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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Guest Post: Joanne Renaud reviews the Bride of Pendorric by Victoria Holt

Posted by Irish in Guest Post3 Comments

Hello Internet! Have I got a treat for you…you see last night I was feeling lazy and not in the mood to blog. But I know that you like to see reviews or something bookish posted here on Tuesdays. So I put out a call on Twitter. Telling people that I was being lazy and asked if anyone wanted to do a guest post for me. Well, Internet, the amazing Joanne Renaud, illustrator extraordinaire, stepped up to the plate and answered my call. We’d been talking about the Gothic Romances of old…I’m talking the 1960’s/1970’s time frame here. We both have an odd love of that genre. They were filled with mystery and suspense and danger lurking around every corner….not to mention had some of the cheesiest covers ever. At least by our more modern standards & tastes. Sort of. Anywho, she’d just recently finished a re-read of Bride of Pendorric and said that she’d be willing to write a post about it for me. Wasn’t that sweet of her? I think so.

So without further ado here are Joanne’s thoughts on Bride of Pendorric. Please leave a comment and let us both know what you think of this Gothic Romance. Also if you want to know more about Joanne and her work then you can read this fabulous interview she did with Alea over at Pop Culture Junkie. Or you can ask her any questions you might have by checking out her Twitter Stream here. Thanks again Joanne, you’re filled with awesome for putting this together on such short notice!

Quick note: I’ll be back later to add some links and the book info to the post so check back later if you’re interested in that.

Eleanor Burford Hibbert, aka Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, Philippa Carr, and almost half a dozen other names, is quite possibly one of the most prolific authors in the English language in the twentieth century. Many of the historical novels she wrote under Jean Plaidy have been recently reprinted, and although I read them in truckloads when I was in junior high, I don’t feel they’ve held up that well. Many of them read like rehashed encyclopedia articles, because she was often writing five of these things in a year. I imagine she got tired of it, but you know, rent had to be paid.
I’m a bigger fan of the Gothic romances she wrote under the name Victoria Holt. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, Gothic romances enjoyed a newfound popularity—authors like Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, Naomi Hintze, and Dorothy Eden wrote suspenseful yarns about women in danger, the sinister men they loved, and crumbling picturesque mansions. Mistress of Mellyn, which could be best described as a frothy mash-up of Jane Eyre and Rebecca, was a breakout hit in 1960, and was even optioned by Paramount. Alas, nothing happened, but thus encouraged, Ms. Holt continued to write a steady stream of Gothics well into the 1970s and 1980s. Bride of Pendorric was written in ’63, and it’s unusual that it’s a contemporary.

It’s hard to tell this at first, since the cover of the 1970s edition I own shows a woman in a really horrible pseudo-Victorian dress, the same color as green antifreeze. But you have characters driving cars and wearing jeans, I guess to remind us that it actually is 1963. But Ms. Holt doesn’t seem to be particularly comfortable writing in the present, since she has the hero (who rejoices in the unlikely name of Roc Pendorric), constantly moaning how the National Trust is going to take over his crumbling and picturesque Cornish mansion, and how it’s too bad his family can’t domineer the local peasantry the way they used to. Doesn’t he sound like a groovy guy? I know I would have loved to attend a Beatles concert with him!

Ms. Holt does far better with plot and atmosphere than she does with characterization, since more than once I wished to slap Roc. The heroine, an artist’s daughter with the equally silly name of Favel Farington, is nice enough—she didn’t irritate me, which is good because she’s the narrator. After a whirlwind courtship where Roc sweeps her from her childhood home in Capri to Cornwall, she capably and sensibly steers through the colorful Pendorric family (who all have bizarre names like Hyson, Lowella and Morwenna), and the equally colorful local inhabitants, who all include familiar Holt types like the scholarly vicar and the gypsy ho. The huge cast is actually pretty confusing. In any case, there is certainly no shortage of people willing to gaslight our heroine, who everyone keeps referring to as “the bride of Pendorric.”

But yes, Favel is being gaslighted. The “Bride of Pendorric” legend apparently involves a bride of the lordly Pendorrics dying a hideous and untimely death, haunting the crumbling mansion, and after some time passing, another bride dying to take her place. But Favel is a little too nice, even-tempered and sensible for her own good. We know she’s never in danger of losing her mind. In fact, she’s pretty much the same as every other heroine ever written by Victoria Holt—an English schoolmarm type so self-contained that she seems to exist within her own bubble. It’s hard to imagine her even raising her own voice, much less bursting into tears or displaying any kind of neuroses.

However, just as I was thinking, “wow, I enjoyed Mistress of Mellyn so much more than this,” the plot picks up. The significance and psychology of twins is much discussed, and then—Favel discovers who has been trying to drive her insane.

I don’t want to say too much more, because the ending was awesome. You can tell that Holt had a background in writing mysteries, because the plot was very well constructed. I did not see the identity of the true culprit—it was very cleverly hidden with several layers of red herrings. The story doesn’t really work as a romance for me, since Roc is a bit of a git. But I think it works quite well as a study in self-delusion, obsession and co-dependence. It’s about how to keep one’s identity, and what it’s like to completely lose it. It’s really quite chilling in the end.

Bride of Pendorric is worth a read, as long as you’re not looking for a deep romance or scintillating prose. But the writing is capable, and the denouement is both surprising and unsettling. So many books start with a bang and end with a whimper. However, to her credit Ms. Holt knows how to write a great ending—which is why I’ll continue reading her, even if she does name her characters Roc and Favel.

3 Responses to “Guest Post: Joanne Renaud reviews the Bride of Pendorric by Victoria Holt”

  1. Christine

    Ah, I love those old Victoria Holt gothics — that’s what I grew up reading, along with the requisite Mary Stewart. I’d also forgotten that Bride of Pendorric was set in the 20th century…which should tell you something. o.O