A capacity for vicarious experience is one of Lambert Strether's most celebrated characteristics, apparent not only in his famous injunction to Little Bilham to “live all you can,” but also in his more general attitude toward Chad Newsome's life in Paris, which he proposes, at one point, to regard as a substitute for his own youth. This incorrigible tendency to live his life through the experiences of others might seem to conflict with the goals of Bildung or aesthetic education, since, if nothing else, the experiences that constitute such an education ought surely to be one's own. But although the bildungsroman as a genre is often thought to be concerned with the formation of an individual subject, the concept of Bildung articulated by Goethe and his Weimar associates in the 1790s in fact assigns a particular importance to the idea of vicarious experience. In the archetypal bildungsroman, for instance, Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Wilhelm's education is not complete until he can see himself as a “representative of the species,” in Schiller's phrase, and thus seek consolation for his own limitations in the achievements of other human beings. In this perspective, James's portrait of a “man of imagination” whose education consists in imagining the experiences of others is not a deviation from the tradition of the bildungsroman but a realization of one of the genre's originary possibilities.

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