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January 15, 2016 11:22 PM   Subscribe

'Silver Fork' or Fashionable Novels are the largely forgotten English popular novels of the 1820s and 30s which depicted aristocratic life and scandals as a how-to guide for rising middle-class readers while also exploring growing political and class anxieties in the post-Regency. Advice on how to romance, eat, party and raise children like a member of the upper class from Silver Fork novels via Bizarre Victoria (previously).
posted by The Whelk (7 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Fascinating--never really considered that gap in English lit before. Thanks for bridging it!
posted by kinnakeet at 1:01 AM on January 16, 2016

Vanity Fair is one of my favourite novels, and I had never thought of it before as a sort of "How not to do it" manual for the middle class. But it really is!
posted by tracicle at 4:23 AM on January 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

Sherwood Smith has written a few blog posts about these: "The Romance of the Regency: Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and Silver Fork Novels," "Hapax and Heyer, Austen and Irony, or, What I should have said," and "Silver Fork Novels and Romance." IIRC, in the first two she uses them to introduce sort of a conceptual wedge between Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen, distinguishing them more strongly while remaining a fan of both, and in the third, she tries to show what's interesting to her in the work of Catherine Grace Gore.
posted by Wobbuffet at 5:32 AM on January 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

interesting — I didn't think of the silver fork novels as "how not to do it" manuals so much as "shit talk about the rich behind the thin veil of fiction" books. like anyone who's anyone knows who all the Mr _____ and Mrs _____s doing all those terrible things are, even if they're not given by name.

I have fantasies of a large, possibly data mining-aided attempt to reconstruct from silver fork novels a map of the entire fashionable population of London of the time, and who they were connected to, and why people were talking shit about them. Sort of distilling the entire body of silver fork novels into one massive burn book.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:45 AM on January 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thackeray's brilliant parody, Lords and Liveries, is a great way to get the flavour of the silver-folk style (though to get the full effect you need to read it in one of the editions with Thackeray's illustrations). It was the silver-fork novelists who really invented the idea of product placement:
"Corbleu! What a lovely creature that was in the Fitzbattleaxe box to-night," said one of a group of young dandies who were leaning over the velvet-cushioned balconies of the "Coventry Club," smoking their full-flavored Cubas (from Hudson's) after the opera.

Everybody stared at such an exclamation of enthusiasm from the lips of the young Earl of Bagnigge, who was never heard to admire anything except a coulis de dindonneau a la St. Menehould, or a supreme de cochon en torticolis a la Piffarde; such as Champollion, the chef of the "Traveller's," only knows how to dress; or the bouquet of a flask of Medoc, of Carbonell's best quality; or a goutte of Marasquin, from the cellars of Briggs and Hobson.
One of my university professors was obsessed with these novels, and I remember him banging on and on about them in one of his lectures, in a slightly slurred voice (I think he may have had a drink problem): 'The Silver Fork Novels! If you want to understand nineteenth-century society, you HAVE to read the Silver Fork Novels!' At the end of the lecture, one of my friends turned to me and said: 'That was very interesting, but there was one thing I didn't understand: who exactly was Sybil Thorpe?'
posted by verstegan at 7:03 AM on January 16, 2016 [20 favorites]

I realize they're not of the period, but Georgette Heyer's novels are great. And so packed with detail! They're really very informative!
posted by orrnyereg at 7:57 AM on January 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another good brief overview of the genre at Victorian Web. A useful reminder that, pace the eponymous bad writing contest, Edward Bulwer-Lytton is an extremely important figure in the history of Victorian fiction.*

There's been a real push to rehabilitate the silver fork genre lately, especially because of the satirical content, but also because of some growing interest in aristocratic writers (e.g., the Countess of Blessington). Unfortunately, as per the usual, actually getting your hands on these novels in good and affordable** modern editions tends to be difficult (and the occasional reprints have had a bad habit of going out of print very fast), so teaching them is something of a non-starter.

*--Someone should do a full scholarly edition of Bulwer-Lytton's novels. That someone, however, will not be me although The Last Days of Pompeii is tempting

**--Which this multivolume collection, for example, was not.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:28 AM on January 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

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