Friday, December 9, 2016

Etiquette and Silver Fork Novels

In the early nineteenth century there was a sudden vogue for novels centering on the glamour of aristocratic social and political life. Such novels, attractive as they were to middle-class readers, were condemned by contemporary critics as dangerously seductive, crassly commercial, designed for the 'masses' and utterly unworthy of regard.

The Silver Fork Novel was a kind of novel that was popular in Britain from the 1820s to the 1840s, and was marked by concentration upon the fashionable etiquette and manners of high society. The term was used mockingly by critics of the time, and has been applied to works by Theodore Hook, Catherine Gore, Frances Trollope, Lady Caroline Lamb, Benjamin Disraeli, and Susan Ferrier." – From "An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age"

Jane Austen and the Silver Fork Novel– The usual story, that Jane Austen's novels in the 20 years after her death were a taste for the discerning few alone, needs to be brought into line with a more provocative one – that within 10 years of her death in 1817 her near contemporaries, the novelists of the 1820s and 1830s, were using her novels as a source for wholesale plunder. The publisher Henry Colburn initiated the taste, the “mania” as John Sutherland calls it (1986: 70), for these novels about fashionable life in London by issuing a spate of them in the mid-1820s which became known derisively as “the silver fork school.” 

William Hazlitt supplied the name in The Examiner (November 18, 1827) where he mocked Thomas Hook's admiration of the aristocracy in Sayings and Doings (1824) because, “they eat their fish with a silver fork.” Colburn, an aggressive advertiser of his publications, promoted the novels as aristocratic romans à clef written by authors who were themselves members of fashionable society. His assumption was that these new novels about contemporary “exclusives” would ride on the popularity of such earlier works of Regency scandal as Caroline Lamb's Glenarvon (1816), with its tale of her affair with Byron, or even the courtesan Harriette Wilson's more recent Memoirs (1825), in which she revealed liaisons with the Duke of Wellington and other well-known contemporaries. – From "Blackwell Reference Online"

Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Moderator and Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia