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

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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 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 There isn’t much Gen X toughness on display here, and Daum’s detours into bildungsroman don’t enhance her critique of the modern left. Rosa Brooks, Washington Post, "Meghan Daum’s merciless take on modern feminism, woke-ness and cancel culture," 24 Oct. 2019 Now imagine that the novel systematically subverts the swelling arc of the bildungsroman—that, on the cusp of each achievement, some ghostly hand pulls our hero back from victory. James Wood, The New Yorker, "A Neglected Modern Masterpiece and Its Perverse Hero," 14 Oct. 2019 Bellow’s semi-autobiographical bildungsroman is not just long but also episodic and ornate. Jesse Green, New York Times, "In Chicago’s Vibrant Theater Scene, Two Tales of One City," 7 June 2019 With Brady as the club's new trequartista (number ten for the uninitiated dweebs), the Juventus manager underwent somewhat of a tactical bildungsroman (coming of age for the uninitiated dweebs)., "Giovanni Trapattoni: A Career of 2 Halves That Defined the Golden Era of Calcio at Juventus," 12 Aug. 2019 Science fiction, fantasy is a youth-loving tradition, the bildungsroman, the origin story of the young farm boy or farm girl who’s finding their way. Chaim Gartenberg, The Verge, "Author Myke Cole talks writing hard science fiction in his space-set Coast Guard novel Sixteenth Watch," 15 July 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.

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First Known Use of bildungsroman

1906, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for bildungsroman

German, from Bildung education + Roman novel

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Time Traveler for bildungsroman

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The first known use of bildungsroman was in 1906

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Last Updated

14 Sep 2020

Cite this Entry

“Bildungsroman.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2020.

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

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