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The Art of ScandalModernism, Libel Law, and the Roman à Clef$
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Sean Latham

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195379990

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195379990.001.0001

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True Fictions and False Histories

True Fictions and False Histories

The Secret Rise of the Roman à Clef

Chapter:
(p.21) 2 True Fictions and False Histories
Source:
The Art of Scandal
Author(s):

Sean Latham (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195379990.003.0002

A history of the roman à clef’s slow rise and abrupt decline, this chapter explores its invention in the 17th and 18th centuries, where it at once contested and facilitated the emergent novel’s claim to moral authority and aesthetic autonomy. Both narrative forms developed unique yet interrelated strategies for negotiating the expanding divide between history and fiction. The novel’s eventual rise, in fact, came to depend precisely on its ability to suppress and eventually supplant the far more disruptive—and innovative—energies of the roman à clef. This chapter first explores the ways in which the two genres became intertwined with one another in texts like Moll Flanders and Clarissa. It then traces the subtle ways in the novel eventually managed to incorporate elements of its shadowy double, which was, in turn, roundly denigrated as inartistic and insipid. The earlier genre did not disappear entirely, however, but continued to stalk the novel in works like Dickens’s Bleak House and Disraeli’s Coningsby. The chapter concludes by emphasizing the anarchic and innovative potential of the roman à clef, a genre whose energies had only been temporarily constrained rather than fully controlled.

Keywords:   genre, theory of novel, roman à clef, novel, realism, rise of novel, literary history

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