Coming of Age stories are among the staples of popular fiction and undoubtedly you’ve read many such stories long before you began to study literature at the university. You might have read The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird in high school, or you became entranced with the Harry Potter novels, (and the films made from them), but you might not have been aware that these books were representatives of an important literary genre: the bildungsroman (a German term for fiction that focuses on the developmental process: the growth of an individual from youth to adulthood.) The bildungsroman has a long history, beginning in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century with Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. The genre became immensely popular and spread rapidly to other countries, including Britain. This class will consider how some of the major writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in England and Ireland transformed the bildungsroman and used it to investigate a wide range of issues, such as industrialization, nationalism, feminism, sexuality, and the role of the artist in modern society. We also will investigate how the genre became a vehicle for formal experimentation.
The reading will include novels by Charlotte Bronte, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Jeannette Winterson.