Jane Eyre as a BildungsromanJane Eyre betakes herself on the journey of lifeand in the novel the reader can watch the differentsteps she passes and accompanies her. On the onehand they can observe her behaviour objectively,her changes, her maturing process, her fears andchallenges in a distant and objective way. They seehow other people manage their life and are madeaware of their changes without directly being apart of it. On the other hand the reader is able toidentify with Jane Eyre and imagine how she mustfeel because, as I said before, every personchanges during their life and experiences certainproblems and challenges.It is widely recognized that one of the mostaccomplished versions of the Bildungsromangenre can be found in the works of CharlesDickens. Novels such as David Copperfield orGreat Expectations are well recognized by readersand scholars alike, for their captivating storiesconcerned with human development. However, thenovel which began the genre, and laid thefoundations for many novels of later writers, isGoethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795-1796). A novel concerning a young man’s
adventures and maturation process and hisattempt to find meaning in life; it is a complexstory which was enormously popular andsuccessful at the time of it’s publication,and itcontinues tobe read with pleasure by many today.Although there is much argument as to the exactdefinition of the Bildungsroman form, it isgenerally regarded as a novel that is concernedwith the formation of a character, and thecharacter’s progress, or “growth from childhoodto maturity” (Lynch).The protagonist of Goethe’s novel, Wilhelm, utterswords which become the formula for the entiregenre: “to develop myself, just as I am” (347),which can be understood, in other words, as anattempt, to take all that is potential inside his“self”, and to bring it to full maturation; toactualize and fulfill a potential. Wilhelm’sstatement is what later becomes the idealist modelof the Bildungsroman, and a pattern which manyfuture writers come to use when composing theirown works. As Martin Swales puts it, theBildungsroman, as in Goethe’s model, is a story of“a man unfolding organically in all his complexityand richness” (14) – an approach, where bildungisthe formation of a character, that is by definition
conceivable only as a male. From its veryinception, the Bildungsroman form has thereforebeen primarily concerned with the life stories ofmale characters. This essay attempts to presentthe Bildungsroman as a traditionally maleconstruct, that can however, through theapplication of certain, less conventional devices,successfully present the development of femalecharacters, such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre,in a different, but equally respectable and valuedform.