Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Girl Thing: Victoria Holt & Jean Plaidy Are the Same Woman

Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert, aka Jean Plaidy & Victoria Holt

I almost left a bookstore with a box of Victoria Holt novels.  I very much liked the idea.  The clerk and I agreed the mass-market paperbacks were "like new" but she wanted to get rid of them.  

"I can cut you a deal."

Nobody needs a box of Victoria Holt. My husband thought it very strange that a lover of classics would want to read Gothic novels with cover blurbs like the following:

"Lovely Ellen Kellaway knew very little about her past.  Orphaned as a child and taken in by her arrogant cousin as a 'poor relation,' she was grateful when the handsome young son of a wealthy family asked for her hand..."

I think you will agree it's a girl thing.

Victoria Holt turns out to have been Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert, the author of 200 novels under eight pseudonyms, the most famous being Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, and Philippa Carr.  By the time of her death, Plaidy's historical novels sold 14 million copies worldwide, according to Fantastic Fiction.

I realized I'd never read Plaidy, I thought.  And I had a copy of Murder Most Royal.  I'll read my Victoria Holt later.

So, guess what?  I'm hooked on Jean Plaidy.

Murder Most Royal is the fifth in her 11-volume Tudor Saga. Websites sort these by order of kings and queens, not by publication date.  Murder Most Royal is actually the first, published in 1948.  

Plaidy's novel is the story of Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII's second wife) and Catherine Howard (her cousin, and Henry VIII's fifth wife). According to Plaidy's novel, which pretty much complements the biographies, with some divergences, Anne was brilliant, manipulative, and politically shrewd.  Wanting power, she did not have sex with Henry till he took serious steps to divorce poor Katharine of Aragon, his devout first wife who did not have a son. When the Pope wouldn't approve the divorce from Katharine, Henry, encouraged by Cardinal Wolsey, broke from the church.  When Anne was pregnant, she and Henry had a private wedding.  

Anne has her enemies:  among them Cardinal Wolsey, her Uncle Norfolk (whose own daughter was once a mistress of Henry), and Princess Mary.  She has lesser enemies of whom she is not aware:  Jane, her sister-in-law, who is envious of Anne's power.  Anne lives for politics, not for love.

Catherine is a much simpler creature:  can't read, is pretty, and is introduced to sex young when she lives at her grandmother's house in a dormitory of ladies who meet their lovers by night.  It is easy to see she will be a pawn of Henry when she grows up.  

What I really like about Plaidy's book are her historical insights .  This is not strictly a romance--it's not romantic at all, since Anne can't follow her instincts, and Henry gets rid of the young man she loves.  

Cardinal Wolsey, who rose from almoner to the Lord Chancellor and more or less ran the king's court, is one of the most interesting characters.  Plaidy points out that "his true religion was statecraft."  And she shows us how he thinks in a few choice paragraphs.  Actually, I would like to read a whole novel about him. The pre-Cromwell Wolf Hall...

Plaidy writes of Wolsey:
"He was well hated, as only the successful man can be hated by the unsuccessful.  That he had risen from humble circumstances made the hatred stronger.  'We are as good as this man!'  'With his luck, there I might have gone!'  So whispered the people..."
"The cardinal was brooding on the secret matter of the King's.  It was for him to smooth the way for his master, to get him what he desired at the earliest possible moment, and he who had piloted his state ship past many dangerous rocks was now dismayed.  Well he could agree with His Majesty that the marriages of kings and queens depend for their success on the male issue, and what had his King and Queen to show for years of marriage but one daughter!"
I'm very much enjoying this entertaining novel and recommend it for leisure hours.  So much fun to read!


Tony S. said...

Sort of like Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine, both the same person.

Frisbee said...

Yes! There's also Joyce Carol Oates and Rosamund Smith.

But Plaidy-Holt-etc. is more in a "lower class." Pop lit!

Anonymous said...

I read an article a while back, excellent, on Victoria Holt's fiction. The author did not say she was the same person who wrote under others names, e.g. Plaidy. Maybe a lot of people don't know.


Frisbee said...

That is possible, Ellen. I never knew until recently.