The bildungsroman wasn’t born in a vacuum. Cultural historian Philippe Ariès argues that childhood as a category first gained widespread recognition in the eighteenth century. Enlightenment emphases on age-specific educational methods also paved the way for literary and artistic explorations of the development of an individual from youth to adulthood.
In the nineteenth century, Romantic poets originated notions of children as unspoiled forces of creativity and imagination, while the evangelical movement in Victorian Protestantism cast children as symbols of pastoral innocence. Both movements urged for increased attention to children’s rights. When adolescence became recognized as a psychological category at the end of the nineteenth century, a full-fledged youth culture emerged that still shapes the social identity of our own century.