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Formative Fictions

Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and the "Bildungsroman"

by Tobias Boes

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

A Note on Translations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

As anyone who has ever written a scholarly book will be able to confirm, the acknowledgments section is the academic’s equivalent of a Bildungsroman. Far more than a catalog of accumulated debts and favors, it also reveals the story of an intellectual formation and maturation. ...

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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 ...

Part I: Methodological Background

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1. The Limits of National Form: Normativity and Performativity in Bildungsroman Criticism

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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. ...

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2. Apprenticeship of the Novel: Goethe and the Invention of History

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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: ...

Part II: Comparative Studies

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3. Epigonal Consciousness: Stendhal, Immermann, and the “Problem of Generations” around 1830

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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 it 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,” ...

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4. Long-Distance Fantasies: Freytag, Eliot, and National Literature in the Age of Empire

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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. ...

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5. Urban Vernaculars: Joyce, Döblin, and the “Individuating Rhythm”of Modernity

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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 the novel of formation, declaring it to be the “most extreme and vertiginous, the last and most advanced stage of the old bourgeois Bildungsroman.”1 ...

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Conclusion: Apocalipsis cum figuris: Thomas Mann and the Bildungsroman at the Ends of Time

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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), ...


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pp. 183-192


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pp. 193-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780801465659
E-ISBN-10: 0801465656
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801478031
Print-ISBN-10: 0801478030

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 814705798
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Formative Fictions

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Subject Headings

  • Bildungsromans -- History and criticism.
  • German fiction -- History and criticism.
  • European fiction -- History and criticism.
  • Nationalism and literature.
  • City and town life in literature.
  • Comparative literature -- German and European.
  • Comparative literature -- European and German.
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