Examples of Bildungsromans, Coming-of-Age Novels

If you're a writer, then chances are you've read some classic novels in your time. If so, without knowing it, you've read a "bildungsroman. " A bildungsroman is a novel that traces the development of a character from childhood to adulthood, through a quest for identity that leads him or her to maturity. The term bildungsroman comes from the German for "formation novel," or "education novel" and most often focuses on the trials and misfortunes that affect the character's growth.

Typically (but not always) a character in a bildungsroman feels alienated and alone but ends on a positive note with the character feeling a sense of self-realization.

While you're probably not familiar with the term bildungsroman, you are familiar with the term "coming-of-age" novel which is used interchangeably with bildungsroman. Although literature is filled with many examples of a bildungsroman two prime examples to look at include,  "David Copperfield" written by Charles Dickens in 1850 and "Jane Eyre" written by Charlotte Bronte in 184. Let's look at both and see how the characters develop over time. 

 "David Copperfield"

The story follows the life of David Copperfield from childhood to maturity. David is born in England, six months after the death of this father. His mother re-marries when David is seven and soon afterward David is sent to a boarding school run by a ruthless headmaster Mr. Crakle.

David suffers at the hands of Mr. Crakle and decides to run away and goes to live with a kind great-aunt who pities David and ultimately raises him. She also sends him to a better boarding school in Dover where he meets Ages, the daughter of a landlord David happens to be renting a room from. David manages to complete school, become a proctor, learns shorthand, joins a newspaper and ultimately finds fame and fortune as an author, writing fiction.

He also finds true happiness when his unhappy marriage ends when his (young) bride dies and David seeks out (and marries) Agnes, his true love.

"Jane Eyre" 

"Jane Eyre" is not only of the first female bildungsroman novels, it is one of the finest and earliest examples of the genre. This novel tells the story of an orphaned governess who earns the chance to be a great lady. Jane values equality and personal dignity  above all other social advantages and her banter with leading men reveals her indomitable spirit behind one described in the beginning as so "poor, obscure, plain, and little."