Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow was born on September 17, 1916 in Sunderland, County Durham, England. Her father, as a young adventurer, had sailed around Cape Horn to New Zealand, where he met and married Mary's mother. The couple returned to England, and he started his career as an Anglican clergyman. Mary was their first child, and was followed by a son and another daughter.
Writing and storytelling always came easily to Mary, and she began writing and illustrating at the age of five. She started at Durham University in 1935, and received a First Class Honours B.A. in English in 1938 and a teaching certificate in 1939. Her goal was to become an English professor at Oxford, but at the time of her graduation WWII had made jobs scarce, and she settled for a job teaching elementary school. In 1941 she was offered a post at Durham University and taught there until 1945. She also received a M.A. in English during this time.
She met her future husband, Frederick Henry Stewart, in 1945 at a VE Day celebration at the university. It was a costume party, and she says, "He was not hard to spot; he was the chap wearing a girl's gym tunic and a red ribbon in his hair. He looked quite dreadful, but he had a lovely voice." They were married three months later. After her marriage, Mary continued teaching part-time and began to focus on her writing. At the urging of her husband in 1953, she finally sent the manuscript of Madam, Will You Talk? to a publisher and was offered a contract by Hodder and Stoughton. The book was an instant success. She continued publishing about one book a year from 1955 until 1980, each becoming a best seller.
Mary's hobbies include gardening and the study of natural history, especially wildlife, plants, and flowers. She also has an avid interest in ancient Rome and Greece, as well as painting and theater. All these interests appear extensively as themes throughout her work.
Mary and her husband moved to Edinburgh in 1956 when Frederick was appointed Regius Professor of Geology at Edinburgh University. They traveled extensively, and these trips provided inspiration for the spectacular and exotic settings that her novels are so famous for. Frederick Stewart died in 2001, and Mary continues to live in Edinburgh.
Mary Stewart's legacy as an author is vast. She is considered by many to be the mother of the modern romantic suspense novel. She was among the first to integrate mystery and love story, seamlessly blending the two elements in such a way that each strengthens the other. Pamela Regis writes, "Stewart's influence extends to every writer of romantic suspense, for Stewart understood and perfected this hybrid of romance and mystery and used it as a structure for books so beautifully written that they have endured to become part of the canon of the twentieth-century romance novel." Popular authors continue to list her books among their favorites and cite her as influential to their own work. And even thirty years after publication, her books continue to be reprinted again and again.
Her Arthurian novels have become classics, mostly because of the quality of the writing, but also because of their originality. Her retelling of the story was groundbreaking because it is so different from standard versions: Merlin is the narrator, not King Arthur; they are set in the 5th century, rather than the 12th ; and the settings and customs of this time period were thoroughly researched and meticulously described. Her stories take a beloved, if rather tired, legend and make it fresh again.
Mary Stewart has always been hesitant to categorize her novels, uncomfortable naming them thrillers, or mysteries, or romances. She says, "I'd rather just say that I write novels, fast-moving stories that entertain. To my mind there are really only two kinds of novels, badly written and well written. Beyond that, you cannot categorize...Can't I say that I just write stories? 'Storyteller' is an old and honorable title, and I'd like to lay claim to it."
Please visit our Mary Stewart bibliography to view the resources used to write this biography.