A roman a` clef is a story of real people and real life but one given the gloss of fiction. Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence mirrors the life of artist, Paul Gauguin, for example. Tender is the Night by Scott Fitzgerald and Look Homeward Angel by Thomas Wolfe are two other notable autobiographical examples of the genre. The reasons for treating real life as fiction are many. To avoid being sued might be one. Another is to use fiction to highlight or give emphasis to a story in a way not possible in biography or autobiography.
I’ve never been tempted to write a roman a` clef though I’ve met some interesting characters in m my life. I prefer to create my own ensemble. Or perhaps, I merely wish to avoid being hated.
Truman Capote exhibited either a foolish courage or ignorance when he allowed portions of his unpublished roman a` clef, Answered Prayers to be printed in the November 1975 issue of Esquire. Those three first chapters, where he skewered the rich and famous with whom he was pleased to consort – people like Gloria Vanderbilt, Babe Paley and her husband Bill, head of CBS — cost him dearly. So thinly veiled was his “fiction” that he was banished from their company and others of their sphere did the same, fearing similar exposure. Needless to say, Capote, a poor boy who had managed to elevate himself into high society by his talent, was stunned. Some argue the expulsion led to his drinking and drug addiction and thereby, ended his life.
Apparently, it never occurred to him that his position among the rich and powerful was conditional and would never withstand his grievous lapse in judgment. Banished from Mt. Olympus, as it seemed to him, he complained, “I’m a writer and I use everything. Did all those people think I was there just to entertain them?” (“Capote’s Swan Dive,” by Sam Kashner, Vanity Fair, December 2012, pg. 212/)
Sadly, the answer to his question was , “Yes.” He was not one of them. They owed nothing to this gay little man. How could genius be so naïve?
(Truman Capote courtesy of bertc.com)