|Photo by Nico Aguilera.|
which was coined in 1992 by literary critic Constance Rook as a companion to the more familiar term Bildungsroman.
Bildungsroman refers to stories where the protagonist is coming of age, growing, developing or "building" towards adulthood.
One of the most classic examples is Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
A Vollendungsroman. . . is a novel of winding down or completion. It focuses on the challenges presented in late life, chiefly to "discover the tension between affirmation and regret." (Rook qtd. in footnote 49 of Rita Caviagoli's Women of a Certain Age, on p. 203)
Books I've Read that Meet the Criteria for Vollendungsroman novels (in reverse chronology):
Haruf, Kent. Our Souls at Night (2015) GR Review and Blog Review
Healey, Emma. Elizabeth Is Missing (2014). Review
Ford, Richard. Let Me Be Frank with You (2014) Review
McFarlane, Fiona. The Night Guest (2013) GR Review and Blog Review
GR Review and Blog Review
Shin, Kyun-Sook. Please Look After Mom (2011). Review
Mosley, Walter. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (2010). Review
Dallas, Sandra. Prayers for Sale (2009). Review
Stout, Elizabeth. Olive Kitteridge (2008). GR Review and Blog Review
Berry, Wendell. The Memory of Old Jack. (1974). GR Review and Blog Review
Laurence, Margaret. The Stone Angel (1964). Review
Tolstoy, Leo. The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886). Review
Books I have yet to read that I've seen on lists about Vollendungsroman novels:
Carillo, Herman G. Losing My Espanish (2004)
Fischer, Christoph. Time to Let Go (2014)
Jonasson, Jonas. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared
McCorkle, Jill. Life after Life (2013)
Miller, Sue. The Distinguished Guest (1999)
Pym, Barbara. Quartet in Autumn (1977)
Spark, Muriel. Momento Mori (1958)
Stegner, Wallace. The Spectator Bird (1990)
Mainly an Academic Term--for now
I did a quick online search to learn more about how Vollendungsroman is being employed. It's mainly confined to academic conferences, entries in academic reference books and literary criticism at this point. But I plan on keeping an eye open for increased use in mainstream media. I do want to share the chapter titles for a Ph.D. thesis that I found. Heather Gardiner's 1997 thesis The Portrayal of Old Age (available as a PDF download) has these instructive chapter titles:
- Images of Confinement: Order and Control in the Literature of Old Age
- Looking Back in Old Age: Ordering and Retrospect in the Journey of Life
- The Wisdom of Old Age: Finding Meaning in the Life Experience
- Vitality and Maturity: Coming to Terms with Death
- Old and and Resurrection: Another Look at Reality
More to Emerge?
As the Baby Boomers age, I imagine there will be more and more occasion for its use as applied to novels, poetry and perhaps to plays and films as well.
For the past five years, I have been trying to read as many novels about late life as I can manage. As a former college English teacher, I see value in literary representations of real-life challenges. Reading literature gives us an opportunity to sit back and meditate more deeply and with a little more objectivity--or at least with some foreknowledge--than trying to tackle our own life's situation in the moment without warning or insight.
And now there's a specific genre for such books. Who knew?
If you have recommendations for novels (not memoirs) that depict a protagonist with late-life challenges/perspective, please share the author/title in the comment section. Thanks!
Since writing this post, I found this October 1, 2015 essay in the NYT by Ceridwin Dovey on the topic of how age is represented in fiction (and a bit about film). It's interesting. Dovey suggests another term for novels of ripening:
Forget the bildungsroman. We are on the cusp of the age of the reifungsroman—the literary scholar Barbara Frey Waxman’s term for the “novel of ripening.”
Novels about Men Facing Death
Books about Dementia
Movies about Mature Men Preserving
Films about Aging