bil·​dungs·​ro·​man | \ ˈbil-du̇ŋ(k)s-rō-ˌmän How to pronounce bildungsroman (audio) , -du̇ŋz- \

Definition of bildungsroman

literature : a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character a bildungsroman by Charles Dickens

Keep scrolling for more

Did You Know?

Bildungsroman is the combination of two German words: Bildung, meaning "education," and Roman, meaning "novel." Fittingly, a "bildungsroman" is a novel that deals with the formative years of the main character - in particular, his or her psychological development and moral education. The bildungsroman usually ends on a positive note with the hero's foolish mistakes and painful disappointments over and a life of usefulness ahead. Goethe's late 18th-century work Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship) is often cited as the classic example of this type of novel. Though the term is primarily applied to novels, in recent years, some English speakers have begun to apply the term to films that deal with a youthful character's coming-of-age.

Examples of bildungsroman in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Hemingway first came to light as a short story writer, which featured the rugged outdoor exploits and bildungsroman of Nick Adams, his recurring alter-ego, who lived, fished, and loved in Northern Michigan. Will Jeakle, Forbes, "In Search Of Ernest Hemingway," 4 Apr. 2021 Ijeoma has structured the seminar like a bildungsroman., "Art is a bridge ‘between facts and feelings’ for MIT’s Ekene Ijeoma," 24 Mar. 2021 For when the zoarcid poops, the bildungsroman begins. Sabrina Imbler, The Atlantic, "An Epic Journey to Adulthood Begins in the Intestines of a Deep-Sea Fish," 16 Feb. 2021 Sayan’s is the kind of story America loves, a bildungsroman of possibility. Eric Boodman, STAT, "As a kid, his factory work paid for his dad’s cancer care. As an oncologist, his research offers more than survival," 24 Nov. 2020 Despite being a debut novelist—newcomers rarely win the coveted award—Mr Stuart impressed judges with his bildungsroman set in the 1980s in Glasgow, a Scottish city where poverty and social deprivation were rife at that time. The Economist, "Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain” wins the Booker Prize," 20 Nov. 2020 Youth is the plaything of the novel—certainly of the bildungsroman, with its lost illusions and great expectations, and of the midlife novel, whose characters cast off the shackles of adulthood to claim the symbolic passions of an earlier age. Merve Emre, The New Yorker, "The Injustices of Aging," 7 Sep. 2020 Crain’s first novel was Necessary Errors (2013), an expansive bildungsroman of a gay American in Prague in 1990–1991. Jason Farago, The New York Review of Books, "Resistance Is Futile," 8 Apr. 2020 This is, at least, the third episode plot of Apple TV+'s purported comic bildungsroman, Dickinson, a deliriously — and often uncomfortably — revisionist take on poet Emily Dickinson's youth. Robyn Bahr, Billboard, "'Dickinson': Apple TV+ Series Review," 28 Oct. 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'bildungsroman.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

See More

First Known Use of bildungsroman

1906, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for bildungsroman

German, from Bildung education + Roman novel

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about bildungsroman

Time Traveler for bildungsroman

Time Traveler

The first known use of bildungsroman was in 1906

See more words from the same year

Listen to Our Podcast about bildungsroman

Statistics for bildungsroman

Last Updated

12 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Bildungsroman.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Apr. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on bildungsroman

Nglish: Translation of bildungsroman for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about bildungsroman

Comments on bildungsroman

What made you want to look up bildungsroman? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Name that Thing: Flower Edition

How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!