A Gentleman and a Rogue

Friday, April 1, 2011

History Saturday - Victoria Holt, Part 1



Never regret. If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience.
Victoria Holt

******

By: Stephanie Burkhart

One of the first authors I read as a teenager that left a resonating impression with me was Victoria Holt. And while I sheepishly admit that I can't remember my first Victoria Holt novel, I recall that I loved the ambience of her novels, the gothic settings, the spooky mansions, and the clever heroine. These elements of storytelling echo in my own paranormal romances.

So who was Victoria Holt? Enjoy this first part of a three part series.

Victoria Holt was a pen name for Eleanor Alice Burford. She was born on 1 September 1906 near London. Young Eleanor claimed to have inherited her love of reading from her father, Joseph Burford.

Eleanor loved London and considered herself lucky to have lived there. As a young woman, she went to business college and studied shorthand, typewriting, and languages. She also worked for a jeweler.

In her early 20's, Eleanor married George Hibbert. Married life gave her the freedom to follow her writing.

In 1961, Eleanor created the Victoria Holt pen name. Her first novel as Holt was "Mistress of Mellyn." Her intention was to revive the once popular genre of gothic romance. Very deliberately, she set her stories in gloomy old manors and usually in the 19th century. Most of Holt's gothic romances are told in the first person by the heroine who is usually a governess or a ladies companion.

What made Eleanor stand out is that she carefully researched these novels to capture a certain degree of authenticity. The Victoria Holt pen name was her biggest money earner.

Despite her wealth, Eleanor lived a simple life. Her only hobby was generally to take a 2-3 month cruise in the winter. Typically, she wrote 5 hours a day, 7 days a week, beginning at 7:30 am. She usually had finished 5,00 words by noon. In the afternoon, she personally replied to fan letters. It's amazing to believe that Eleanor never had a chance to use a word processing computer program and that she typed her novels on typewriters!

Eleanor loved her writing, even taking her typewriter on her cruises. She died 18 JAN 1993 while on a cruise ship during her winter vacation.

Next: Eleanor's early novels and Jean Plaidy.

Question: Do you remember the first Victoria Holt novel you read? Do you have a favorite?

21 comments:

  1. "The Curse of the Kings" was the first and then "The India Fan" came later. It was a toss-up between Victoria and Mary Stewart back in the late 1970s when I was finally old enough to work and buy books on my own! However, eerily enough, most of the paranormal/fantasy novels came through various people I met; and they were not necessarily friends...

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  2. Was there one called "The Shivering Sands"? I think that's what it was called. Loved all that eerie gothic stuff! I think I was in 10th grade when I read it. I didn't know all this interesting stuff about her. Thanks!

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  3. I loved Victoria Holt-Pride of the Peacock, On the Night of the Seventh Moon, Mask of the Enchantress-these are just a few that I lost myself in.

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  4. Thanks for posting about Victoria Holt, Steph! I started with Mistress of Mellyn and read every single one that came after. Yes, Naomi, 'Shivering Sands' was great. I still have several of her books on my shelves here, including 'Lord of the Far Isle' and 'Legend of the Seventh Virgin'. Think I have even more Mary Stewart books! Look forward to your next post.

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  5. My first was 'Shivering Sands' I lived in Cornwall at the time and loved her gloomy castles on cliff edges, her brooding heroes and cold patriarchs. I thought I had read most of her novels, including the Jean Plaidy historicals, but this post made me look up her bibliography and I found titles I haven't seen before. So thank you Steph I am going hunting!

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  6. Nice write up, Steph. I don't recall my frist Victoria Holt book. I do recall sitting on the steps of the library in Newark Delaware waiting impatiently for the doors to open so I could exchange the Holt book I'd taken out the day before for another Holt book. I think she's the reason why I love historicals so very much.

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  7. Here to you Steph. Hoping you'll become the next Victoria Holt.

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  8. Patti, I remember reading "The India Fan." I read several back when I was a teenager, but gosh darn, it's been that long and I can hardly recall the titles. I'm embarrassed. *grin*. I did download Night of the 7th Moon onto my Kindle and I'm looking forward to getting reaquainted with Holt again. Holt for a new age - ebook readers. I doubt she saw the future in that way.

    Naomi, I didn't know this stuff either. It was fun to research her, but I'm discovering she really guard her privacy, but then she died right before the Internet took off.

    Nancy, yes! I remember reading Pride of the Peacock, and yes, it was so easy to lose myself in those worlds!

    Rosemary, Mistress of Mellyn is avail on the Kindle. That's next after Night of the 7th Moon!

    Anita, how cool is that - to live in Cornwall and actually get to see the settings of her novel? Eleanor was a very profilic writer and really embraced the craft. In her heyday, she was publishing 2 Jean Plaidy books a year! Amazing! Doing my research, there were titles even I didn't recognize.

    Susan, Yes! I would do the same. I'd camp out on the steps of the Manchester Library just waiting for it to open so I could get the next Holt book. I agree - I think I love historicals just because I feel in love with her books as a teenager.

    Mona,
    Heck, I'd be happy just to take a winter cruise. hehe

    Smiles
    Steph

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  9. I read them all. I worked in a library and watched for each new one.

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  10. I read Victoria as a teenager, too! I remember Mistress of Mellyn and Night of the Seventh Moon. But I know I read more.

    They were my window on history and a world outside my small town.

    www.patyjager.net

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  11. Lovely post and tribute to a great author. Oh, yes, she was always one of my favorites too, although to name a title now, well, I can't remember.

    My mother-in-law belonged to a book club and always ordered Holt's novels in hardback.After she read them, she would lend them to me. I don't think I missed many.

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  12. Amber, how exciting to work in a library like that. When I was a teenager, I went to the library to get my fix.

    Paty, yes! Definately a window on history and a nice escape from the world. I certainly got lost in her stories.

    Lorrie, I think it would be fun to talk Holt at a book. Do you still have the books or did you give them back to her?

    Smiles
    Steph

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  13. I don't remember the first Victoria Holt I read, but I know I read most of her books. Reading your post has made me want to go back and re-read. I loved the spooky, suspenseful ambience she created. Thanks so much for the reminiscence.

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  14. I wanted to live in one of those spooky old castles or manors, and longed to find a trap door in the fire place. I loved Holt's novels and can still recall many details from her books. Just don't ask me which ones go where. I do know I read many, if not all, that were mentioned in the comments.

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  15. Hi Steph, I'm a huge fam of Victoria Holt. I read her as a teenager and she has certainly influenced my Victorian historical romances. And what a great quote of hers!

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  16. Great blog, Steph! I don't have a favorite V.H. book, I think her life was what I remember most. And I did the Jean Plaidy books while living in England and I'm looking forward to your blog on those. Linda

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  17. Unfortunately, I've never read a Victoria Holt novel. Must change that. You make her sound so fascinating. Thanks, Steph.

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  18. Leigh, I know the feeling! I downloaded On the Night of the 7th Moon for my Kindle. She's timeless, you know?

    Wylnn, yes, same for me. And now is the time for a re-read, I figure. LOL!!

    Maggi, I'm there with you, Sweetie. She's definately an influence in my paranormal romances.

    Linda, I love the Jean Plaidy books and that's next in my series!

    Beverly, give Holt a try. If you like spooky castles, secrets, and ambience, you'll enjoy her.

    Smiles
    Steph

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  19. Thanks for your share! very impressive!

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  20. I think Bride of Pendorric was the first I read. Whichever one it was, I read it serialized in a ladies' magazine. My mother and I couldn't wait for the next segment to arrive each month. Thank you for giving this history--I always wondered who Victoria Holt really was.

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  21. I read my first Victoria Holt book more than 20 years ago. The story is a bit hazy now, and I would love to re-read it but can't remember the title. The story is about a young lady who was left penniless upon the death of her father and had to go work as a governess in a castle. She fell in love with the lord of the castle, but he had some dark secrets. I think he had a wife/daughter/someone(?) who was sick and kept in locked room in one of the castle wings. Something happened (I can't remember what) and it turned out that his cousin is the one who was trying to kill him and take over his lands. If anyone knows the title of this book, pls let me know. Thanks!

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