Het is al dertig jaar geleden dat Eleanor Burford is gestorven. Ik durf wedden dat deze naam bij niemand onder jullie een belletje doet rinkelen en toch is zij één van de meest gelezen schrijfsters van de twintigste eeuw. De reden waarom haar naam ons niks zegt is tweeledig. Enerzijds gebruikte zij tal van pseudoniemen. Zij was actief in diverse genres en voor elk genre gebruikte ze een ander pseudoniem. Anderzijds wordt het meeste van haar werk tot pulpliteratuur gerekend en bijgevolg wordt er weinig aandacht aan besteed. Toch heb ik ergens op het internet (ik ben natuurlijk weer slordig geweest wat bronvermelding betreft) een ernstig en uitgebreid stuk over haar gevonden. Ik heb het een beetje ingekort en bewerkt. Het resultaat vindt u hieronder.

Eleanor Burford was a British author who wrote under various pen names. Her best-known pseudonyms were Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, and Philippa Carr; she also wrote under the names Eleanor Hibbert, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Anne Percival and Ellalice Tate. By the time of her death, she had sold over 100 million books.
At the height of her career in the 1950s and 1960s, as Jean Plaidy Eleanor Burford was Britain’s most popular historical novelist. Although all her novels were ‘fictionalized history’, they were all very carefully researched and based on the works of leading contemporary historians.
Eleanor Burford is also well-known for the Gothic romances she wrote under the name ‘Victoria Holt’. For her massive ‘Daughters of England’ saga, spanning more than four centuries, she used the pseudonym ‘Philippa Carr’.
She always regarded her work as “pure entertainment”. “I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born and raised in London,” she later wrote, “and to have had on my doorstep this most fascinating of cities with so many relics of 2000 years of history still to be found in its streets.”
In her early twenties, she married a leather merchant, George Hibbert (she was his second wife), who shared her love of books and reading. “I found that married life gave me the necessary freedom to follow an ambition which had been with me since childhood; and so I started to write in earnest.”
After reading 50 romances she wrote one herself, “Daughter of Anna”. The book was a success when it was published in 1941, and she was contracted to produce one novel (later two) each year. All these novels were published under her maiden name, Eleanor Burford. She wrote twenty such books between 1941 and 1955, and a further ten for Mills & Boon in the years from 1956 to 1962.
More interesting are the four superb crime novels which Eleanor Hibbert wrote under a condensed variant of her maiden name, ‘Elbur Ford’. These are based on the cases of four of the most celebrated and infamous murderers of the nineteenth century: Dr. Edward Pritchard (Flesh and the Devil, 1950); Adelaide Bartlett (Poison in Pimlico, 1950); Euphrasie Mercier (The Bed Disturbed, 1952) and Constance Kent (Such Bitter Business, 1953).
During the war, the Hibberts lived in Cornwall, not far from a scenic and secluded beach called Plaidy. It was this that gave Eleanor the idea for her best-known pseudonym, ‘Jean Plaidy’. The first of her novels to appear under this name was “Together They Ride” (1945). This was clearly inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” and “Frenchman’s Creek”. Over the next 15 years, Plaidy devoted her energies to bringing to life the historical characters, mainly from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (e.g. her two books based on the incredible life of Lucrezia Borgia).
In addition to her 77 ‘Jean Plaidy’ novels and five nonfiction titles, she also wrote eight novels under the name ‘Kathleen Kellow’ between 1952 and 1960. Several of these ‘Kathleen Kellow’ novels are in the crime and mystery genre.
Equally well received were the five historical novels she wrote between 1956 and 1961 under the alias ‘Ellalice Tate’ (adapted from her mother’s maiden name, Alice Tate), most notably “Defenders of the Faith” and “The Scarlet Cloak”. Both these books, along with two by ‘Kathleen Kellow’ (“Lilith” and “It Began in Vauxhall Gardens”), were reissued in the late 1960s under the better-known ‘Jean Plaidy’ pseudonym.
Despite the great success of her ‘Jean Plaidy’ books, she continued to write light romantic novels under the name ‘Eleanor Burford’ until the early sixties. Miss Burford was finally laid to rest, however, when a brand new name burst on the scene: that of ‘Victoria Holt’ (taken from that of her bank) with the intention of reviving the once-popular genre of gothic romance. Having made a close study of the fiction market, she had shrewdly decided that there was a huge potential readership for romantic suspense stories set in gloomy, old manor houses, a type of fiction which had fallen into neglect since its heyday in the mid-nineteenth century. Holt’s first novel, ‘Mistress of Mellyn’, was published by Collins in 1961, with the author’s identity deliberately kept secret as a publicity gimmick. Many readers were convinced that ‘Victoria Holt’ must be a pseudonym of Daphne Du Maurier, as the atmosphere of the book was very similar to that of “Rebecca”, and Du Maurier was known to intensely dislike the label of ‘romantic novelist’. However, it was eventually revealed that ‘Victoria Holt’ and ‘Jean Plaidy’ were one and the same person. ‘Victoria Holt’ has proved to be Eleanor Hibbert’s biggest money-spinner. The works she has written under that name have been translated into 20 languages and achieved worldwide sales of over 75 million books – surpassing those of her ‘Jean Plaidy’ titles.
Eleanor Burford’s last pseudonym was ‘Philippa Carr’, adopted in 1972 for a new sequence of novels covering the years between the Reformation and the end of the Second World War. These books formed what came to be known as the ‘Daughters of England’ series. Each one is narrated by a woman of the time, and centres around authentic historical episodes. Although not quite as popular as the ‘Victoria Holt’ and ‘Jean Plaidy’ books, each one is borrowed from British libraries at least 300,000 times a year, putting ‘Philippa Carr’ amongst the 100 most requested authors.
The least well-known of Eleanor Burford’s many pseudonyms is, without any doubt, ‘Anna Percival’, which she used for just a single novel: “The Brides of Lanlory” in 1960, It’s not clear why she abandoned this name so quickly but, if nothing else, it offers a rare challenge to the collector!
After the death of her husband in the 1960s, Eleanor Hibbert continued to lead a simple life, despite her vast wealth. Her writing left her with no time for hobbies, although she went on a two or three month cruise every winter (the places she visited often crop up in her ‘Victoria Holt’ novels). She even took her typewriter with her on her cruises, working each morning in her cabin just as she did at home. ‘I love my work so much that nothing would stop me writing,’ she once said. ‘If I take even a week’s break, I just feel miserable. It’s like a drug.’ She was at her typewriter when she died suddenly on January 18th 1993, on a cruise ship sailing from Athens to Port Said.

Ronny De Schepper

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