Wednesday, May 21, 2014

In Memoriam - Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart was born Mary Rainbow (isn't that lovely!) in 1916 obtained a classical education, graduating with first class honours in English in 1938. She taught until the end of World War II when she met and married Frederick Stewart, a scientist who was later to be knighted making her Lady Stewart. In the 1950s the couple moved to Edinburgh where she continued to teach and to support her husband whose career required travel and entertaining. He, in turn, encouraged her writing and was her first reader. Her first novel was published in 1956 - Madam, Will You Talk.

For more information about Stewart's life read the obituary in The Guardian.

Stewart's novels were the products of careful research and precise revision. Her romantic and Gothic suspense novels were placed in exotic settings and featured exciting story lines. Stewart's main appeal, at least for me, were her female characters - "my young ladies" as she called them. I suspect much like Stewart herself, they were well-educated, competent and sensible young women who could handle all the adventures Stewart threw at them. In 1976 Touch Not the Cat Byrony Ashley communicates telepathically with an unknown man she considers to be her lover. When she receives a message that her father has been killed, she returns to England to puzzle out his last mysterious words and to find her unknown lover.

Many readers consider her Merlin trilogy to be her greatest accomplishment. Merlin the Enchanter series began in 1970 with The Crystal Cave. "With its mythic mists and galloping legends, fifth century Britain is fair game and Miss Stewart takes to whole cloth with a couturier's skill. This time applied to Merlin--a seer, Arthur's evil genius and resident engineer--all depending on whether you have your faultless facts from Geoffrey of Monmouth, Malory, Tennyson or a ouija board ... In any case this is all Merlin's tune--from childhood as a despised bastard at the court of his grandfather the King, with his mother, the King's daughter, who wasn't telling who downed her in the dell. Then after secret tutorials in the cave of an old clairvoyant and scholar, Galapos, an escape to Count Ambrosius, a ruler who turns out to be. . . . Many ceremonials, prophesies and wars later, Merlin accomplishes his greatest coup--a procurement exercise resulting in the conception of Arthur by Uther Pendragon out of the Lady Ygraine. Period play, ripe and windy, for ladies easily lulled--and there are many of them." Kirkus.

 Here is an interesting and rare interview with Mary Stewart discussing her Merlin novels many years after they were written.

Her final book, Rose Cottage, was published in 1997 and was return to her stories of romantic and Gothic suspense. "When Kate Herrick's grandmother asks her to visit her childhood home, Kate is curious about the changes she may discover there. Rose Cottage and Todhall village seem unchanged at first, but then there is disturbing evidence of a break-in, and there are tales of night-time prowlers and even ghosts." Discover.

A 1992 interview with Mary Stewart can be found on Youtube.


  1. I was lucky enough to have an english teacher allow me to do a book report on The Crystal Cave when others in my class were reading a book I couldn't stand. That was the start of my love of fantasy/Arthurian novels. If It wasn't for Mary Stewart I doubt I would be reading Game of Thrones 40 years later!

    1. Thank goodness for such teachers! In grade 12 we were given The Fellowship of the Rings. Best English class ever!