Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name


Organizational Unit

College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, English and Literary Arts

First Advisor

W. Scott Howard


Literature, Bildungsroman hero, Literary traditions


My dissertation traces the genealogy of the Bildungsroman hero backwards from Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship to Early Modern Englishwomen writer’s textual negotiations within a male dominant, humanist society. Writers like Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, and Mary Astell engaged in unprecedented textual strategies that subverted their fixed and often challenged roles. Pamphlets affected the Early Modern landscape with liturgical language that would provide a dialogic tension in which these women engaged. The female rogue, a confessionary and cunning persona, became a self-fashioning trope, one who transformed from a static character to one who navigated a harsh society, with her own inward, psychological reactions. Daniel Defoe, as a middle-class journalist, was poised to inherit Early Modern Englishwomen’s representations of this textual, inward turn. While many critics have called Defoe’s adoption of the female subject (specifically the rogue) innovative, he was able to manipulate and appropriate the female figure through also appropriating textual traits and genre hybridizations of Early Modern women’s self-fashioned innovations. Defoe’s text Moll Flanders exemplifies the first depiction of growth in English, rather than Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. This hypothesis challenges many established traditions within literary criticism. Wilhelm Meister is not the first Bildungsroman and has been wrongly labeled due to Germany’s Enlightenment’s zeitgeist which encompassed the myriad philosophical meanings of the term Bildung (1760–1790). While Goethe inherited some archetypal tropes and characteristics from England, namely the rogue’s wandering, his benchmark novel was an ironic portrayal of Bildung, his character embodying a fated journey, relying on the Tower Society’s ironic interventions. A second tradition this dissertation contests is genre critics’ placement of the picaresque tradition deriving from Spain where the rogue or picaresque is synonymous with its genre rather than embodying a protagonist. I posit that the English version of the rogue was female and arose from a criminal confessional pamphlet, first as a ballad and later mythologized through theater and fictionalized biography. This female rogue figure, derived from the Moll protagonists (Long Meg of Westminster, Mary Frith, and Mary Carleton) challenged the picaresque tradition’s plot of a quest whose fixed protagonist’s limited role dictates transformation and change for other characters. The English picara experiences growth and autonomy, which Daniel Defoe appropriates for his main protagonist in Moll Flanders. Pamphlet’s dialogic background allowed the Moll trope to rise through the classes to become a powerful, mythic force, representing a female persona whose ability to self-fashion challenged socio-political constraint through textual pamphlet retorts. While Moll rose in pamphlets, Early Modern Englishwomen writers embraced trends of self-fashioning to integrate them into new textual approaches and strategies that produced the Story of Growth in English. This moniker allows for cultures to name and redefine their own growth narratives and simultaneously allows the classic, German Bildungsroman nomenclature to remain intact, in Germany. I outline and identify characteristics and properties of Early Modern Englishwomen’s narrative contributions that lead to a metanarrative of growth. In chapter four, I discuss how Daniel Defoe appropriated and adopted Early Modern female representations of growth in Moll Flanders. I define the female aesthetic of the Story of Growth in English as based on the following literary devices and textual strategies that fall under the gesture of self-fashioning: casuistic monologue and double voice.

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Rights Holder

Elisabeth Kinsey


Received from author

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346 pgs