You may not recognize the funny name, but if you've taken high school English or watched pretty much any blockbuster movie about teenagers, you've probably experienced a bildungsroman. The German word “Bildungsroman” means “formation novel.” Bildungsromane recount literal or figurative voyages of discovery, the final destination of which is a sense of one’s unique purpose. Typically a bildungsroman will involve a trial, a life-altering question, and sometimes a resolution.
Themes within the bildungsroman change with shifting social mores, but they all include at least a few of the following: a David-and-Goliath situation in which a child faces a monumental challenge, often without adult aid; a stepchild, orphan, or outcast; the sense that domestic or parental affection is not enough; the discovery that life is not easy or clear; doubt about one’s purpose or beliefs; and a quest for freedom, self-expression, and horizon-expanding love.
The horizon of the bildungsroman genre itself has expanded steadily since its beginnings in the eighteenth century. Click here to learn more about the literary history of the bildungsroman. For a list of literature and films in the genre, click here.
Despite the fact that it narrates the quest to find one's place in the world, as of January 2013 the bildungsroman had not found a place on the World Wide Web. When Dr. Katherine Carlson began drafting her syllabus for ENGL 145, a Literature in the Genres course at UNC-Chapel Hill, she found few online resources regarding the bildungsroman to share with her students. Less than a week before the semester began, she scrapped all her plans and decided the class would boldly create their own web resource to celebrate and explore this popular genre.
Inspired by the emerging field of digital humanities in general and The Victorian Web in particular, Dr. Carlson asked the class to generate submission guidelines for creative personal narratives, close readings of individual texts, and encyclopedic overviews of both the genre’s representative works and its cultural contexts. The students then signed up for topics and formulated selection committees to identify the most publishable work. The objectives of the project are as follows:
Did you catch that? The Bildungsroman project is more then just a compilation of essays; it invites its readers to become writers. If you would like to submit writing or photography to the project, please click here to help us continue celebrating the art of growing up.
Editor-in-Chief: Dr. Katherine L. Carlson
Graduate Research Consultant: Joe Fletcher
Copyeditors: Andrew Allen and Jenny Burton
Web Assistants: Michelle Nguyen and Laura Pressman
Outreach Coordinators: Hillary Bush, Jessica Carter, Rukayat Folarin, and Jean Skelton
Writers-At-Large: Andrew Allen, Elizabeth Bevels, Elizabeth Burchenal, Jenny Burton, Hillary Bush, Jessica Carter, Benjamin Coley, Alisa Dalbo, Dree Deacon, P.J. Eckerd, Hannah Eichner, Ashley Erskine, Rukayat Folarin, Ryan Marder, Tiesha Martin, Rana Mohamed, Dara Myers, Michelle Nguyen, Laura Pressman, Jake Price, Kuntal Shah, Jean Skelton
Special thanks to the UNC-CH Office for Undergraduate Research for funding the indispensable assistance of Graduate Research Consultant Joe Fletcher.
Collaboration and creativity are central to the Bildungsroman Project, and we welcome submissions from classes and individuals alike. If you would like to propose an article, memoir, or idea, please visit the "share your story" section.
We regularly showcase visual depictions of the coming-of-age theme at our Instagram account: @bildungsromanproject.
To read more about Katie, view her photography, or catch a glimpse of Derby the House Rabbit, please visit katherineleighcarlson.com.