roman à clef

noun
ro·​man à clef | \rō-ˌmä(ⁿ)n-(ˌ)ä-ˈklā \
plural romans à clef\ rō-​ˌmäⁿ-​(ˌ)zä-​ˈklā \

Definition of roman à clef 

: a novel in which real persons or actual events figure under disguise

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Unlock the fiction, open the door and see the very real people behind it, wrote Jeff Simon in The Buffalo News (March 19, 1998). That can be easily done when a roman à clef uses fictitious names to present thinly veiled depictions of well-known people or events. But what if only a few insiders know the real people or incidents? In the 1800s, such romans a clef sometimes included a key, a list matching fictional characters with their real-life counterparts, that helped readers recognize the players. Such keys made "roman a clef" (from a French phrase meaning "a novel with a key") an apt term for such works. Nowadays, there are no published keys in a roman à clef - merely veiled (or sometimes blatant) references that connect fact with fiction.

Examples of roman à clef in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Neither combatant is mentioned in the novel; this is no roman a clef with characters standing in for them. Susan Page, USA TODAY, "Bill Clinton and James Patterson wonder if democracy can survive, in fact or fiction," 3 June 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'roman à clef.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of roman à clef

1882, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for roman à clef

French, literally, novel with a key

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The first known use of roman à clef was in 1882

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