Prospero XXVI – 2021: The past present of Bildung: new perspectives on and of the Bildungsroman

deadline for submissions: 
April 22, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
Prospero, A Journal of Foreign Literatures
contact email: 


Prospero XXVI – 2021 Call for Papers

The past present of Bildung: new perspectives on and of the Bildungsroman


“Bildung always comes late. This might well be the motto for any fiction that narrates self-cultivation, whether it takes the form of a classical Bildungsroman or any number of variants that seek to avoid its dialectical closure”. (Gregory Castle) 


At a time of unprecedented global precariousness, narratives of self-formation may seem to take on new connotations. At the beginning of the first quarter of the new millennium, it makes sense to revalue the Bildungsroman to reassess the parable, the potential and the possible futures of this crucial “’symbolic form’ of modernity”, in Franco Moretti’s well-known definition.

Decades after the publication of his seminal The Way of the World: The Bildungsroman in European Culture (1987), recent critical studies on this genre have mainly focussed on the modernist, colonial and postcolonial Bildungsroman, as in the case of Joshua Esty’s important Unseasonable Youth: Modernism, Colonialism and the Fiction of Development (2012). Considerations of this fictional model/genre have further elucidated the idea of the desirable but often incomplete or impossible Bildung that was already implicated by the canonical Bildungsroman, by foregrounding the modernist (and postmodernist) refusal and impossibility of closure as simultaneously determining the very limitedness and unattainability of Bildung.  Since Modernism, in fact, “the aspiration toward Bildung (even its failure) becomes an achievement in its own right” (G.Castle). This diminished perspective, in keeping with the downsized mythology and counter-epic strain of Modernist celebration of anonimity, actually opened up a whole gamut of possible paths for what Esty identified as “anti-developmental narratives”, bound for limited, even regressive horizons rather than teleologically socialised and identitarian models. 

Since Modernism, moreover, the focus of representation changed from achieving (or having failed to achieve) Bildung to the very aspiration to achieve. Is it possible, then, that the contemporary novel continues to incorporate the Bildungsroman ‘model’ in the unstructured and non-normative sense of the term, in many diversified but renewed ways, interlacing different experiences of self-formation that stem from intercultural, transnational and transhistorical dimensions, in the implicit awareness of the original transnational quality of the European 19th- century model? Modernist transformative narrative techniques also affected the idea of Bildungby breaking it up into an epiphanic aesthetics of flashes and moments of being, rather than a progressive assessment, thus radically undermining its socialised value. Has this modernist legacy loomed large over the twentieth century and early twenty-first century?

Finally, has the very notion of Bildung morphed into an irreversible dispersion and dissolution, or did it subsist and abide in other dialectical forms, engaging with the renewed interest of the contemporary novel in the historical past and with the question of the encounter with the other? How has the value of youth and – above all - of Bildung itself, changed after the great collective and generational traumas of twentieth-century history? How did a contemporary master like J.M.Coetzee renew the allegorical, cultural and even pedagogical dimensions of the Bildungsroman, fathoming the erosion of the authority of Bildung in the Jesus Trilogy


The XXvith issue of Prospero, A Journal of Foreign Literatures  (2021) aims at attracting critical studies focusing on a twofold consideration of the Bildungsroman today: on the one hand new perspectives in the literary history of this genre, and on the other the current (and future) directions of its contemporary forms. Contributors are invited to analyse how recent critical and theoretical approaches - from feminism to gender studies, from postcolonialism and narratology, trauma studies, ecocriticism, to affect studies and posthumanism - have enriched and probed further into our understanding of the Bildungsroman from its origins to the mid-twentieth century, and how they may have contributed to substantiate and redefine the aesthetic shape and intellectual and cultural scope of contemporary forms of Bildungsroman.

What defines the notion of Bildung and a Bildungsroman today? Has this label become too loose and generic to preserve its critical value or can it be reinforced in its cultural significance in the light of recent literary history, and theory? All of these foundational questions should be taken into account and substantiate an array of possible topics that may include – but not be limited to - the following suggestions: 


  • British and German traditions of the Bildungsroman: dialogic transnational intertextualities.
  • Nineteenth-century historical Bildungsromane.
  • The impossibility of heroism, imperial Britain and the fin-de-siècle Bildungsroman.
  • From national allegory to the failure of imperialism: narratives of arrested development and global uncertainty from Modernism to the present. 
  • The World Wars, trauma and Bildung.
  • Bildung is belated: temporality and anachronism in the Modernist and Postmodernist Bildungsroman.
  • ‘Mainstream’ fiction, seriality and the continuity of the Bildungsroman in young adult fiction.
  • The endless appeal of the ‘canonical’ English Bildungsroman in rewritings, adaptations and remediations.  
  • Coming - of- age bodily narratives: embodied identities in the Bildungsroman.
  • The posthuman as a reinvention of the Bildungsroman?
  • The Bildungsroman and auto/biofiction form the origins to the present. 
  • Class divide in the contemporary Bildungsroman: a continuation of the British counter-model of classification?
  • Allegory and the renewal of Bildung: J.M.Coetzee’s Jesus Trilogy.


Prospective contributors should submit an abstract of maximum 500 words by April 16 to Roberta Gefter Wondrich, editor in chief of Prospero at

Acceptance of proposals will be notified by April 30, and full papers in MLA style are required no later than October 10, 2021, in order to ensure publication by December 2021. 

Articles will be sent to peer reviewers immediately after acceptance by the editor and returned to authors no later than November 15.

In accordance with the journal’s policy, all articles should be single-authored, between 6000 and 10000 words and strictly complying with MLA Style. For information about Prospero consult the Journal policy at


For any further information please contact Roberta Gefter at