Fame and Social Improvement

Most of the silver fork novels deal with social improvement of some sort. One of the major purposes of the genre was to teach the newly-wealthy middle classes how to better themselves socially. Silver fork fiction is populated with ambitious characters; sometimes acquiring a title was the goal, sometimes it was an advantageous marriage, and sometimes it was fame and notoriety.

'Beau Brummell', from “Wits and Beaux of Society” By Grace and Philip Wharton, 1861.

‘Beau Brummell’,
from “Wits and Beaux of Society”
By Grace and Philip Wharton, 1861.

  • “’it was my intention, on quitting Oxford, not to consort with a single fellow less than ten years my senior. At your age and mine, one must live for one’s improvement’” (Cecil 18).
  • “It was the era of great achievements. Laurels were as plentiful as hawthorn hedges; and the trumpet of Fame was almost as familiar as the horn of a mail coach. As Byron used to say, the only distinction was to be a little undistinguished” (Cecil 204).
  • “least of all, did he affect that most displeasing of minor ostentations, that offensive exaggeration of neatness, that outré simplicity, which our young nobles and aspiring bankers so ridiculously think it bon ton to assume” (Godolphin 1:213).
  • “In England, personal distinction is the only passport to the society of the great. Whether this distinction arise from fortune, family, or talent, is immaterial; but certain it is, to enter into high society, a man must either have blood, a million, or a genius” (Vivian Grey 1:50).
  • “I set it down as a maxim that it is good for a man to live where he can meet his betters, intellectual and social” (Sketches and Travels in London 232).
  • “’He is the son of heaven knows whom, and has risen in the world, heaven knows how. One part by talent, perhaps, – ten parts by impudence certainly. He has, however, contrived to gain the entrée of some of the best circles, for if not liked he is feared, which answers his purpose as well, possibly better’” (The Three Eras of Woman’s Life 1:159).
  • “’There are the Penleys – look at them ; there is an instance of mere fashion. They are people of neither family nor fortune; they have been living for the world, and at the world, and are always studying effect – laying trains for invitations, and angling for acquaintances. As soon as the labours of the town season are over, they set off to the watering places in search of ‘Desirables’ . . . they are what my friend, Lady Ashborne, calls ‘laboriously elegant’ – so maniérée – so dressy always tricked out with such wonderful care in the newest Frenchifications’” (Herbert Lacy 1:82).
  • “’You would easily make a sensation, – but a sensation is a vulgar triumph. To keep up the excitement of a sensation, you must always be standing on your head, (morally speaking,) and the attitude, like everything overstrained, would become fatiguing to yourself and tedious to others. Whereas, to obtain permanent favour, as an agreeable well-bred man, requires simply an exercise of the understanding’” (Cecil 35).

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