I have always been interested in what it means to grow up female and in the ways that literature portrays this phenomenon. I read and reread Jane Austen and Jane Eyre from an early age, and when I began to explore eighteenth-century literature, I naturally gravitated towards its portrayals of girls growing up. But when I began to think critically about this literature, I was surprised to find that many critics labeled the development in these novels a “growing down.” Ever since I had learned the term Bildungsroman in an undergraduate classroom in reference to Jane Eyre, I had assumed that female Bildungsromane were relatively common. So when I read feminist critics, a group whom I respected and aspired to join, claim that eighteenth- and early-nineteenthcentury novels of female “development” did not constitute female Bildungsromane, I was puzzled and intrigued. This sense of confusion motivated me to begin the exploratory process that eventually led to this book.
My goal in writing this book has been to explore the defining aspects of the Bildungsroman and of the female Bildungsroman as narrative forms. My research focused first on the ways in which critics from the late eighteenth century to the present have characterized the forms and what they considered to be their purposes, achievements, and limitations. Working within this framework, I wrote this book to narrate anew the history of the Bildungsroman in a way that I believe more fully accounts for the similarities between male and female versions of the genre and that offers important links to a larger narrative about women's literature, as well as to social and historical forces that converge in unique ways in the eighteenth century.
This critical approach has offered me several important benefits. By investigating and critiquing Bildungsroman scholarship and feminist scholarship from within, I have been able to see similarities, to draw connections, and to produce a fuller, more