A birthday remembrance: September 1, 1906

This year I have been attempting to read one book per month by Hibbert, and while I haven’t quite kept up, I have read a great mix of the pseudonyms: Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt, Alexa by Eleanor Burford, The Young Elizabeth, The Young Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Jezebel, Meg Roper, and (started) The Lion of Justice by Jean Plaidy — and plan to read Saint or Sinner? by Eleanor Burford, Such Bitter Business by Elbur Ford, another Holt novel, and finally begin the Carr series!

I have many, many more years of reading Eleanor Hibbert’s entire works ahead of me–her contribution to readers of historical fiction is priceless. In remembering her on her birthday, along with the giveaway, I am re-posting the most complete author bio (for those who have not read it), printed on the Book-of-the-Month editions. Enjoy!

Born in London in 1906, Eleanor Hibbert was the unusually reclusive “real person” behind three of the most popular pseudonymous authors of our time–Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, and Philippa Carr. The Identity of Victoria Holt was such a well-kept secret, for instance, that many readers assumed she was Daphne du Maurier. If Hibbert herself was little known, her work was well loved: she wrote some 200 books that have sold 100 million copies worldwide.

Hibbert began writing in her teens and in her early twenties married a man deeply supportive of her career. History was her first love, and her well-researched historical novels, published under the name Jean Plaidy, brought Hibbert her first devoted readers. In England, some of the Plaidy books became required reading in history classes.

Best-seller status came in 1960 with Hibbert’s first romantic suspense novel, Mistress of Mellyn. An effort to recreate the atmosphere of Jane Eyre, it marked a new direction for the novelist, who signed the book Victoria Holt. Philippa Carr did not have her debut until 1972, with The Miracle at St. Bruno’s, in which Hibbert sought to mingle history and fiction in a new way, bu focusing on the life of a family caught up in famous historical events.

Hibbert shunned publicity, dedicating most of her time to the writing she loved. She wrote in a penthouse overlooking Hyde Park in London. She also owned a thirteenth-century home, King’s Lodging, where both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I once were guests. Considering the success of her work, Hibbert’s lifestyle was modest, and she reportedly paid 98 percent of her income to the British government in taxes.

Though critics tended to ignore Hibbert’s work, a number were impressed by her skill. One New York Times reviewer, after reading a Victoria Holt book that he did not consider as strong as her others, still found himself captivated. “It’s hard to say objectively, just why…this is so intensely readable and enjoyable.” he wrote. “But somehow the magic…is still there.”

Hibbert was untroubled by the prolific pace she set for herself. “Writing excites me,” she said, “It’s the most stimulating thing I can do. I live all my characters and I never have any trouble thinking of plots or how people would have said something or other because I’m them when I’m writing. I’m not me at all.”

Hibbert died in January 1993.