As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I’m blogging each Friday about a woman author in history.
This week, I choose Eleanor Hibbert, better known as Victoria Holt, Philippa Carr, and Jean Plaidy.
Eleanor Alice Burford was born in 1906 in an area that is now part of the London borough Newham. She inherited a love of reading from her father, Joseph Burford, a dock worker. Due to health issues, she was educated at home. She discovered her fascination for the past when she visited Hampton Court in her teenage years. At the age of 16, she attended a business college where she studied shorthand, typewriting, and languages. She worked for a jeweler where she weighed gems and typed, and also worked as a language interpreter in a café for French and German speaking tourists.
In her early twenties she married George Percival Hibbert, a wholesale leather merchant about twenty years older than herself, who shared her love of books and reading. She was his second wife. During World War II, they lived in a small cottage in Cornwall, that looked out over a bay called Plaidy Beach. The pebble beaches, high cliffs and treacherous blue waters served as the setting for many of the Victoria Holt romantic suspense novels.
After her marriage, Eleanor achieved the financial independence she needed to begin writing. London’s many historic monuments and royal personalities inspired scenes and characters in her novels. She was also influenced by visits to British historic homes and their architecture.
Eleanor became a prolific author who wrote more than 200 books that sold worldwide, with more than 100 million copies in print in twenty languages. She wrote in different literary genres, each with a different pen name: Jean Plaidy for fictionalized history of European royalty; Victoria Holt for romantic suspense romances, and Philippa Carr for multi-generational family sagas. She also wrote light romances, crime novels, murder mysteries, and thrillers under a variety of pseudonyms.
In 1989, the Romance Writers of America presented her with the Golden Treasure award in recognition of her significant contributions to the romance genre.
I knew none of this when I first discovered a Victoria Holt book at the county library. I was probably fourteen or so at the time, and my mother would read books by a new-to-me author first to make sure they were appropriate for a girl of my age. After reading one Victoria Holt story, we both were hooked! She wrote wonderful romances with rich characters, intriguing mystery, and sweeping settings so full of detail I could clearly picture them in my mind.
The India Fan was one title that stood out to me with such incredible description, it was more like watching a movie play through my mind than reading.
I had no idea at the time I was devouring her books that I would one day become a sweet romance author, but I do feel like reading the stories Eleanor wrote inspired me to want to deliver the same kind of experience to my readers. To paint vivid pictures with words and deliver memorable characters.
Far ahead of her time, she once said she wrote about “women of integrity and strong character” who were “struggling for liberation, fighting for their own survival.”
Although Eleanor passed away in 1993 on a cruise ship, her legacy as a romance writer remains.
You can still find her books today in many libraries, used book stores, and from outlets like Amazon.