Date Thesis Awarded


Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Deborah Denenholz Morse

Committee Members

Erin Webster

Mary Ann Melfi

Kathrin Levitan


The German term Bildungsroman refers to a “novel of formation,” and although German literary critics have debated its meaning, in Anglo-American criticism it generally denotes a novel concerned with the internal and social development of its main character. In his widely discussed work Season of Youth, Jerome Buckley identifies characteristics of the genre; however, many of the markers of development that Buckley identifies as defining features of the Bildungsroman would be unavailable to middle- and upper-class Victorian women. I argue, therefore, that it would be salient to consider a new literary structure for the female Bildungsroman—one in which personal development for a young woman, rather than following Buckley’s linear path, consists of a series of dynamic negotiations with her social web concerning the nature and extent of the roles she will inhabit as a woman. As the young girl develops into womanhood, the social web she lives in must be “re-imaged” by her critique as an outsider first entering into adulthood, resulting in a female Bildungsroman that is fluid, consisting of narratives of tension punctured by crucial moments of negotiation between the developing heroine and her surrounding community. For this thesis, I have chosen to focus largely on the heroines of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (1855), concluding with a brief examination of the literary structures in Anthony Trollope’s The Small House at Allington (1864).