Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Richard Kaye

Committee Members

Alan Vardy

Tanya Agathocleous

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities


Bildungsroman, Counter-Bildungsroman, Classical Bildungsroman, Victorian novel, Romantic autobiography, aestheticism


This dissertation will examine the paradoxical tensions that exist in the English Bildungsroman, by studying the ways in which both the novel of emergence and autobiography at once strive towards a conformity with what is known as the Classical Bildungsroman form, while at the same time undermining that very generic formula. This dissertation pays attention to a wide range of British writers, some whose novels embody the archetypical Bildungsroman form, and then some whose work does not resemble the Classical Bildungsroman at all. For instance, this dissertation will focus on the work of Jane Austen, Thomas De Quincey, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, and Ford Madox Ford in the attempt to prove that the Bildungsroman genre underscores the whole enterprise of fictional biography and autobiography. In my chapter on Jane Austen, I offer Pride and Prejudice as the rare example of a novel that fulfills the difficult generic requirement of the Classical Bildungsroman, but then I compare this masterpiece with Persuasion, a novel in which the protagonist’s chances for happiness and personal fulfillment are delayed by the unavoidable passing of time. In the end, Anne Elliot cheats fate, when she becomes wife to Captain Wentworth, and thus achieves the necessary social Bildungs that is required of the protagonist of the Classical Bildungsroman; however, in writing Persuasion, Austen takes great liberties with the generic form to turn her unlikely heroine into a happily married woman. In my second chapter, I examine Thomas De Quincey’s autobiographical prose work as an extreme re-imagining and generic inversion of the Classical Bildungsroman form. If the Classical Bildungsroman inaugurates its protagonist into a life of cheerful normality, then De Quincey’s coming of age tracts illustrate a young person succumbing to opium addiction and experiencing his adulthood from inside his addiction. In describing his oppressive opium dreams, De Quincey reverses the causality of the Classical Bildungsroman, because at the end of his journey from adolescents to adulthood, he finds himself living isolated and alone inside of an elaborate but ultimately nonsensical nightmare that bears no resemblance to the gentile British world in which he lives. In my chapter on Henry James and Oscar Wilde, I explore the role aestheticism plays in inverting the coming of age stories of the late-nineteenth century. In their exposure to aestheticism, both Isabel Archer of Portrait of a Lady and Dorian Gray from Picture of Dorian Gray gravitate towards aesthetic experiences that will lead them away from the trajectory of the Classical Bildungsroman, which must end in marriage, happiness, and prosperity. The final chapter focuses on the Bildungsroman as it informs modernist authors by analyzing Ford Madox Ford’s multi-volume Parade’s End, a work that would appear to reject every Bildungsroman convention, by featuring an adult protagonist whose inner and outer life has been paralyzed by the global catastrophe of the Great War. Even though Ford is clearly writing a novel of regression, his protagonist, Christopher Tietjens, continues to strive for the same spiritual Bildungs that writers such as Austen and Goethe bestow on their protagonists, as they are largely credited with inventing the Classical Bildungsroman form.