SILVER FORK NOVELS
The period between 1820 and 1845 witnessed the rise of the fashionable novel or social satire. This genre, which aimed to depict elegant and aristocratic manners in detail, was named ‘silver fork novels’ by William Hazlitt in 1827 after the upper-class practice of eating fish with two silver forks.
The genre started with Theodore Hook’s Sayings and Doings (1824; Sp Coll Z7-n.17), Robert Plumer Ward’s Tremaine(1825; Sp Coll Z2-m.19-21 & Sp Coll g.9.17-19) and Disraeli’s Vivian Grey (1826; Sp Coll Z1-e.26-28); the Novel Collection holds an early edition of each of these last two. The most influential and popular novels were written by female novelists such as Lady Blessington, Catherine Gore and Lady Bury who enjoyed a considerable professional income deriving from authorship.
Fashionable novels, full of what Hazlitt called ‘the folly, caprice, insolence and affectation of a certain class’ were usually based on the social mixing of the affluent upper middle class or the provincial gentry with the aristocracy, providing a voyeur’s insight into aristocratic habits and life patterns. Once women writers turned to the genre, it became increasingly moralised: middle-class morality became central, and the novels detailed the demise of the aristocracy, though the characteristically Byronic heroes of the genre remained. In some ways, silver fork novels were oddly democratic, suggesting that class is not a matter of birth but derives from display in terms of habits, attire and décor. Their descriptions of gender and marital relations foreshadow Victorian contentions about women’s and men’s roles in the private and public sphere.
The silver fork fiction in the Novel collection represents a wide range of important titles. All the significant authors of the genre – Catherine Gore, Theodore Hook, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Lord Normanby and Robert Plumer Ward, are represented. This list is complemented by less well-known authors such as ‘Lady Humdrum’ who also offers a female perspective upon aristocratic values.
Our extensive collection of silver fork fiction amounts to seventy-five titles. 13 of these titles are available in modern editions, and another six were regularly republished in the 19th-century. Other titles, however, are held in no more than four British libraries according to COPAC. These are:
Anon: Tales of Perplexity, London: Sampson Low, 1829. Sp Coll Z4-k.10
Charlotte Trimmer Moore: Country Houses, London: Saunders and Otley, 1832. Sp Coll Z3-i.27-29
Elizabeth Elton Smith: Three Eras of a Woman's Life, London : Richard Bentley, 1836. Sp Coll Z1-i.11-13
Selected bibliography of Silver Fork novels in the Novel Collection
These titles are listed alphabetically by author.
Anon.: Hyde Nugent: a tale of fashionable life London: Henry Colburn, 1827. Sp Coll Z5-l.14-16.
Countess of Blessington (Marguerite Gardiner): The confessions of an elderly gentleman London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1836. Sp Coll Z6-a.30.
Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury: The exclusives London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1830. Sp Coll Z1-g.16-18.
Benjamin Disraeli: Vivian Grey London: Henry Colburn, 1826. Sp Coll Z1-e.21-25
Catherine Gore: Mrs Armatage; or, Female domination London: Henry Colburn, 1836. Sp Coll Z2-g.24-26.
Theodore Hook: The parson's daughterLondon: Richard Bentley, 1833. Sp Coll Z2-d.23-25.
T. H. Lister: Granby London: Henry Colburn, 1826. Sp Coll Z3-g.1-3
Constantine Henry Phipps Normanby: The English in France London: Saunders and Otley, 1828. Sp Coll Z5-h.4-6.
Alicia Wyndham: Harold the exileLondon : J Gillet, 1819. Sp Coll Z6-k.26.