Here’s a post by Sherwood Smith: Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, and the Silver Fork Novel
The first Regency novels were launched by Henry Colburn, who made his name in publishing by instituting such well-known works as Burke’s Peerage. He made a killing in fiction by schmoozing bored aristocrats and aristocratic wannabes into writing novels. Since in those days most novels, especially by women, were published anonymously, he just had to let gossip get out that someone “high” was coming out with a roman à clef. Not only was that an assured sell for the middle classes, who apparently had an endless appetite for the high life and the low life, but it also assured sales among the beau monde who wanted to see who was caricatured in it—after they made sure their own name wasn’t there, either in easily penetrated cipher, or by the coy em-dash, as in Duchess of D——e. …
Silver fork novels might contain an element of satire—there were two novels about Almacks, both called Almacks, castigating it as nothing but a marriage mart for aristocrats—but underneath the caricatures was a sustained and unquestioning admiration for birth, riches, and exclusivity. The most risible satire is bestowed on instances of mauvais ton; otherwise, authors hadn’t a thing to say against flagrant consumption, as long as it was done with style.
Sherwood Smith then goes on to set Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen within this tradition. It’s a long post, but well worth reading — especially if you enjoy Regency romances, or historicals that are “Regency in form,” like the Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan.