Silver-Fork Novels

Figure 9 of Franco Moretti's Graphs, Maps, Trees shows forty-four different novelistic genres that existed at various times between 1740 and 1900 – in many cases, no book from the identified genre is still in print.

Silver-fork novels, for example, were a Regency genre, written by the sort of writer who, as William Hazlitt wrote, in the piece that apparently gave the genre its name, “informs you that the quality eat fish with silver forks. This is all he knows about the matter: is this all they feel? The fact is new to him: it is old to them.”

An early incarnation, then, of the plutographic novel. Didn't an acquisitions editor once write that slush piles were full of books about poor people by rich people and about rich people by poor people?

In Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900, Moretti suggests that the silver-fork novel also provided the simplified geography of London that Dickens borrows for Oliver Twist -- a West End where the rich live, an East End full of criminals. Moretti then looks at how, in later novels, Dickens reinvented novelistic London in greater complexity.

I hope to blog about Franco Moretti a lot. He is to distant reading what Christopher Ricks is to close reading. Ricks sees the microstructure of the leaf, Moretti the contours of the forest. Most critics only see the trees. Samuel R. Delany comes to mind as an example of a critic who sees all three.

2 thoughts on “Silver-Fork Novels”

  1. can you please blog more about close reading? particularly as related to reading one's own work. do you ever close read your own stories?

  2. Would be hard to do close reading or distant reading of one's own work… like trying to look at oneself through a microscope or a telescope..

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