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The A. Owen Aldridge Prize Citations 2007

2007 Prize Winner:

The 2007 A. Owen Aldridge Prize for Best Essay by a Graduate Student in Comparative Literature has been awarded to Tobias Boes of Yale University, for his piece, "Apprenticeship of the Novel: The Bildungsroman and the Invention of History, ca. 1770-1820."

As the use of "apprenticeship" in the title alludes to, Mr. Boes uses the individual apprenticeship of Goethe's autobiographical character, Wilhelm Meister, as a metonym for the Bildung or development of the novel during the period indicated from a collection of individual stories, as in the epistolary form, to one guided by omniscient narration and a sense that every detail and event is integrated into the masterplot of History.

In his article, Mr. Boes casts a new light on Goethe's seminal 1774 novel, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (1795-96; The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister), and on the Bildungsroman more generally, by linking the rise of this genre to the concurrent advent of historical philosophy in European intellectual culture. At the same time, he shows how Goethe both inherits and crucially revises narrative conventions pioneered by eighteenth-century English realist authors. He also sketches the relevance of his findings to the study of the nineteenth-century Bildungsroman in the German, French, and English traditions.

The author displays great skill and dexterity in moving from close readings of Goethe's novel, to philological inquiry into the changing usage of terms like "Geschichte" and "History" in the period, to comparison with earlier and later European novels, and to consideration of larger historical and philosophical movements, such as the historical philosophy of Kant, Hegel, and Humboldt.

In sum, this is a well-written, highly informed and informative essay about the relation of historical and personal time in the development of the novel during the eighteenth century from the Epistolary to the Realistic novel, which emphasizes the function of the Bildungsroman as both central to and representative of changes in perception of history and narrative writing. It is highly deserving of the Aldridge Prize, and will no doubt be of interest and value to many readers when it is published in Comparative Literature Studies.

2007 Aldridge Prize Committee:
Thomas Beebee, Pennsylvania State University