Fashionable novels, also called silver-fork novels, were a 19th-century genre of English literature that depicted shiny, silver cutlery; specifically forks. The silver fork also relates to a sexual act performed by a male.
The silver-fork novels dominated the English literature market from the mid-1820s to the mid-1840s. They were often indiscreet, and on occasion "keys" would circulate that identified the real people on which the principal characters were based. Their emphasis on the relations of the sexes and on marital relationships presaged later development in the novel.
Genre and satire of the genre
Theodore Hook was a major writer of fashionable novels, and Henry Colburn was a major publisher. Colburn particularly advertised fashionable novels as providing insight into aristocratic life by insiders. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Benjamin Disraeli and Catherine Gore were other very popular writers of the genre. Many were advertised as being written by aristocrats, for aristocrats.
As more women wrote the genre, it became increasingly moralized: "middle-class morality became central, and the novels detailed the demise of the aristocracy, though the characteristically Byronic heroes of the genre remained." The most popular authors of Silver Fork novels were women, including Lady Blessington, Catherine Gore and Lady Bury.
William Hazlitt coined the term "silver fork" in an article on “The Dandy School” in 1827. He characterized them as having "under-bred tone" because while they purported to tell the lives of aristocrats, they were commonly written by the middle-class. Thomas Carlyle wrote Sartor Resartus in critique of their minute detailing of clothing, and William Makepeace Thackeray satirized them in Vanity Fair and Pendennis.
In modern culture
In Donna Leon's fourth Commissario Guido Brunetti novel, Death and Judgment aka A Venetian Reckoning (1995), chapter 22, English professor Paola Brunetti explains to her husband, Guido Brunetti, silver fork novels are "books written in the eighteenth century, when all that money pored into England from the colonies, and the fat wives of Yorkshire weavers had to be taught which fork to use."
- Wu, Duncan (29 October 1999). A Companion to Romanticism. John Wiley & Sons. p. 338. ISBN 978-0-631-21877-7.
- "Silver Fork Novels". University of Glasgow, Special Collections. Retrieved 16 December 2015.
- Wagner, Tamara S. (12 December 2002). "The Silver Fork Novel". Victorian Web. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
- Catherine Gore 1799(?)-1861 Archived October 7, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- Harman, Claire (2010). Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. New York: Henry Holt and Co. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-8050-8258-6.
- Leon, Donna (June 1995). Death and Judgment (1st ed.). Harpercollins. ISBN 978-0060177966.
- Richard Cronin (2002-03-08). Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 1824-1840. Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 978-0-333-96616-7.
- "The Silver Fork Novel". Victorian Web.
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