Word Patriots – Bildungsroman or Coming of Age Novel
This week my father Frederick Seinfelt returns to Word Patriots. We will briefly discuss the archetypal Bildungsroman “Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship” and several other early German specimens or representatives of the genre and then examine three prominent 20th Century educational or coming of age novels —William Somerset Maugham’s “Of Human Bondage,” Thomas Mann’s “The Magic Mountain” and George Santayana’s “The Last Puritan.” The critic Karl Morgenstern coined the term Bildungsroman during a lecture at the University of Dorpat in the 1820s. Literally the word means “novel of formation.” The most famous example is, of course, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Wilhelm Meister.” The poet who was fascinated by what we today term evolution, the morphology and ongoing transmutation of plants and animals, would also necessarily find himself interested in individual human development, the formation of personality and character. Beginning with Goethe, the classic German novels of education were written in the late eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth. By and large, Bildungsromane depict the psychological development of a central character from adolescence or young man- or womanhood to maturity, through a search or quest for identity. The classic Bildungsroman recounts the progress of a usually sensitive and gifted young person toward both self-awareness and a greater communal or societal conscientiousness. Sexual or social encounters may spark the protagonist’s transformation though his or her development is usually a protracted and extended one and the hero or heroine normally encounters a number of different often antagonistic teachers and makes numerous false starts before achieving his objective. To a certain extent, German Bildungsromane stress and lay emphasis on extended Platonic dialogues between pupil and pedagogue over plot, thereby focusing the reader’s attention on the intellectual growth of the hero or heroine. My father and I will also discuss how the genre migrated to England, France and America, and how it altered and transformed when it jumped soils. At the show’s conclusion my producer/ technician Donnie “Turk” Schnars will read from Santayana’s “The Last Puritan.” If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com.