AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

A Journey of Growth: Bernard Cornwell's The Last Kingdom as a Bildungsroman

by Kristín Jónasdóttir 1983

Institution: University of Iceland
Year: 2015
Keywords: Enska
Record ID: 1220708
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/21192


This essay explores Bernard Cornwell’s historical novel, The Last Kingdom (2004) and demonstrates how it can be classified as a Bildungsroman. The novel follows the protagonist Uhtred’s journey through life as he slowly progresses in his evolvement. The Last Kingdom takes place in ninth century Anglo-Saxon England, during the Danish invasion and Cornwell follows the historical facts accurately. In order to show better the protagonist’s background, the historical background of Anglo-Saxon England is detailed, along with the division of Anglo-Saxon England into kingdoms, its hierarchy, and its laws. The Danish invasion influences Uhtred’s life greatly, and therefore the reasons why the Danes invaded Anglo-Saxon England and the difference between the English and Danish warriors is explored. Religion is highly relevant in the novel as it affects our protagonist’s evolvement very much. Due to this, the essay provides some background on religion in Anglo-Saxon England and on the pagan religion of the Danes. Uhtred’s lifespan demonstrates a variety of features characteristic of a Bildungsroman. At the beginning of the novel Uhtred is young, inexperienced, and arrogantly unwilling to be educated. He only dreams of becoming a warrior fighting in a shield wall. As is customary in most Bildungsromans, there is an incident which forces the protagonist onto his journey. This incident occurs when Uhtred falls into the hands of the Danes. He turns into a Dane through Ragnar’s influence and chooses to stay with the Danes because they train him to become a warrior, while the English would rather turn him into a priest. Uhtred has a flashing moment when he hears the English victory cheers at Wessex, which helps him when he is forced to leave the Danes. Uhtred’s return to the English side and Alfred’s influence on him is explored along with his choice of religion. As most protagonists in Bildungsromans, Uhtred has found his rightful place in society by the end of the novel. He is married, has a son, and is an educated Englishman. He has experienced a real shield wall and can call himself a real warrior and a leader of men.