roman a clef

roman à clef

[raw-mah na kle]

roman à clef(French; “novel with a key”)

Novel that has the extraliterary interest of portraying identifiable people more or less thinly disguised as fictional characters. The tradition dates to 17th-century France, when members of aristocratic literary coteries included in their historical romances representations of well-known figures in the court of Louis XIV. A more recent example is W. Somerset Maugham's Cakes and Ale (1930), widely held to portray Thomas Hardy and Hugh Walpole. A more common type of roman à clef is one in which the disguised characters are easily recognized only by a few insiders, as in Simone de Beauvoir's The Mandarins (1954).

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