound personal tragedy and sadness. These were defining moments, such as the death of my younger brothers when I was 11, an event that marked a transition from an innocent and carefree childhood into a darker and less predictable world, a time that still haunts my dreams and stalks my memories, even after 20 years. And there was the breakup at 20 with the first person I truly loved; a ubiquitous rite of passage perhaps, but one of crippling pain and emotional torment, a time that attacked my very value as a person, my identity and my sense of self-worth.

These and many other things make up my own personal bildungsroman, as do yours for you. And this wonderful genre, this deeply moving body of literature, can help us to understand and make sense of these turbulent years, not only during youth, but also after, in adulthood, as we continue to reflect and develop and come to terms with the history that formed us. And the wonderful thing? While there are always difficulties and trials that threaten our hero, bildungsroman is generally an optimistic genre, one that revels in not just survival but a thriving in the face of adversity. While there is invariably pause for reflection and nostalgia, as there is on the recollection of any childhood, a buldungsroman is a story of hope, development and triumph.

Do you have any particularly beloved examples of bildungsroman, perhaps ones that helped you through your childhood? Was your childhood a veritable bildungsroman in itself? Do please share and comment in the box below.


  1. Hi Ed,

    I was very fortunate not to experience what I would consider any major negative event in my youth (and that's very subjective in itself I guess - what's minor for me may be major for another), nor any massively positive one. I think I'd say that was another type of more common bildungsroman. The big events in life force you to stop and take notice and when they don't come along, you can float on in ignorance for years without connecting with the important subjects it would be beneficial for you to connect with, earlier rather than later.

    1. A friend of mine who experienced some very difficult years in his teens once said something similar; he said that he felt angry with himself for being so naive, for thinking that life was so steady and trouble free, and that the shock of sudden and overwhelming trials was almost too much. I can see how that could be the case - how a sudden onset of difficulty in a previously serene life would be a difficult adjustment.

  2. I also didn't have any major life events growing up - mine all happened as an adult, and boy, they sure jolted me!

    I am sorry to hear about your brothers Ed. That must've been a very hard time for all your family.

    1. Thank you Jingles - it was a difficult time, a time that never really goes away. However, my childhood was everything a childhood should be - secure, fun, happy, adventurous and loving; for that I'll always be grateful.

  3. This is my favorite word to date. Thanks ed.


  4. Oh Ed...
    I'm really sorry to hear about your brothers.

  5. Hi Ed,
    I, as others, am sorry to hear about your brothers. It reminds me that perhaps I should be grateful for what I did have, and not dwell on what I didn't.
    I feel as if, despite being nearly 27, that my story of growing up is still unfinished. I have yet to conquer and move past the pivotal conflicts and challenges begun in my childhood and adolescence.
    Excellent word.

    1. Thank you Kara ... and your comment made me smile, because as I was writing this post I was thinking *exactly the same thing* about myself! I haven't "come of age"; my bildungsroman isn't over. And I'm in my 30s! : o D

  6. Hi Ed,
    just catching up on some Lexicolatry... Loved this word too, especially the caption you had with it! :)