Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman

Gregory Castle

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"This densely argued and fascinating book creatively returns to the decaying hulk of the Bildungsroman and reconstructs it as a vital site of modernist experimentation and innovation. Rather than simple coming-of-age stories, Castle discovers in such diverse works as Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, and Joyce's Ulysses a powerful failure that is nevertheless productive of a fundamentally new conception of national and gendered identities."--Sean Latham, University of Tulsa

The Bildungsroman is a genre novel whose territory is well traveled, that of a young and often alienated hero on the cusp of maturity, intent on discovering who he or she is and being true to that identity. The German word Bildung refers to forming and shaping, and the first Bildungsromane in 18th-century Germany focused on the hero's self-formation. Modernists such as Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and Virginia Woolf adopted and reinvigorated the Bildungsroman form as a means of telling stories about longing and transition. With this first major study of the historical context of the English and Irish Bildungsroman, Gregory Castle revisits the genre with a special interest in self-development and identity, as well as the viability of the classical concept of Bildung in the modernist era.
Drawing on German philosopher Theodor Adorno's theory of negative dialectics (which values the negative moment as a potentially critical force), Castle demonstrates the ongoing relevance of the Bildungsroman form and its powerful capacity for social and cultural critique. Its vitality is due in large measure to its ability to represent, in a self-consciously critical fashion, the complex and contradictory modes of self-development that have arisen in late modernity. The author contends that modernism managed to rehabilitate one of the most conventional genres in the history of literature. Examining such works as D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers and James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Castle provides a significant scholarly contribution to literary criticism that will be of interest to students and scholars of modernism, the modernist novel, and Irish studies, as well as the problem of education and class in English and Irish literature.

Gregory Castle is associate professor of English at Arizona State University.
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"Intelligent, persuasive."

"Of special interest to scholars of Joyce; of British Victorian and modernist literature (with examinations of Hardy, Lawrence, Wilde, Woolf, and the nature of modernity and modernism); and of continental literature, with introductory remarks on German and French Bildungsromane."
--James Joyce Literary Supplement

"A masterful, revisionary study of an important genre's transformation that is also a study of literary modernism's emergence and character as Irish and English writers responded critically to their nineteenth-century precursors."
--James Joyce Quarterly

"Offer[s] fresh insights into modernist novels that continue to display multiple sides and perspectives… [w]orth a serious modernist’s time."
--Comparative Literature Studies

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