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Silver Fork Novels: A Nineteenth-Century Etiquette Compendium

Silver Fork Novels: A Nineteenth-Century Etiquette Compendium

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Funded by:  Hunterian Associates

Main contact:  Dr Abigail K. Boucher

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‘Silver fork’ fiction (also called ‘fashionable’ fiction) was a popular genre from the 1820s to the 1840s which is hardly studied at all today. One of the primary purposes of silver fork fiction was to provide middle-class readers with an inside view to high society, with each novel giving semi-satirical guides for upper class behaviour. The University of Glasgow’s Special Collections houses 75 rare silver fork novels, from which I have extracted all of the fashionable advice voiced by both characters and authors.

This advice covers all aspects of aristocratic life, from clothing and beauty tips, to the treatment of servants, house décor, courtship protocol, dueling, politics, and more. In the twelfth chapter of the etiquette compendium, entitled ‘Health’, I have compiled all of the faddish health guidance and trends found in the novels, much of which is absurd (sometimes purposefully, sometimes not), sexist, and deeply snobbish.

Image Credit: University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections.