Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

The Bildungsroman Undermined: "Great Expectations" and "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man"

In his 1987 study The Way of the World, literary scholar Franco Moretti states that the Bildungsroman “stands out as the most obvious of the (few) reference points available in that irregular expanse we call the “novel””. Indeed, while the reader may be unfamiliar with the term itself, which was coined by the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey, the genre’s common motifs of education, growth, and formation are widely recognised as staples of the Western novelistic tradition. The late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century in particular saw a keen interest in life stories, including Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations (1861) and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), two novels that chronicle a process of self-discovery by which the protagonist comes to a deeper understanding of life through epiphanies and a gradual transition from childhood to maturity. However, while it is generally accepted that these texts fall under the Bildungsroman tradition, it is necessary to consider the contradictions and inconsistencies within both novels, including the seemingly incongruous manner in which the protagonists’ moral and intellectual development is paralleled by a curious loss of freedom and financial autonomy....

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