Ferrante and Bildungsroman Literature

The vastness of the world of literature means constant introductions to new literary genres. We dedicated some of our previous blogs to the lyric-essay– a more form based discussion. At Daastan, we are on a constant lookout for more new and exciting developments in literature. This brings us to our main focus today: bildungsroman literature- especially that of Elena Ferrante.

What is Bildunsgroman Literature

Before we move on to Ferrante’s works, let’s define what bildunsgroman literature really means. Often confused with the coming of age genre, the bildungsroman novel has certain distinct characteristics. Further, it entails a formative plot, focusing on the protagonist’s growth from youth to adulthood. This includes psychological and moral growth as highlighted through their lived experiences.

Moreover, it originated in Germany. However, for those of us who like to know exactly where the wordy and intimidating terms really come from, let’s look at the etymology of it. “Bildung” translates to education and “Roman” translates to novel- roughly “billdungsroman” means a “novel of formation“.

Furthermore, bildungsroman literature more or less follows a specific structure. Thus, the trajectory of the novel takes the reader through multiple stages in the protagonist’s life. These include:

  1. Loss
  2. Journey
  3. Conflict
  4. Personal Growth and Maturity

It is this structure that differentiates coming of age stories from bildungsroman literature. Thus, many novels about maturation may be seen as coming of age stories but not all of them will classify as bildungsroman.

Ferrante Fever

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about Elena Ferrante and the consequent “Ferrante Fever” that has taken over the world. Perhaps the scale of this Italian author can be understood from the fact that “Ferrante Fever” is the name of the documentary about the literary sensation that she has become now.

Moreover, no one really knows who Elena Ferrante is. It is very likely a pseudonym– in fact, there is no confirmation of her being a woman either!

The start of this fever was her Neapolitian Quartet. This four part series gained instant recognition internationally. It is also a double bildungsroman. By being so, it follows the lives of two young Italian girls all the way to adulthood.

My Brilliant Friend

Further building on that, talking about the first installation of the quartet, “My Brilliant Friend” will help us identify the traits of bildungsroman literature. A tale of female resilience that stems from places of failure, rot and desolation is the ideal plot for psychological and moral maturation. Both, Lila and Lenu, the protagonists- grapple with issues of class and patriarchy with their own distinct experiences. The novel provides a multi-lens perspective of approaching problems.

While Lenu is subservient, Lila spreads chaos wherever she goes. As innate as Lila’s intelligence is, Lenu’s is more learned. As Lenu continues to try to cater to patriarchy, Lila violently opposes it. The girls’ trajectories in life differ as they navigate their youth and adulthood. Some might even say that only one ever truly reaches maturation, but it can also be argued that both characters attain growth on a holistic level.

If you are interested in accompanying characters that you will grow to love, on journeys that will feel like your own– pick up a Ferrante novel. And if you are more of a visual individual, we listed “My Brilliant Friend” in our list of literary adaptations to watch as well!

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