Formative Fictions

Formative Fictions: Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the "Bildungsroman"

Tobias Boes
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7591/j.cttq42mk
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  • Book Info
    Formative Fictions
    Book Description:

    The Bildungsroman, or "novel of formation," has long led a paradoxical life within literary studies, having been construed both as a peculiarly German genre, a marker of that country's cultural difference from Western Europe, and as a universal expression of modernity. In Formative Fictions, Tobias Boes argues that the dual status of the Bildungsroman renders this novelistic form an elegant way to negotiate the diverging critical discourses surrounding national and world literature.

    Since the late eighteenth century, authors have employed the story of a protagonist's journey into maturity as a powerful tool with which to facilitate the creation of national communities among their readers. Such attempts always stumble over what Boes calls "cosmopolitan remainders," identity claims that resist nationalism's aim for closure in the normative regime of the nation-state. These cosmopolitan remainders are responsible for the curiously hesitant endings of so many novels of formation.

    In Formative Fictions, Boes presents readings of a number of novels-Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Karl Leberecht Immermann's The Epigones, Gustav Freytag's Debit and Credit, Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz, and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus among them-that have always been felt to be particularly "German" and compares them with novels by such authors as George Eliot and James Joyce to show that what seem to be markers of national particularity can productively be read as topics of world literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6565-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. A Note on Translations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On December 12, 1819, in an auditorium at the University of Dorpat (now Tartu in Estonia), an obscure professor of rhetoric by the name of Karl Morgenstern coined what would become one of the central terms not merely of German, but of world literary study: Bildungsroman.¹ The Bildungsroman, or “novel of formation,” is a kind of novel that focuses on the spiritual and intellectual maturation of its protagonist; for Morgenstern, as for almost every other critic since him, the paradigmatic example of the genre was Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795–96). Morgenstern’s lecture is suffused with the spirit of romantic...

  6. Part I Methodological Background

    • 1 The Limits of National Form: Normativity and Performativity in Bildungsroman Criticism
      (pp. 13-42)

      When Morgenstern gave his Bildungsroman lecture in Dorpat, he could not know that roughly seven hundred miles to the west, another academic who was his exact contemporary was working on the first (and some would say the only) great aesthetic theory of the nineteenth century. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Karl Morgenstern were born within one day of one another, but though briefly joined by this historical coincidence their lives followed different trajectories ever after. Morgenstern’s career took him further and further toward geographical and intellectual obscurity when he accepted job offers in Danzig and Dorpat. Hegel, on the other...

    • 2 Apprenticeship of the Novel: Goethe and the Invention of History
      (pp. 43-70)

      At the end of the seventh book of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, Goethe’s protagonist, Wilhelm, finally gains access to the inner sanctuary of the Tower Society, the mysterious organization that has been clandestinely guiding his development. Inside the tower’s padded walls, he discovers a complex bureaucratic surveillance apparatus: a vast collection of scrolls recording the story of his own life as well as that of many of the other characters whom he has encountered over the course of the novel. Biographies that meet the society’s approval are matched with a second scroll containing a Lehrbrief (certificate of apprenticeship). The discovery of...

  7. Part II Comparative Studies

    • 3 Epigonal Consciousness: Stendhal, Immermann, and the “Problem of Generations” around 1830
      (pp. 73-100)

      For any student of the European novel, the 1830s are an especially noteworthy decade. In 1830, Stendhal published The Red and the Black; in 1839, he followed up with The Charterhouse of Parma. The same years also marked turning points in the literary development of Honoré de Balzac, who in 1830 bundled his first few novels into a series entitled “Scenes from Private Life,” and in 1839 began to refer to a much-expanded selection of his writings as The Human Comedy. Charles Dickens, meanwhile, serialized the Pickwick Papers from 1836 to 1837, Oliver Twist from 1837 to 1839, and Nicholas...

    • 4 Long-Distance Fantasies: Freytag, Eliot, and National Literature in the Age of Empire
      (pp. 101-127)

      In the previous chapter, I examined two works that seem to epitomize the diverging French and German novel traditions in the early nineteenth century, and yet can both be read as evidence of a continent-spanning effort to “possess the past” in the wake of the Napoleonic interregnum. Viewed in this latter fashion, both Restoration-era France and Biedermeier Germany emerge as the battlegrounds of hostile generational cohorts, a fact that puts significant strains on the ability of the Bildungsroman to endow these nations with a developmental unity. The present chapter pursues a similarly bifurcated approach while focusing on geographical and ethnic...

    • 5 Urban Vernaculars: Joyce, Döblin, and the “Individuating Rhythm” of Modernity
      (pp. 128-154)

      In his review of Berlin Alexanderplatz, entitled “Crisis of the Novel,” Walter Benjamin became the first critic to link Alfred Döblin’s 1929 masterpiece to novel of formation, declaring it to be the “most extreme and vertiginous, last and most advanced stage of the old bourgeois Bildungsroman.”¹ This was backhanded compliment at best, for as the title of the review already indicates, Benjamin’s main purpose was to plumb the depths of a putative crisis confronted by the bourgeois novel, and to show how this established form was forced into retreat by the inexorable advance of modernist (or, as Benjamin called it,...

  8. Conclusion: Apocalipsis cum figuris: Thomas Mann and the Bildungsroman at the Ends of Time
    (pp. 155-182)

    On July 2, 1947, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung published a short essay celebrating the seventieth birthday of the novelist Hermann Hesse, written by his friend and colleague Thomas Mann. Mann spends most of his time discussing Hesse’s novel The Glass Bead Game, which had appeared in 1943 and to which Mann refers not only as a “work of old age” (Alterswerk), but also as a “late work of dangerously advanced spiritualization.”¹ Such descriptions might appear cruelly inappropriate given the occasion, but it is important to remember that Mann ultimately always meant himself when he was talking about other writers. Indeed,...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-192)
  10. Index
    (pp. 193-202)