Sisters, Bosom Chums, and Enemies

How Secondary Female Characters Subvert the Girls’ Bildungsromane

  • Dawn Sardella-Ayres
  • Ashley N. Reese
Keywords: Bildungsromane, girls’ literature, gender, American, Canadian, nineteenth century, twentieth century, girlhood


This article explores the functions of secondary girl characters in English-language American and Canadian girls’ Bildungsromane. Previously, we have explored girls’ literature as a distinct genre, framed in the theory of genre as social action, and our past scholarship examines the ways in which pre-WWII girls’ Bildungsroman stories emphasize girls’ eventual integration into their communities. Rather than having adventures, as in boys’ coming-of-age texts, we have noted ways in which the main girl characters grow “down” into social restrictions, usually as (potential) wives and mothers. Secondary female characters in these girls’ stories are compared, contrasted, or conflated with their close peers as they grow to womanhood, whether they function as the protagonists' “bosom friend,” a rival or “frenemy,” a sibling, or a classmate. However, without the same coming-of-age expectations of a text’s or series’ heroine, these secondary female characters often demonstrate alternate paths to womanhood, highlighting diversities or serving as a warning to the girl protagonists on their journeys.

How to Cite
Sardella-Ayres , D., & Reese, A. N. (2022). Sisters, Bosom Chums, and Enemies: How Secondary Female Characters Subvert the Girls’ Bildungsromane. Barnboken, 45.
Theme: Conceptions of Girlhood Now and Then