''Unjustly neglected': reclaiming Victoria Holt as a pioneer of Neo-Victorian fiction

PhD Thesis

Jones, A. 2020. ''Unjustly neglected': reclaiming Victoria Holt as a pioneer of Neo-Victorian fiction. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Humanities and Educational Studies
AuthorsJones, A.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

Victoria Holt (a pseudonym of Eleanor Hibbert (1906-1993)), has received very little critical attention and she is not yet accepted as a neo-Victorian author. In order to reclaim her, this thesis investigates her work as a neo-Victorian response to the Victorian era. In addition, it uses her novels to ‘talk back’ to current neo-Victorian criticism. Employing a variety of critical lenses to reflect the varied genres embedded in sensation fiction, the thesis examines Holt’s novels as historical, Gothic, crime and romance fiction in conjunction with analysing them as neo-Victorian sensation fiction. By using selected novels as case studies, it reveals their influential innovations in these genres. Holt’s intertextual use of Victorian fiction also co-articulates matters of socio-political concern, particularly issues relating to the position of women. Examined in the context of second wave feminism and late twentieth-century legislation, her work shows an unrecognised politicised slant which the thesis uses to problematise the perception of her as an author of ‘popular’ fiction.

Holt’s work is especially impactful in relation to the neo-Victorian canon, which is still developing. There is a currently unrecognised convergence between her novels and established neo-Victorian texts including Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), Beryl Bainbridge’s Master Georgie (1998) and Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith (2002). Reclaiming Holt as an author of neo-Victorian sensation fiction, the thesis contributes to knowledge surrounding the early development of neo-Victorianism, expands the neo-Victorian canon and restores justice to a neglected but important author.

KeywordsVictoria Holt; Neo--Victorian Fiction; Historical fiction; Gothic fiction; Crime fiction; Romance fiction
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Deposited04 Apr 2022
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