Revisiting Victoria Holt, Queen of Gothic Romance

The House of a Thousand Lanterns by Victoria HoltI thought a post about Victoria Holt would be fun especially since the publisher has been reissuing some of them with really nice covers. And Yes. I am reading some new stuff. Mystery, of course. Romance -bah. Didn’t last long for me.

Here’s my brief history with Victoria Holt. I started reading her when I was a senior in high school (back in the 80’s somewhere). Second, my mother introduced me to her and gave me the first book, The House of a Thousand Lanterns, to read that I loved, loved, loved. Last, I thought it would be great to revisit some of her best books in the hopes of getting new readers to give her books a try (maybe).

When I first started reading romances, Victoria Holt was _it_ for me. If you’ve read a gothic romance before then you already know the formula for most of them: innocent heroine, world experienced hero who is mostly cloaked in shadows due to a somewhat shady past. He whisks her off her feet and into marriage (maybe) and then that’s where the doubts start and the suspense kicks in. And yes, the bedroom door was always firmly closed. Most importantly, there was always love and adventure!

Often the profession of most of the heroines were that of a governess. It was the only position for women who had no money or who were considered a poor relation considered a burden by family. The setting for most of these stories took place all over world: France, England, Africa, China, Germany, etc. Heroes were Comte’s, French Counts, among other titles and more importantly, unforgettable. Most of them.

When I remember my favorites, I have to reflect and ask myself: what was so special about Victoria Holt’s books that made me want to read them all? For starters, I loved the banter between the hero and heroine. Often the hero was always trying to woe his lady love and the heroine was often resistant. In some books, the hero was already in a loveless marriage or his wife died under suspicious circumstances. It was the courtship that stood out, duh.

Brief Background Info For Victoria Holt

Eleanor Hibbert who also wrote as Victoria Holt died in 1993. She’d sold 100 million books at the time of her death. Her first book, Mistress of Mellyn, was written in 1963. It is one of my favorites. She’s had many pen names but the ones most recognized by readers are Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr.

The Jean Plaidy pen name is synonymous with her historical fiction novels. I’ve yet to read those but they’ve been reissued with really nice covers. She’s written about the Tudors, Queen Victoria, Lucrezia Borgia, The Stuarts and the Plantagenet’s to name a few. Like I said, I’ve never read any of her Jean Plaidy books and but I have collected them from over the years.

The Philippa Carr pen name is more of her light historical romance(s) with some suspenseful elements to them. I think. It’s kind of hard to pin down big differences from her Victoria Holt books. I’ve read a few of these and enjoyed them. My absolute favorite by her was Voices In a Haunted Room. The story was very different from her others in that you had a romance that would be best described as adulterous and it had an ending that was less than happy (sort of).

The Victoria Holt pen name tended to be her novels of romantic suspense. I’ve read just about all of them with the exception of maybe about four of five of them. Least favorite of hers: Snare of the Serpents and Seven for a Secret. The rest were all memorable to some degree but if I had to list my absolute favorites, here are the titles I think are worth checking out:

Favorite, Timeless Victoria Holt Stories

Mistress of Mellyn (1963)
The House of a Thousand Lanterns (1974)
The Judas Kiss (1981)
The Bride of Pendoric (1963)
The Silk Vendetta (1987)
Devil on Horseback (1977)
The Road to Paradise Island (1985)
The Captive (1989)
The Pride of the Peacock (1976)
The King of the Castle (1967)
On the Night of the Seventh Moon (1972)
The Shivering Sands (1969)
The India Fan (1988)
Kirkland Revels (1962)
My Enemy, The Queen (1978)
Lord of the Far Island (1975)

as Philippa Carr

Voices in a Haunted Room (1984)
The Black Swan (Daughters of England series) (1990)
The Pool of St. Branok (1988)
The Changeling (1990)
The Miracle At St. Bruno’s (1972)

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About Keishon

Voracious reader of just about everything.
This entry was posted in Avid Musings, Reader's Corner and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Revisiting Victoria Holt, Queen of Gothic Romance

  1. Tara Marie says:

    GREAT POST!! What a blast from the past. I loved Victoria Holt/Philippa Carr, and haven’t read her since high school, never read Jean Plaidy. Definitely need a UBS run to find some of these–hopefully they’ll have something.

  2. Wendy says:

    I read some Victoria Holt in high school – and for me it was the gothic atmosphere that hooked me. I remember really liking The Devil On Horseback and The Silk Vendetta – but after that my memory is like a sieve.

  3. Christina says:

    I, too, was introduced to Holt by my mother when I was in HS (also in the 80s). My first book was Lord of the Far Island. For years, she was my favorite. I wish I hadn’t got rid of her books. I’ve re-bought some of my favorites.

    Funny you mentioned Carr because I was just thinking she’d make a great reading challenge. What set Carr book apart from the Holt books was the fact that they were a series of sorts. The first book was The Mircle at St. Bruno’s, set in the time of Henry VIII. The narrator of the second book, The Lion Triumphant, was the daughter of the heroine of St. Bruno’s. It normally progressed from mother to daughter; however, in some cases, the next book in line was narrated by the sister/half-sister and a couple had two narrators (either mother/daughter or sisters). You could follow the family history from the time of Heny VIII to the World War II era and how they were impacted by the politics and upheveals of the times. I’ve always wanted to read the series from beginning to end, but I had a hard time finding certain books (thank goodness for ebay and Amazon Market Place).

  4. SarahT says:

    Another great post! I’ve never read anything by Victoria Holt. I might have read a Jean Plaidy at some point but it would have been a looong time ago. I must look up some of those titles. Thanks!

  5. Avid Reader says:

    As I was researching this post for my favorite titles there are still quite a few I would like to read and I am in the process of trying to locate them as we speak. Thank you guys for dropping by and I hope, that, if you read her, you’ll let me know if you liked her stories or not!

    Also, er, while all the books I listed are good, there are heroes that remain with me to this day that I read & salivated over from The Devil on Horseback, The Judas Kiss, The House of a Thousand Lanterns and The Bride of Pendoric.

  6. Avid Reader says:

    @Christina: THANKS for the breakdown. I didn’t read enough of the Carr books to realize that they were all connected in some way so thank YOU.

    @Wendy: Great minds 🙂 Loved those two books as well.

  7. Christina says:

    @Avid Reader:

    You’re welcome! I still have the family tree for quick reference. 🙂

  8. jmc says:

    I loved Victoria Holt/Jean Plaidy. Never read her Philippa Carr books, not sure why.

    Her Plantagenet books fostered my love of British and European history. And her gothicky romances made my teenaged heart flutter. There’s one set in Australia that I loved…can’t remember the name but it was set in the opal mines. My library had an “if you like” feature, and after reading all of the Holt books they had, I went on to read most of Phyllis Whitney’s backlist. I think that’s how I ended up reading Marion Chesney’s early trad-like series, too.

    Am going to have to look her backlist up and go one a re-reading binge.

  9. Avid Reader says:

    @jmc:

    My library had an “if you like” fea­ture, and after read­ing all of the Holt books they had, I went on to read most of Phyl­lis Whitney’s back­list. I think that’s how I ended up read­ing Mar­ion Chesney’s early trad-like series, too

    I remember trying Phyllis Whitney but it just didn’t take. Unless you have a few recs for me? Have you read Mary Stewart? She’s good, too. Will need to look up Marian Chesney…

  10. Evangeline says:

    Victoria Holt was the first author I read when I finally ventured out of the YA section at 16/17. I have every single copy of her Holt titles in a prominent position on my bookshelf because I re-read them quite, quite often. Like you, what sets Holt apart from other copycats was the banter–the heroine’s were extremely smart and despite falling into questionable circumstances (I remember being scandalized by Pippa’s illicit relationship with Conrad in The Judas Kiss), they retained their wit and dignity. But more importantly, Holt set her books all over the world–I know so much about the Victorian British Empire because of her books (I hear she spent the majority of her writing career living on round-the-world cruises). I’ve read a few Plaidy books, but as I’m not interested in the lives of the royals, I pass on them. But phew! Her Philippa Carr novels? I didn’t know they were a mother-daughter-mother-daughter,etc series (spanning from the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII up to the eve of WWII) until I read six or seven and realized some of the characters repeated. And those were some melodramatic, scandalmongering books! Adultery, illicit relationships, near incest (gawd, Voices in a Haunted Room and those twin brothers?!), death, etc–the Carr titles killed every romance novel convention. But they were good. Because of Victoria Holt, I tracked down any and every gothic romance I could get my hands on, and it remains my absolute favorite genre.

  11. Evangeline says:

    @Avid Reader: I wouldn’t recommend reading a bunch of Whitneys in a row. As I said, I tracked down every gothic I could find (though Whitney is more of a direct ancestor of romantic suspense than Holt) and since Whitney was fairly prolific, I tackled her backlist. After fifteen or so books I realized she recycled her plots and her characters and only changed the settings. Also, some of them made me so angry (The Stone Bull still heats my collar after all these years *g*). However, I do have Vermilion, Rainbow in the Mist, The Singing Stones, Sea Jade (historical), Silversword, and Black Amber as titles I did enjoy enough to re-read.

  12. EmilyW says:

    I loved Victoria Holt. I believe I read through her books when in my early teens. My favorite that I still remember having quite an impact was The Queen’s Confession. She made Marie Antoinette and her extraordinary life come alive for me.

  13. jmc says:

    @Avid Reader: I loved Whitney’s Sea Jade. I remember enjoying Black Amber, The Turquoise Mask and Vermilion. It’s been a while since I’ve reread any of them other than Sea Jade, though, so I’m not sure I would necessarily recommend them.

    Marion Chesney is the pen name of M.C. Beaton, I think. I read her Seven Sisters Regencies. I have a soft spot for them and for Lady Godolphin, a god-awful malaprop use as comic relief. The heroines were distinctive, and not necessarily “likeable”: one was a bit priggish and pedantic, another very selfish and vane, etc. They are OOP, I think. And they’d been removed from circulation at my local library when I checked a couple of years ago, feeling nostalgic and hoping for a reread.

  14. Avid Reader says:

    @Evangeline: Hey thanks! I remember when I tried reading Phyllis Whitney, it just didn’t have that same gothic feel to them and one book I read by her was rather boring so I put off reading her. I don’t mind going back and trying a few titles. Thanks so much for contributing to the discussion! You nailed it as to why Holt’s books were my favorites. I plan to reread one or two of them and also try to track down a copy of “The Secret Woman” as I’ve always wanted to read that book. I think it’s in third person (which is what I hated at the time) because thanks to Victoria Holt, everything had to be in 1st person. 🙂

  15. Avid Reader says:

    @jmc: I’ll see what I can do to track one of these down. Thanks again!

  16. Rosie says:

    I’m late to the party, but when I was catching up with my blog hopping and saw this post I just had to comment. From time to time I mention that during my high school years my Mom worked night shift at a local hospital on the OB floor. One of the other nurses was an avid reader of gothics. I used to get paper grocery bags full of books by Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, and a myriad of the early Harlequins. It was awesome. I still have musty old, yellowed copies of some of those books HOUSE OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is one of them.

  17. Avid Reader says:

    @Rosie: Thanks for sharing Rosie! Appreciate it. Even as I was going through my bookshelves, I missed a title, Menfreya in the Morning. Another good Victoria Holt book. There were so many good ones. Sigh.

  18. I’m new here. Quite honestly, I was looking up gothic romances and happened across this wonderful post by AvidReader. It brought me back (as I was also reading these in high school in the 80’s). I was addicted to Gothic romances and the entire recipe of the genre. When I wasn’t reading them, I was doodling my own gothic book covers, complete with the majestic white stallion in the moonlight with an ominous mansion nearby.

    So what did I do? I grew up to be a writer, and I try to use that recipe in my books because I have to belive that if I enjoyed them so much, surely there must be others out there as well.

    Thank you AvidReader for validating my theory. It’s good to see others like me out there!

    Maureen

  19. Mary Lee says:

    I am about 10 months late on this post.. but tonight I was looking up a book I read in high school.. then started looking on amazon for other books that I loved.. one of my favorites was Victoria Holt “The Pride of the Peacock” which was the start of my love for Victoria .. I also loved Phyllis Whitney.. sadly the only two books I have right now are “Seven for a Secret” Victoria Holt and “The Golden Unicorn” Phyllis Whitney…will be soon getting more.. want to share them with my teenage daughter who LOVES to read.. It was kewl thinking back to the 80’s when I was reading all the time.. thanks for your blog..

  20. Keishon says:

    @Mary Lee: Sorry about the late reply but thank you. I enjoy hearing from Victoria Holt fans.

  21. Mary Lee says:

    @Keishon: well after reading your blog I have been looking on amazon and going to find local used book store will have to visit on my off day .. I want to reread some of the books I remembered reading your BLOG 🙂 and as I said share with my daughter

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