Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman

To begin with, Gregory Castle says something in his acknowledgements that I really liked. He is describing his experience in writing about the bildungsroman genre and how it took him a long time to adequately grasp its complexity. It is “a genre that has managed to retain its basic contours while while adapting to new environments” (ix). I think this basic description is something I will keep in mind as I research the bildungsroman and the Middle East novel.


The introduction is titled The Pathways to Inner Culture. Castle asserts that the modernist bildungsroman fails to adhere to the strict generic rules of the genre, but this failure represents resistance to the “institutionalization of self-cultivation (bildung)” (1). Castle is going to be concerned mostly with English and Irish bildungsromans, claiming the early twentieth century as a place of “emergent late modernity” (1).


Moreover, Castle is going to argue, “the critique of bildung is part of a general modernist project of recuperation and revision of the Enlightenment concept aesthetico-spiritual Bildung,which had been rationalized and bureaucratized in the course of the nineteenth century,” and, it is “a profoundly radical gesture, one that seeks to reinstate the values of aesthetic education and individual freedom within the process of self-development” (1). I believe, since this is only the introduction, this will all become more clear as Castle continues in the later chapters.


Overcoming the restrictiveness of overly rationalized and bureaucratized society is a main concern of these writers, Castle argues. And they do this by using the bildungsroman genre (and its failure to adhere to it in a strict sense) to ask questions about humanity, self-hood and identity.



The modernist bildungsroman fails to adhere to the strict rules of the genre, particularly when the hero of the novel, the bildungsheld, does not achieve inner cultural or harmonious socialization. However, Castle argues, the modernist bildungsroman, asserts itself powerfully, exploiting this failure to reinvigorate the genre, and bildung in a classical sense.


Modernist writers do not bring the classical bildungsroman tradition to life to merely live in the past. Rather, they use it to explore modernity itself.

Castle, Gregory. Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 2006. Print.



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