Class of novel derived from German literature that deals with the formative years of the main character, whose moral and psychological development is depicted. It typically ends on a positive note, with the hero's foolish mistakes and painful disappointments behind him and a life of usefulness ahead. It grew out of folklore tales in which a dunce goes out into the world seeking adventure. One of the earliest novelistic developments of the theme, Johann W. von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship (1795–96), remains a classic example.
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