The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
The Sorrows of Young Werther
by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)

The Germans gave so many useful things to the world - movable type, the gramophone, the diesel engine. That long list also includes Bildungsroman, which strictly translates as 'formation novel', but is more commonly known as coming-of-age novels - a somewhat looser form of classification.

Bildungsroman is generally considered to have been created by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the 18th century with his novels Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and The Sorrows of Young Werther. The main theme of this genre is seeing the protagonist mature from childhood into adulthood, and usually endure a series of challenges and obstacles along the way.

Today coming-of-age novels and films are a common staple of popular culture - The Kite Runner was a huge hit in bookshops and movie theaters. Bildungsroman themes are believed to have originated in European folklore handed down through the generations. A young boy leaves home and endures adventures before reaching maturity - Harry Potter anyone?

Semi-autobiographical novels, featuring classic themes of Bildungsroman, are common. Authors often write about what they know and childhood often influences everything that comes later.

Tom Sawyer, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye are the classic American novels that are most often labeled as Bildungsroman. Jane Eyre and Sons and Lovers are notable examples from the other side of the pond.

Bildungroman even has a sub-genre called Künstlerroman - novels that describe the progression of an artist from youth to maturity - such as F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise and Sophie's Choice by William Styron.

Bildungsroman Novels

The Red and the Black by Stendhal (1830)
The Red and the Black
by Stendhal (1830)
Green Henry by Gottfried Keller (1855)
Green Henry
by Gottfried Keller (1855)
Indian Summer by Adalbert Stifter (1857)
Indian Summer
by Adalbert Stifter (1857)
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
Great Expectations
by Charles Dickens (1861)
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
Kidnapped
by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1894)
The Red Badge of Courage
by Stephen Crane (1894)
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908)
Anne of Green Gables
by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1908)
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)
Of Human Bondage
by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)
The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
The Yearling
by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1938)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith (1943)
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1949)
I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith (1949)
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1951)
Siddhartha
by Hermann Hesse (1951)
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
The Adventures of Augie March
by Saul Bellow (1953)
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)
Go Tell It on the Mountain
by James Baldwin (1953)
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury (1957)
Dandelion Wine
by Ray Bradbury (1957)
Dune by Frank Herbert (1965)
Dune
by Frank Herbert (1965)
The Chosen by Chaim Potok (1967)
The Chosen
by Chaim Potok (1967)
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1984)
The House on Mango Street
by Sandra Cisneros (1984)
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (1985)
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
by Jeanette Winterson (1985)
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (1988)
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
by Michael Chabon (1988)
The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi (1990)
The Buddha of Suburbia
by Hanif Kureishi (1990)
Girl by Blake Nelson (1994)
Girl
by Blake Nelson (1994)
Letters to Montgomery Clift by Noel Alumit (2002)
Letters to Montgomery Clift
by Noel Alumit (2002)
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

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