This will be the first of many posts regarding the novels of Victoria Holt. Her novels would be called cozy mysteries today, but she is just as often classified as a writer of romance novels. Not romance in the Harlequin sense, where each passionate kiss and sexual act is at the very least heavily alluded to and at the most vividly described. Instead, Holt follows in the footsteps of Jane Austen when she writes about matters of the heart, such as, love, sex, and marriage. Her works most of which were published in the sixties and seventies, saw a resurgence in popularity in the early nineties and have gone through several re-printings. I myself have been an avid admirer of her novels since the age of twelve. Now, twenty-six years later I have decided to return to her works to see if they stand up to the test of time, age, and maturity.
I chose for my first reading The Bride of Pendorric (first published January 1963) because I remember reading it all those years ago, but the details of the plot and characters I’d quite forgotten. There were many things I enjoyed about Holt’s romantic, light mystery regarding the young Favel Farington and her devilishly handsome husband Roc Pendorric. Including the underlying sense of menace Holt moves the reader feel for the heroine Favel, who is referred to as only The Bride by the strange, secretive, and certainly supernaturally obsessed Pendorric clan. What came as a complete surprise to me, were Holt’s beautifully written setting details that create a true sense of place for her reader. Here are five of my favorite descriptions from The Bride:
- And there it lay – the most enchanting little village I had ever seen. There was the church, its ancient tower, about which the ivy clung, clearly of Norman architecture, and it was set in the midst of the graveyard. On one side the stones were dark with age and on the other they were white and new-looking. There was the vicarage, a grey house set in a hollow with its lawn and gardens on an incline. Beyond the church as the row of cottages . . . they had thatched roofs and tiny windows and were all joined together – the whole six of them . . . they were the same period s the church.
- There were no dust-sheets here. The huge windows gave me a view of the coast, with Polhorgan rising majestically on the cliff top; but it was not the view I looked at this time., but the room, and I think what struck me most was that it had the look of a room which was being lived in. There was a dais at one end of it and on this was a stand with a piece of music opened on it. Beside the stand, on a chair, was a violin, looking as though it had just been placed there; the case lay open on a nearby table.
- The countryside seemed restful after the rugged coast views, and I was charmed by the greenish-gold of the freshly mown fields and the scarlet of the poppies growing here and there. I particularity noticed the occasional tree, slightly bent by the south-west gales, but taller than those stunted and distorted ones which survived along the coast. I could smell the fragrance of the meadow-sweet growing on the banks mingling with the harebells and scabious.
- The sky was a guileless blue, and the sea sparkled so brilliantly that it was almost too dazzling to contemplate. It was like a sheet of silk with scarcely a ripple in it.
- The sun was shining but I could see the spiders’ webs on the bushes, and beautiful as the Michaelmas daisies and chrysanthemum were they did underline the fact winter was on the way. But because this was Cornwall, the roses were still blooming, and although the hydrangeas did not flower in such profusion, there were still some to brighten the quadrangle.
My next journey with Victoria will be in The King of the Castle. I look forward to more of her cozy murders, Austenesque romance, and vivid descriptions.