According to J.E. Luebering of the Encyclopædia Britannica, a roman à clef ("novel with a key") is a work of fiction that has "the extraliterary interest of portraying well-known real people more or less thinly disguised as fictional characters." This tradition apparently began in 17th-century France, "when fashionable members of the aristocratic literary coteries...enlivened their historical romances by including in them fictional representations of well-known figures in the court of Louis XIV." Modern novels, short stories, films and television dramas have dutifully, sometimes scandalously, continued this longstanding tradition:
- Somerset Maugham's 1919 novel, The Moon and Sixpence, the saga of an English stockbroker who abandons his family to become an artist and live out his years pursuing his passion in Tahiti, was loosely based on the life of French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Gauguin. The novel was adapted to the screen in 1942 (starring George Sanders), served as the basis for an opera of the same name in 1957 and made its way to television in 1959 with Laurence Olivier in the starring role.