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The Bildungsroman in Victorian Novels Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 25 May 2018

The Bildungsroman in Victorian Novels

The Bildungsroman Genre. The narrative mode Dickens has adopted aligns his novel with the Bildungsroman genre of literature. The term Bildungsroman is a German word meaning ‘novel of formation’ or ‘education novel’. A Bildungsroman novel frequently puts an emphasis on the moral and psychological development of its protagonist. Morality is an important theme in Great Expectations, one of the episodes of Great Expectations which illustrates the conventions of the Bildungsroman form is the story’s opening which immediately establishes the protagonist’s orphaned status with the young Pip contemplating the graves of his dead parents.

The figure of the ‘orphan’ illustrates Dickens’s innovative engagement with the Bildungsroman genre, as Pip could be viewed as a blank slate, or ‘tabula rasa’, in that his mind isn’t informed by any external psychological influence from his parents. Instead his shrewish older sister and her husband, the kindly and unassuming blacksmith Joe Gargery, are raising him. Initially Pip is content with his humble surroundings, although his class-consciousness receives a rude awakening on his first visit to Satis House.

Here he encounters Miss Havisham and her ward Estella, the latter of whom takes delight in continually reminding the protagonist of his lowly status. When Estella remarks on Pip’s ‘coarse hands’ and ‘thick boots’, and his habit of calling knaves ‘Jacks’ when they are playing cards together, she is expressing her contempt of his background. Even though Pip is hurt by her taunts, he still becomes infatuated with Estella, and it is this attraction which triggers his own animosity towards his origins.

Sometime after Pip has come of age and has been working in the forge with Joe, the lawyer Jaggers informs him of an anonymous benefactor who wishes to make the protagonist a gentleman. Incorrectly Pip assumes this benefactor to be Miss Havisham, and starts to entertain the belief that the old spinster intends him for Estella. This episode heralds a great advance in the protagonist’s own snobbery and delusion, as he sets off for London, putting his origins in the Kent marshlands behind him.

While Pip is enjoying the leisurely life of a gentleman in the capital, he receives a letter from his old acquaintance Biddy, stating that Joe has come up to London and would like to visit him. Pip’s disdain for the blacksmith is revealed in his reservations concerning such a prospect: “If I could have kept him away by paying money, I certainly would have paid money” .

When the protagonist returns to his hometown for his sister’s funeral, his snobbery is further evinced on his insistence at staying in the Blue Boar inn in town, as opposed to the forge with Joe. His actions are evidence of the Bildungsroman narrative’s preoccupation with moral and psychological development. Pip’s final exchange of wealth and status for friendship and humility indicate how he has matured as a protagonist.

On the other hand, the novel by Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’urbervilles, has not made any case for the novel’s being a Bildungsroman. Tess has been called a “fundamentally changeless” ballad heroine; her story has been referred to as “mythological” a “personification of rural Wessex” a representation of the agricultural community in its moment of ruin”. However, categorising and allegorizing Tess’s story, it is possible to lose sight of the novel’s unrelenting focus on Tess the individual as she attempts to make something of her life.

Holding that the novel “develops a single theme, the life-history of one person, and sends this uninterrupted forward”. Thomas Hardy, in his time plan for the novel, graphically stressed the centrality of Tess’s experience as he carefully noted the dates of the novel’s events in relation to Tess’s age. What Tess attempts to do during the brief portion of her life dramatized by Hardy makes her story one of coming of age, in other words, the novel ought to be viewed as a Bildungsroman.

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  • Date: 25 May 2018

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