Spring 2008

Silver Forks, Golden Memories and Library Treasures

UCLA Faculty Center


Edward Copeland, Pomona College — The Lost Chord: Jane Austen and the Silver Fork Novel
Diana Birchall, moderator — Panel Discussion of Golden Memories
Mimi Dudley and Claire Bellanti — UCLA Treasures: Perfect Specimens from the Sadleir Collection


Edward Copeland, professor emeritus of English at Pomona College and past president of JASNA-SW, spoke about Jane Austen’s influence on “silver fork” novels. His talk showcased the ways in which novels of fashion and high life in the 1820s and 1830s “turned Austen’s novels into a source for wholesale plunder.”

He recently edited Sense and Sensibility (2006) for the Cambridge University Press Edition of Austen’s novels and co-edited (with Andrea Hibbard) for Pickering & Chatto an edition of Catherine Gore’s silver fork novel Cecil: Or, the Adventures of a Coxcomb (2005). He is the co-editor (with Juliet McMaster) of The Jane Austen Cambridge Companion (1997) and author of a study of Austen’s contemporaries, Women Writing About Money (Cambridge, 1995). He has published essays on Richardson, Defoe, Fielding, Cleland, Burney and other 18th century figures. Most recently his work has been on the generation of novelists immediately after Austen: on Italian opera in the silver fork novel, on the London topography of silver fork fiction and on Jane Austen’s relationship to these exotic novels.

Following is an excerpt from his talk:

The usual story, that Jane Austen’s novels in the first 20 years after her death were a taste for the discerning few alone, needs to be brought into line with a more provocative one — that within less than 10 years after 1817, the infamous “silver fork” novels, novels of fashion and high life in the 1820s and 1830s, had turned Austen’s novels into a source for wholesale plunder. In effect, Jane Austen’s novels had become objects of casual literary assimilation far earlier than traditional report would have it — before the Bentley editions of 1832, not after.

The question as to why this early theft from Austen’s novels — plot, characters and dialogue — has gone unexplored is a reasonable one. It may be that Austen’s later Victorian admirers feared these morally questionable novels would be a stumbling block to her place in the literary canon. Or it may be that a traditional historical amnesia concerning these years between the last of the romantics and the first of the Victorians has caused the gap in the record. Nevertheless, Austen’s active ghost life in the years immediately following her death exposes not only a field of kinship presumed by the first generation of novelists to follow her, but also something fresh and new about Austen’s work itself — the striking political and cultural relevance it was to have for novelists in the Age of Reform.

Diana Birchall moderated a panel of several members discussing the “Golden Memories” of the early days of JASNA-SW.

UCLA librarians and JASNA-SW members Mimi Dudley and Claire Bellanti introduced the audience to the treasures of the Michael Sadleir Collection, held by the UCLA Young Research Library Special Collections Department. Their talk described the first, early and illustrated editions of Jane Austen’s novels as well as a variety of  “silver fork” novels from the collection that were on display in the library at the end of the meeting.