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

By Lorna Ellis | Go to book overview

Notes

CHAPTER 1. GENDER, DEVELOPMENT AND THE BILDUNGSROMAN

1. The extent to which critics claim that the female Bildungsroman and the Bildungsroman are contradictory varies. Some argue that novels with female protagonists cannot be considered Bildungsromane until the twentieth century. Esther Kleinbord Labovitz, for example, claims that there were no novels of female development before then: “Whereas the novel of personal development spread from nineteenth-century Germany, gaining adherents in England no comparable work followed depicting the female heroine (3);… [for] the female heroine the quest for self development (a sine qua non of the Bildungsroman) disappears by virtue of the ambivalent endings” (1988, 5). Others, who try to connect the female Bildungsroman to the male tradition, imply this contradiction by focusing primarily on the inherent differences between the male and female Bildungsroman. This overemphasis on differences can lead to odd results; for example, the editors of The Voyage In: Fictions of Female Development claim that “Jane Eyre, more than any other heroine, conforms to the male Bildungsheld” (Abel, Hirsch and Langland 1983, 15), but the essay they are introducing asserts that “Jane Eyre's experience resembles far more the subgenre of the romantic fairy tale that sets forth a limited pattern for female maturation [than] the usual psychology of the male Bildungsroman(Rowe 1983, 70). According to this view, even the quintessential female Bildungsroman is not really a Bildungsroman.'

2. I use the term “female Bildungsromanto refer to novels that center around the development of a female protagonist. According to this definition, female Bildungsromane need not be written by women. However, no female Bildungsromane written by men appear in this study because I have discovered no men who wrote about female development during the time period that I am discussing. Most eighteenth-century writers seem to have preferred the exemplary heroine, such as Clarissa or Pamela, who is morally pure throughout the novel, if misunderstood or naive at the beginning, or the rogue/whore, such as Moll Flanders, who may “repent” at the end but who remains fundamentally unchanged. Interest by male authors in female development did arise later, however, with such authors as Henry James and George Gissing.

3. While most contemporary scholars accept the notion that identity is largely a social construction, critics of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Bildungsroman have largely retained the idea of a coherent, unified self because, according to traditional wisdom, that is the sort of self that the Bildungsroman tried to form. A notable exception is Carol Lazzaro-Weis, who claims that “self and identity are [not] repositories of a continuous and stable female essence. Instead, they are seen as series of shifting positions within specific material and discursive contexts” (1990, 23). Therefore, “The power of the Bildungsroman form and its present relevancy to the critical debates lie in

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