Writing and Self:

Autobiography as Novel: Dr. Trott


1. Founding concept:
Bildung, as discussed in Friedrich von Blackenburg's 'Essay on the Novel' (1774)
Bildungsroman, coined by Karl von Morgenstern, in lectures on the 'Essence' and 'History' of the novel (c. 1820)

2. Founding text:

Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795), trans., by Thomas Carlyle, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1824)

3. Founding definition:

Wilhelm Dilthey (essay on Holderlin, 1906, and Das Erlebnis und Die Dichtung [1913]) :
A regulated development within the life of the individual is observed, each of its stages has its own intrinsic value and is at the same time the basis for a higher stage. The dissonances and conflicts of life appear as the necessary growth points through which the individual must pass on his way to maturity and harmony.

Later developments:

1. Susanne Howe, Wilhelm Meister and his English Kinsmen: Apprentices to Life (1930): nominates an English tradition of works by Victorian writers: Thomas Carlyle, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Benjamin Disraeli, John Sterling, G.H. Lewes, J.A. Froude, Geraldine Jewsbury, Charles Kingsley

2. Martin Swales (The German Bildungsroman from Wieland to Hesse [1978]):
it is a novel form that is animated by a concern for the whole man unfolding organically in all his complexity and richness.

3. Elizabeth Abel, Marianne Hirsch and Elizabeth Langland (The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development [1983]):
The genre embodies the Goethean model of organic growth: cumulative, gradual, total. Originating in the Idealist tradition of the Enlightenment, with its belief in human perfectibility and historical progress, this understanding of human growth assumes the possibility of individual achievement and social integration. ... [t]he fully realized and individuated self who caps the journey of the Bildungsroman ... [More] expanded definitions move the genre away from German idealism, from the symbolic and socially conservative aspects of the German novel, toward a vision of individual development as a series of disillusionments or clashes with an inimical milieu. ... Social integration in such novels can be achieved only by servere compromise.

4. Franco Moretti, The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture (trans. 1987)
Let us begin with a question: how is it that we have Freudian interpretations of tragedy and myth, of fairy-tale and comedy - yet nothing comparable for the novel? For the same reason, I believe, that we have no solid Freudian analysis of youth: because the raison d'tre of psychoanalysis lies in breaking up the psyche into opposing 'forces' - whereas youth and the novel have the opposite task of fusing, or at least bringing together, the conflicting features of individual personality. Beause, in other words, psychoanalysis always looks beyond the Ego - whereas the Bildungsroman attempts to build the Ego, and make it the indisputable centre of its own structure.

Moretti, cont.] The Ego's centrality is connected, of course, to the theme of socialization - this being, to a large extent, the 'proper functioning' of the Ego thanks to that particularly effective compromise, the Freudian 'reality principle'.

The English Bildungsroman typically emphasizes the preliminary fear of the outside world as a menace for individual identity, while the Goethian ideal of harmony as a delicate compromise of heterogeneous commitments focuses on the Ego's internal dynamics.

5. Susan Fraiman, Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (1993):
the Bildungsroman's essential faith in the ability of individuals, however laboriously tried, to weather 'plot' and affirm the sovereignty of 'character'. Yet ... the stories of middle-class female protagonists rarely demonstrate this faith ...

6. Sandra M. Gilbert, from Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979):
[Jane Eyre's] story, providing a pattern for countless others, is...a story of enclosure and escape, a distinctively female Bildungsroman inwhich the problems encountered by the protagonist as she struggles from the imprisonment of her childhood toward an almost unthinkable goal of mature freedom are symptomatic of difficulties Everywoman in a patricarchal society must meet and overcome: oppression (at Gateshead), starvation (at Lowood), madness (at Thornfield), and coldness (at Marsh End). Most important, her confrontation, not with Rochester but with Rochester's mad wife Bertha, is the book's central confrontation, an encounter ... not with her own sexuality but with her own imprisoned 'hunger, rebellion, and rage,' a secret dialogue of self and soul on whose outcome ... the novel's plot, Rochester's fate, and Jane's coming-of-age all depend.

Jane's return to Thornfield, her discovery of Bertha's death and of the ruin her dream had predicted, her reunion at Ferndean with the maimed and blinded Rochester, and their subsequent marriage form an essential epilogue to that pilgrimage toward selfhood which had in other ways concluded at Marsh End, with Jane's realization that she could not marry St. John. At that moment, 'the wondrous shock of feeling had come like the earthquake which shook the foundations of Paul and Silas' prison; it had opened the doors of the soul's cell, and loosed its bands - it had wakened it out of its sleep' (chap.26). For at that moment she had been irrevocably freed from the burden of her past, freed both from the raging specter of Bertha (which has already fallen in fact from the ruined wall of Thornfield) and from the self-pitying specter of the orphan child (which had symbolically, as in her dream, rolled from her knee), and at that moment, again as in her dream, she had wakened to her own self, her own needs.