Gender, Development, and the
Ironically, in the current construction of genres, “Bildungsro- man” and “female Bildungsroman” have come to be seen as contradictory terms.1 Studies of the female Bildungsroman, most notably Susan Fraiman's Unbecoming Women (1993) and the essays in The Voyage In: Fictions in Female Development (1983), work from the assumption that “an alternate generic model” is necessary in order to understand fictional female development (Abel, Hirsch and Langland 1983, 5). Fraiman seeks such an approach because she sees “the construction of femininity” as “confused and inconsistent,” “partial and basically shoddy,” unlike the construction of masculinity which “invoke[s] a purposeful youth advancing toward some clarity and stability of being” (xi, ix). I will argue, however, that the dichotomy set up by many feminist critics between the “traditional” (male) Bildungsroman and the female Bildungsroman leads to misconceptions about both and overlooks the striking similarities between Bildungsromanewith male and female protagonists. Examining the female Bildungsroman—that is, the novel of a young woman's development—leads, indeed, to a more complex understanding of the genre as a whole and of the historical circumstances that produced it.2 In particular, the female protagonist's manipulation of appearances to gain autonomy demonstrates the sociallyconstructed nature of fictional female development.3 Furthermore, the exploration of the Bildungsroman's link to eighteenthcentury female experience and to earlier women's writings raises questions about the origins of the genre and the Bildungsroman's traditional tie to Romanticism.
The misleading separation of literary spheres between the