Moral improvement


A popular literary form in the nineteenth century was the Bildungsroman, a German term meaning the novel of learning or education:

  • Typically, this would dramatise the intellectual and/or emotional education of a young man

  • It provided a model for many well-known European novels of the nineteenth century, such as Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre and Charles Dickens's David Copperfield (1849-50).

This kind of novel became popular in the nineteenth century following the publication in 1795-6 of J. W. von Goethe's Wilhlem Meister's Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship)

  • The young main character of such novels has to achieve emotional and intellectual maturity, negotiating a way through the intricacies of social conventions and expectations

  • The main character in such novels undergoes difficulty and suffering as well as pleasure and satisfaction (usually more of the former than the latter)

  • He or she has to learn to observe, understand and judge characters, their actions and surrounding social structure

  • It can thus be used as a means of commenting on, satirizing and challenging established social norms.

Such novels may offer opportunities for learning for their readers as well as their central characters.

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