Emily Sarah Holt, and the Despensers Meet Jane Austen

As longtime readers of this blog know, I’ve mentioned Emily Sarah Holt a few times here. Holt, who wrote historical fiction in the nineteenth century, wrote one of the first novels about the Despenser family, In Convent Walls. Her novels aren’t for everyone–among other things, they’re intensely anti-Catholic, and most of her good characters are incipient Protestants–but they were quite well researched. In Convent Walls centers around the Despenser girls who were forced into convents by Queen Isabella.

Anyway, I paid a pretty penny for my copy of In Convent Walls several years ago, which means, of course, that it’s now available as a reprint on Amazon, along with a number of other novels by Holt. (Higginbotham’s Rule: When you find and buy an out-of-print book after years of searching, it will soon be reissued at a fraction of the price that you paid for it.) Holt’s White Rose of Langley, which features the very same Constance of York you’ll recognize from Brian Wainwright‘s excellent novel, Within the Fetterlock, is also available as a reprint on Amazon and on Kindle, though you can also read it for free online.

Holt wrote several novels set during the Wars of the Roses, including one featuring Anne Neville’s stint as a kitchenmaid and one about Perkin Warbeck, but they seem pretty hard to come by. Perhaps some accommodating person might bring them back into print?

Speaking of the Despensers, the late Joan Aiken wrote several Jane Austen sequels before they became as ubiquitous as they are now. One, Jane Fairfax, features this amusing little snippet:

Mrs. Fitzroy had been a Despenser, as she lost no time in informing any new acquaintance considered worthy of the honour; one of her ancestors had been the last Justiciary of England and another had been the Earl of Winchester, executed in 1322 by Queen Isabella. “No doubt she had her reasons,” Colonel Campbell was in the habit of darkly muttering to himself when he chanced to hear one of his mother-in-law’s not infrequent repetitions of this piece of history.

1322? Ah, well. It’s still entertaining.

Oh, I keep forgetting to mention that Maurice Druon, author of Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings), died on April 14. I was sad to hear of his death, though I have to admit that I found his depiction of Edward II and Hugh le Despenser to be a tad over-the-top. Still, he seems to have led a fascinating life; there’s a good obituary of him here.

2 thoughts on “Emily Sarah Holt, and the Despensers Meet Jane Austen”

  1. Thanks for the tip about In Convent Walls! I’m dying to read that one.

    I didn’t know Maurice Druon had fought in the French Resistance till I read his obituary recently. So did Pierre Chaplais (who wrote the book about Piers Gaveston and died a couple of years ago), who survived about 15 months in Buchenwald.

  2. Emily S Holt is a reminder that the attitudes of the Victorian age are as far from our own as the Middle Ages. She is so bigoted against Catholics she makes Ian Paisley seem positively ecumenical. A bit of a handicap when writing about medieval people you might think, but of course her good guys tend to be Lollards.

    She did research her books however, and her novels often contain a useful appendix – her interpretation skills are often very dodgy though.

    Actually when you read Holt (and I admit I do so as a sort of peverted pleasure) you realise how wonderfully ‘modern’, talented and under-rated Jane Austen was as a writer. She is a thousand times more readable than Holt, and yet lived half a century further away from us.

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