I’d never heard of Eleanor Alice Burford Hibbert until I prepared to write this author review, but I had certainly heard of Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Phillippa Carr. I knew they were all the same woman, but I didn’t know who that woman was until I looked it up.
Eleanor Alice Burford was born in Kensington in 1906. She learned how to read at the age of four and devoured every book she could find. She had inherited her love of reading from her father, himself a bibliophile. She attended a business college and learned secretarial skills, being put into the work force to help support her family through a difficult time.
When she met and married George Percival Hibbert, she realized that her circumstances would now allow her to write, something she had wanted to do her entire life. Goodbye, secretary job.
Eleanor went on to write over two hundred novels. That astounds me! As she moved around from genre to genre, she changed her name to keep the readers straight, and because of this, many readers didn’t realize the books were all written by the same person. I know I didn’t.
She wrote thirty-two novels as Eleanor Burford, simply her maiden name. Some of the books published under this name were “Daughter of Anna,” 1941, and and “Passionate Witness,” 1941.
She also took on the name of Jean Plaidy, publishing such books as “Beyond the Blue Mountains,” 1948, and “The Goldsmith’s Wife,” 1950. She came out with eighty-five novels under this name, which is highly impressive on its own merits but when you take into consideration that these are her most historical and must have required a great deal of research . . . wow.
When she wrote as Elbur Ford, she published five books, not the least of which are “Poison in Pimlico,” 1950, and “The Flesh and the Devil,” 1950.
Pen name Kathleen Kellow graced us with eight novels, and Ellalice Tate provided five, while Anna Percivel only came out with one. However, as Victoria Holt, she wrote thirty-three, and it was as Holt that I first became acquainted with this lady. My favorites her are “Mistress of Mellyn” and “Mask of the Enchantress.” Next to Jean Plaidy, this is probably Eleanor’s most famous personae. Only slightly less well-known is Philippa Carr, who provided us with twenty-two books of her own.
As I looked into the life of this woman, I was unable to determine much about her personally, and so I began to conjecture. We know she was a woman of great imagination, and the themes of her novels tell us that she was a romantic. She must have had a flair for the dramatic, enjoyed beautiful clothing and jewels, and found rogues to be irresistable. I couldn’t find any indication that she had children, although, given that she wrote two hundred books, I’m inclined to think she didn’t (but would love to be corrected if I’m wrong.)
Although Eleanor wrote in several different genres, her books carry common themes. They are all either Gothic or Victorian in flavor, feature suspense and mystery, a damsel in distress, and her flight to freedom. They’re the type of book that you love to curl up with on a rainy day and just enjoy for the sheer escapism of it all.
She died at sea somewhere between Greece and Egypt at the age of 86. An exotic way to die – but it suited her. Why should this queen of the unusual setting die anywhere else? The legacy she left in print is astonishing and she has been sorely missed.