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A roman à clef or roman à clé (French for "novel with a key", French pronunciation: /ʁɔ.mɑ̃n a kle/ ), also known as faction, is a novel describing real life, behind a façade of fiction. "Key" in this context means a table one can use to swap out the names, see figure.

The reasons an author might choose the roman à clef format include:
  • Satire
  • 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
  • The opportunity to portray personal, autobiographical experiences without having to expose the author as the subject
  • Avoiding self-incrimination or incrimination of others that could be used as evidence in civil, criminal, or disciplinary proceedings

Biographically inspired works have also appeared in other literary genres and art forms, notably the film à clef.In theatre Victor Hugo's banned play, Le Roi s'amuse, forms the basis for the opera Rigoletto. Dreamgirls, the Broadwaymarker musical and the film of the same name, both based on the career of The Supremes. In the TV series X-Files episode "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man", the Cigarette Smoking Man gets a short story published based on his life in a magazine titled, "Roman A Clef".

Notable romans à clef


Verse and drama

See also


  1. "Dictionary of literature in English" By Neil King, Sarah King, Taylor & Francis, 2002, ISBN 1579583814, 9781579583811, pg.116 - entry for 'nonfiction novel' references 'faction'
  2. "The Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature" By Steven R. Serafin, Alfred Bendixen, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005, ISBN 0826417779, 9780826417770, pg. 525
  3. So I Don't Write About Heroes: An Interview with Philip K. Dick Uwe Anton, Werner Fuchs, Frank C. Bertrand, SF EYE #14, Spring 1996, pp. 37-46
  • Amos, William (1985) The Originals: Who's Really Who in Fiction. London: Cape ISBN 0722110693
  • Busby, Brian (2003) Character Parts: Who's Really Who in CanLit. Toronto: Knopf Canada ISBN 0676975798

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