atherine Gore's best-known novel, Cecil, or Adventures of a Coxcomb (1841), purports to be the autobiography of a companion of Lord Byron. Cecil Danby, who later becomes Lord Ormington, is himself a Regency dandy and a Byronic figure. As the novel's unreliable first person narrator, he sheds a witty and at the same time conflicted and thus doubly revealing light on the Regency and, most significantly, its Victorian reception.
Although often simply read as an essentially elegiac account of Regency elegance, anticipating the twentieth-century popularity of the Regency Romance, Catherine Gore's Cecil novels, in fact, reassess the Regency for the Victorian age and its principally middle-class readers, catering at once for a popular demand for largely escapist renditions of an earlier age and a lost elegance and for the sense of superiority indulged by the sedate middle classes by exposing the sordid side of the Regency's superficial glitter. Winifred Hughes speaks of the "bittersweet tone of the Cecil novels, in which Gore combines a revival of the old sparkling comedy of manners with an elegy for its irrevocable loss" (192), yet Andrew Elfenbein has shown in his recent article on “Silver-Fork Byron and the Image of Regency England” that there is a much darker side to Gore's rewriting of the Regency. In that Victorian silver-fork novels “bring women to the centre of their plots to suggest that carefree Regency men, including Byron, cause considerable suffering to the women with whom they are associated” (78). Gore's most successful novel shares this preoccupation with the rewriting of an attractively repulsive Byronic figure with Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Pelham; or The Adventures of a Gentleman (1828), which can be seen as having established the silver-fork formula and also Benjamin Disraeli’s Venetia (1837), which is, like Gore's novel, closely modelled on Byron's life.
The sequel to Cecil, or Adventures of a Coxcomb, Cecil, A Peer, also published 1841, thereby testifying to the amazing rate in which Gore turned out novels, proved not as successful as the first of the Cecil novels. Catherine Gore's later silver-fork novels, in fact, map the genre's demise from the mid-century onwards.
Elfenbein, Andrew. “Silver-Fork Byron and the Image of Regency England,” Frances Wilson, ed. Byromania: Portraits of the Artist in Nineteenth-and Twentieth-Century Culture (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1999), 77-92.
Gore, Catherine. Cecil; or the Adventures of a Coxcomb. London: Richard Bentley, 1845.
Hughes, Winifred. “Elegies for the Regency: Catherine Gore’s Dandy Novels,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 50.2 (1995): 189-209.
Last modified 2 December 2002