Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman, 1750-1850

By Lorna Ellis | Go to book overview
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2
Amatory Fiction as Precursor to the Bildungsroman

The Bildungsroman's antecedents, like those of the novel form itself, are many and various. One precursor that is frequently singled out, however, is the picaresque novel.1 The emphasis on the link between the picaresque novel and the Bildungsroman underscores the traditionally male aspects of the genre, especially the protagonist's ability to go out and see the world. Susanne Howe claims that the picaresque hero is a “near relative” who “lends” the Bildungsroman protagonist “a taste for carefree, rambling adventure of a realistic and often amorous sort—a tendency to go on long journeys and see the world” (1966, 5). This emphasis on the rambling, picaresque hero has made it more difficult for critics to see the relevance of the Bildungsroman genre to novels of female development. Because heroines generally lead more circumscribed lives than heroes, many critics assume that the developmental experiences that male and female protagonists undergo are too qualitatively different to be compared. As the editors of The Voyage In put it, “While the young hero roams through the city, the young heroine strolls down the country lane” (1983, 8).

In this chapter, I propose an alternative genealogy for the Bildungsroman based on early eighteenth-century amatory fiction. Just as looking at the picaresque tradition emphasizes the independence and mobility, the typically “male” characteristics, of the Bildungsroman protagonist, a consideration of amatory fiction and the romance tradition to which it belongs leads to a better understanding of the social strategies, including manipulation, that characterize the Bildungsroman heroine's negotiation with social expectations.2 In failing to recognize the links

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