Forgotten Authors: No 7: Victoria Holt
Sunday 28 September 2008
Stay with me - this gets complicated. Victoria Holt's real name was Eleanor Hibbert (née Burford), born in Kensington, 1906.
After signing books as Elbur Ford (a contraction of her birth name), she used pseudonyms including Jean Plaidy (a name taken from a Cornish beach), Philippa Carr, Kathleen Kellow and others, and wrote around 200 historical novels. She sold staggering amounts, in the region of 100 million copies. Lately, there have been some excellent reissues of the Plaidy titles, so it's a good time to rediscover Britain's most popular historical novelist. She was feted for blending accurate period detail with strong plots and rich characterisation, so what happened to "The Queen of Romantic Suspense"?
Burford was first published in 1941 for an advance of £30. Soon she was writing about Catherine de Medici, Charles II, Katherine of Aragon, Marie Antoinette and Lucrezia Borgia. Her style had enough gusto to draw polite applause from the critics, but her public adored her. This wasn't enough; she chronicled criminal cases, then embarked upon great cycles of novels in chronological order, covering the Normans, Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, Georgians and Victorians. She branched into gothic romance, mystery, non-fiction and children's books, and particularly enjoyed portraying feisty women of independence and integrity who fought for liberation.
Her viewpoints ring true; Hitler, she says in The English Are Like That, made the fatal mistake of frightening the English. Hamlet, she notes, is not incapable of action; he kills his man three times in the play. It's hard to find anyone with anything bad to say about her ideas, which makes her disappearance even stranger.
Perhaps her ubiquity rendered her disposable; popularity rarely guarantees posterity. Then there were those horrible pastel covers that reminded one of Quality Street chocolates. The truth is that popular historical fiction for women became unfashionable, just as surely as men stopped reading tales of kings and explorers. In came chick-lit and laddish stories that eschewed any mention of our past collective history. Hibbert died on a cruise between Greece and Egypt, in her 80s. "Never regret," she once said. "If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience."
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 If I were Prime Minister: I'd give tax cuts to the rich, keep Trident, and get my football team wrong
- 2 Italian police 'reveal' what Jesus looked like as a young boy
- 3 General Election 2015: 14-year-old boy asks Nick Clegg – 'can you kill Katie Hopkins?'
- 4 University student in court for allegedly covering housemates' food in window cleaner and spit
- 5 Ryan Gosling posts tribute to 'Ryan Gosling Won't Eat His Cereal' creator Ryan McHenry
Top Gear: Jodie Kidd, Philip Glenister and Guy Martin 'in advanced talks' to join show
Eurovision 2015: What date is the song contest and who are the favourites to win?
Game of Thrones, season 5 episode 4, review: Sansa in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Jar Jar Binks is going to die unceremoniously in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
JK Rowling is 'really sorry' for killing off one of your favourite Harry Potter characters
In defence of liberal democracy
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
General election live: SNP suspends two members for disrupting Labour rally