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Extra resources for A Companion to Sensation Fiction (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture)
It had become necessary both to define “gentleman” and to protect the aristocratic hegemony which was perceived as under attack. One way in which fashionable novels reveal this social instability is by demonstrating the extent to which the Regency dandy was dependent for his identity on the gaze of others. The dandy, who, Carlyle argues, wants to be looked at, unsettles his age because his gentlemanly status is revealed not as essential but as the creation of others. Silver fork novels appealed to two audiences, “great people” who took pleasure in hearing about themselves, and “little people” who delighted “in hearing about great people” (review of The Exclusives, 1829: 782).
The details of aristocratic life provided by the novels’ information about Almack’s, tailors, brand names, and merchants led upper-class readers to examine them for accuracy and to look for characters modeled on their friends and acquaintances. At the same time, these details appealed to middleclass voyeurism and enabled readers from the rising bourgeoisie to mine them for instructions on how to move up the social ladder. In The Voyage of Aylmer Popanilla (1828), Disraeli sneered at these novels which aimed to educate the newly rich – termed Millionaires – who picked up a considerable quantity of very useful knowledge; so that when the delighted students had eaten some fifty or sixty imaginary dinners in my lord’s dining-room, and whirled some fifty or sixty imaginary waltzes in my lady’s dancing-room, there was scarcely a brute left among the whole Millionaires.
After that, Disraeli moved to political and social problem novels, while Bulwer turned to historical and mystical ones. Gore, on the other hand, wrote a substantial number of silver fork novels and was the only one of the three who continued writing them into the 1840s. Among Gore’s best novels are The Hamiltons (1834), the story of a heartless dandy who marries a young girl and is then unfaithful; Mrs. Armytage, or Female Domination (1836), which tells of a wealthy mother who attempts to rule her son’s life; Cecil, Or the Adventures of a Coxcomb (1841), the memoir of an aging roué; and The Banker’s Wife, Or Court and City (1843), which traces the life of an ambitious and dishonest banker.
A Companion to Sensation Fiction (Blackwell Companions to Literature and Culture)