roman à clef

ro·​man à clef | \ rō-ˌmä(ⁿ)n-(ˌ)ä-ˈklā How to pronounce roman à clef (audio) \
plural romans à clef\ rō-​ˌmäⁿ-​(ˌ)zä-​ˈklā How to pronounce roman à clef (audio) \

Definition of roman à clef

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

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Did You Know?

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 Weisberger had spent time as Wintour’s personal assistant and many saw her novel as a roman a clef, with names changed hardly to protect the not-so-innocent. Chris Jones,, "‘The Devil Wears Prada’ musical will premiere in Chicago, with a score by Elton John," 18 Sep. 2019 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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Time Traveler for roman à clef

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The first known use of roman à clef was in 1882

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Cite this Entry

“Roman à clef.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 21 Jan. 2021.

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