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The term roman-à-clef is a borrowed or loan word, from the French. A borrowed word or loan word is a term that has been taken from another language and used as an English word. We will examine the definition of roman-à-clef, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A roman-à-clef is a novel which depicts real-world people and events, with fictional names. Usually, details concerning the people and events are changed in minor ways in order to sustain the pretense of fiction. The amount of fictionalization in a roman-à-clef can vary widely. The term roman-à-clef is derived from a literary form invented by French author, Madeleine de Scudéry, in the 1600s. She wrote novels concerning public figures of the day. The term  roman-à-clef literally translates as “novel with a key”. The plural form of roman-à-clef is romans-à-clef. Note that both terms are properly rendered with hyphens and an accent above the a, though they are often seen without the hyphens and accent. Some examples of romans-à-clef are The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Primary Colors by Anonymous, and The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, by Jimmy Breslin.


We enter the world of international society as Capote bargains with an editor at Esquire to serialise his mostly unwritten roman-à-clef, Answered Prayers, in which scandals attached to thinly disguised socialites form riveting anecdotes in what Capote claims to be a chapter in a major novel to come. (The Arts Desk)

But Marriage Vacation, a roman à clef written in the show by the character Pauline Taylor Brooks, and in real life by Jo Piazza, is different. (Publishers Weekly)

Sex and the City evolved over its six seasons from a gritty New York City roman à clef to a full-blown glossy romantic comedy presented in tidy 30-minute installments. (Elle Magazine)