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Madness, Monks and Mutiny: Neo-Victorianism in the Work of Victoria Holt

Jones, Amanda

Despite authoring almost thirty Victorian-set novels between 1960 and 1993, Victoria Holt (a pseudonym of Eleanor Hibbert) has received little critical attention. This article examines four of Holt’s novels and reveals key ways in which she ‘talks back’ to Victorian literature, specifically to Jane Eyre (1847), The Moonstone (1868), The Woman in White (1860) and ‘The Children’s Hour’ (1860). In particular, it investigates Holt’s neo-Victorian use of the asylum in her second novel, Kirkland Revels (1962), which highlights neo-Victorian anxieties about the use of the asylum to control women. In doing so, the article draws attention to the contemporary scandal of consigning unmarried, pregnant, yet sane women to Victorian-built asylums, exploring these socio-political anxieties in the context of the Victorian Lunacy Acts, the 1957 Percy Report and the 1959 Mental Health Act. Holt wrote for the mass market and, in examining her work, this article intervenes in the debate about what should, and should not, be included in the neo-Victorian ‘canon’.

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