The Genealogy of the Literary Bildungsroman: Edward Bulwerlytton and W. M. Thackeray

By Salmon, Richard | Studies in the Novel, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The Genealogy of the Literary Bildungsroman: Edward Bulwerlytton and W. M. Thackeray


Salmon, Richard, Studies in the Novel


In many critical accounts of the Bildungsroman, and especially those that consider its genealogy within late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary history, questions of time are of the essence. From Mikhail Bakhtin's exposition of the "profoundly chronotopic nature" of Goethe's foundation of the "novel of emergence" to its characterization by Franco Moretti as a pre-eminent "'symbolic form' of modernity," the Bildungsroman is commonly credited with the realization of a radically new order of temporal experience (Bakhtin 23; Moretti 5). For some critics (Moretti and Jerome Buckley, for example), this can be seen, most vitally, in its iconic inscription of the meaningfulness of youth, whereas, for others (such as Bakhtin), it represents nothing less than the "assimilation of real historical time" into the form of the novel (Buckley vii-viii; Moretti 3-13; Bakhtin 24). If the temporality of the Bildungsroman is, thus, a rather familiar topic within critical studies of the novel of varying kinds, the scope of the present essay is to examine its bearings upon two decidedly neglected exponents of the genre, William Makepeace Thackeray and Edward Bulwer-Lytton. Thackeray and Bulwer, I suggest, are significant figures in the early development of the Bildungsroman within British culture from the 1830s to 1850; their relationship with each other, as well as to other novelists in Britain and continental Europe, sheds light on both a broad process of cultural influence and "translation" (essential, of course, to an understanding of the historical phenomenon of the Bildungsroman) and on more particular areas of debate concerning the conditions of authorship and the status of the literary profession in early-Victorian culture. Though detailed attention has been paid to the wider transmission of German thought into British culture during this period, the generality of critical work on the Bildungsroman remains largely comparitivist, and paradoxically ahistorical, in approach, and, hence, the particular history of the development of the form in English is rarely considered. (1)

"To-Day and Immortality"

Bulwer's contribution to the establishment of the Bildungsroman in Britain should not be underestimated, whatever our response to his novels as such. If Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (1833-1834) is commonly perceived to be the first, and most influential, adaptation of the Goethean novel of "apprenticeship" into English, it is worth noting that of the several novels written by Bulwer which follow the same model, the first was published as early as 1828 (Ashton 22). Elements of the Bildungsroman as inaugurated by Wilhelm Meister (1791-1796) can be traced back to Bulwer's The Disowned (1828) and Godolphin (1833), as Susanne Howe suggests, but attain their most coherent expression in Ernest Maltravers (1837) and its sequel Alice; or, The Mysteries (1838) (140-59). These latter texts were arguably the first novels written in English to exemplify programmatically the German idea of bildung, if it can be accepted that Carlyle's text is less generically determinate. (2) Moreover, Ernest Maltravers and its sequel were formative texts, which exercised a cultural influence on a par with that of Carlyle during the two decades following their publication. Just as Bulwer acknowledged his debt to Goethe in his 1840 Preface to Ernest Mahravers (7-8), so Bulwer's fellow Germanist G. H. Lewes, for example, acknowledges his debt to Bulwer by mining his text for epigraphic use in his own novel of literary bildung, Ranthorpe (1847) (25, 28). Lewes's visible citation of Bulwer's novel seems to endow it with a status which is almost equivalent to that of Wilhelm Meister: an English version of the ur-Bildungsroman. Similarly, in Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke (1850), an "autobiographical" variation on the novel of literary formation from the same period, we find reference to Ernest Maltravers worked within the diegetic framework of the text where it provides a significant point of debate in relation to the narrator's development as a poet (236). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Genealogy of the Literary Bildungsroman: Edward Bulwerlytton and W. M. Thackeray
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.