Author: Sarah Vandegrift Eldridge, assistant professor of German
Publication Date: 2016
Publisher: Camden House
Synopsis: Challenges traditional novel scholarship that emphasizes the individual and the Bildungsroman, broadening the focus to the family and both canonical and non-canonical novels, reading them together with biological, legal and pedagogical texts.
The novel, according to standard scholarly narratives, depicts an individual’s path to maturity. Scholarship on the rise of the novel in Germany and in Europe more broadly, from Watt to Moretti, has essentially collapsed the genre into the individualist Bildungsroman, exemplified by a narrow canon. This study challenges and nuances these narratives, first by expanding the focus from the individual to the family, second by broadening the field of novels treated to include not only canonical works but also so-called trivial literature, and third, by reading novels alongside contemporary biological, legal, and pedagogical texts.
This perspective reveals that the novel and the family around 1800 were mutually constitutive and that the two together were instrumental in the development of conceptions of individuality, kinship, and society that are still relevant today. Eldridge reads novels by Goethe, Wolzogen, Engel, Karoline Fischer, August Lafontaine, and Brentano, showing that they exhibit varying degrees of “imaginative didacticism:” suggestions not of what to think and feel, but that thinking and feeling in reaction to literature are central to cultural practices of self-reflection and development. The family is a crucial locus for this practice, and reading novels together with nonliterary texts illuminates how they experiment productively with the infinite possibilities presented by the relationships they portray.