Have you ever felt that reading a good book makes you better able to connect with your fellow human beings? If so, the results of a new scientific study back you up, but only if your reading material is literary fiction – pop fiction or non-fiction will not do.
Empathy occurs in the spaces between characters, such as Joe and Pip in Great Expectations, pictured here in the 2012 film adaptation. Photograph: Moviestore/Rex Features
Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research in New York, have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to detect and understand other people’s emotions, a crucial skill in navigating complex social relationships.
The bildungsroman (bill-DUNGZ-ro-men, German for “formation novel”) is a genre of the novel which focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood. The driving force behind the plot (and the major impact of the work) is the main character’s search for self, so change is thus extremely important.
The birth of the bildungsroman is normally dated to the publication of Goethe’s The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister in 1796. Although the bildungsroman originated in Germany, it has had extensive influence first in Europe and later throughout the world. Thomas Carlyle translated Goethe’s novel into English, and after its publication in 1824, many British authors wrote novels inspired by it (e.g. Dickens’ Great Expectations).
A bildungsroman tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience. The genre evolved from folklore tales of an idiot or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune. Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on his or her journey. In a bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features an underlying conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist, and he or she is ultimately accepted into society – the protagonist’s mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.
Incoming AP Lit students, take note of how both Siddhartha and Jane Eyre, each after their own unique fashion, follow this structure.