Roman à clef
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The reasons an author might choose the roman à clef format include:
- 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
Notable romans à clef
- In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust is perhaps the epitome of the roman à clef novel.
- The novels of 17th century French writer Madeleine de Scudéry.
- The novels of Jack Kerouac, most famously On the Road and The Dharma Bums.
- Virtually all of the novels of Thomas Love Peacock (1785–1866) presuppose a knowledge of English intellectuals and currents of thought of the time.
- Glenarvon (1816) by Lady Caroline Lamb which chronicles her affair with Lord Byron (thinly disguised as the title character).
- The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a fictional account inspired by, but not specifically depicting, Hawthorne's experiences at the Brook Farm experiment.
- The Lady of Aroostook depicts Emily Dickinson's romantic engagements with several men.
- Röda rummet (The Red Room) by August Strindberg presents thinly-disguised depictions of intellectuals of the period.
- Crome Yellow (1921), Antic Hay (1923) and Those Barren Leaves (1925) by Aldous Huxley are all satires of contemporary events.
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway is a disguised account of Hemingway's literary life in Paris and his 1925 trip to Spain with several known personalities.
- The Moon and Sixpence by William Somerset Maugham follows the life of Paul Gauguin, especially his time in Tahiti.
- Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald depicts acquaintances of Gerald and Sara Murphy in the 1920s.
- Point Counter Point (1928) by Aldous Huxley includes easily detected portraits of Huxley's friends D.H. Lawrence and John Middleton Murry.
- Roman à clef is one of the many dimensions of Orlando: A Biography (1928) by Virginia Woolf.
- Mephisto by Klaus Mann. Mann's brother-in-law, the actor Gustaf Gründgens, was so offended by the main character Henrik Hoffgen (based on Gründgens himself) that the novel was banned after a libel case.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, her semi-autobiographical novel, detailing a young girl's attempts at suicides and her mental breakdown.
- The Things They Carried (1990) by Tim O'Brien is widely considered a truthful if knowingly distorted account of the author's experiences in Vietnam and subsequent methods of coping with the war's aftermath.
- All the King's Men (1946) by Robert Penn Warren is loosely based on the rise and fall of Louisiana governor Huey Long.
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) by Hunter S. Thompson, a fictionalized account of Thompson's trip to Las Vegas in a drug-induced haze.
- A Scanner Darkly (1977) by Philip K. Dick is a semi-autobiographical novel featuring an extensive portrayal of Dick's experiences with drug culture and drug use.
- Dominick Dunne's novels depict various upheavals in high society, with many thinly-veiled prominent persons among the casts of characters. Among the novels and respective cases alluded to are The Two Mrs. Grenvilles (the shooting of Belair Stud owner William Woodward, Jr. by his wife, Ann Arden Woodward); People Like Us (the downfall of a socially-ambitious junk bond trader, thought to be a conflation of John Gutfreund, Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky); A Season in Purgatory (the Michael Skakel/Martha Moxley murder case) and An Inconvenient Woman (the Alfred S. Bloomingdale/Vicki Morgan affair and ensuing scandal).
- Primary Colors (1996) about Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, published anonymously but later confirmed to have been written by Joe Klein.
- The Devil Wears Prada (2003) about a woman constantly bullied by her boss while working as an intern at a fashion magazine. Although author Lauren Weisberger worked as an intern at Vogue magazine, she denies that the book's antagonist, Miranda Priestly, is modeled after the magazine's editor-in-chief Anna Wintour.
- The Washingtonienne (2005) based on the author Jessica Cutler's sexual affairs as a congressional intern with various men in Washington, D.C.
- The Body Politic (2000) by Lynne Cheney in which a Republican vice-president dies of a heart attack while making love to his mistress.   
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad mirrors his own journey up the Congo. The character of Kurtz is most likely a compilation of several different colonial officials. The story inspired the film Apocalypse Now.
- The protagonists of both Tonio Kröger and Death in Venice are representations of Thomas Mann.
- The Ugly American by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, a book that criticized American foreign policy in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War; the book uses the fictional country of Sarkhan (a fictionalized Vietnam) as the setting and includes several real people, most of whose names have been changed.
- Ravelstein by Saul Bellow is a thinly disguised memoir of friendship between Allan Bloom and Bellow. Also from Bellow is Humboldt's Gift, about his friendship with the poet Delmore Schwartz.
- In Mexican literature, Martin Luis Guzman's La Sombra del Caudillo was inspired by accounts of the abuses of the Revolutionary Party during the 1920s when ex-president Álvaro Obregón was Mexico's most powerful personality.
- This All Happened (2000) by Michael Winter was inspired by his time with the Burning Rock Writers Collective in St. John's, Newfoundland.
- Lunar Park (2005) by Bret Easton Ellis is partly a fiction ghost story and an autobiographical novel describing Ellis' early years of fame and his difficult relationship with his father.
- The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope, inspired by a story recounted by his friend involving stolen hair.
- Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher which outlines the often-strained relationship between Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds and Carrie's substance abuse.
- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson.
- Second Crossing by N. A. Diaman a semi-autobiographical coming-out novel set in San Francisco at the end of the Beat Era.
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