Roman à clef

Roman à clef (French pronunciation: ​[ʁɔmɑ̃ a kle], anglicised as /rˌmɒn ə ˈkl/),[1] French for novel with a key, is a novel about real-life events that is overlaid with a façade of fiction.[2] The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the "key" is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction.[3] This metaphorical key may be produced separately—typically as an explicit guide to the text by the author—or implied, through the use of epigraphs or other literary techniques.[4]

Key to vol. 2 of Delarivier Manley's The New Atalantis (1709)

Madeleine de Scudéry created the roman à clef in the 17th century to provide a forum for her thinly veiled fiction featuring political and public figures.[4]

The reasons an author might choose the roman à clef format include satire; writing about controversial topics and/or reporting inside information on scandals without giving rise to charges of libel; the opportunity to turn the tale the way the author would like it to have gone; the opportunity to portray personal, autobiographical experiences without having to expose the author as the subject; avoiding self-incrimination or incrimination of others that could be used as evidence in civil, criminal, or disciplinary proceedings; the ability to change the background and personalities of key participants; and the settling of scores.

Biographically inspired works have also appeared in other literary genres and art forms, notably the film à clef.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Roman à clef – Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary".
  2. ^ "The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature", By Steven R. Serafin, Alfred Bendixen, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005, ISBN 0-8264-1777-9, ISBN 978-0-8264-1777-0, p. 525
  3. ^ "Cambridge paperback guide to literature in English" by Ian Ousby, Cambridge University Press, 1996
  4. ^ a b The Modernist roman à clef and Cultural Secrets, or I Know That You Know That I Know That You Know" by M. Boyde, University of Wollongong, 2009