Mary Stewart died on this day in 2014. To mark this anniversary, I’d like to share some of my favourite facts about her. Please let me know if you have any facts, comments or thoughts you’d like to share.
1. Her name
Mary Stewart was born Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow. What a name! I first came across the surname Rainbow as Mary Stewart’s maiden surname and I am enchanted by it. No wonder she signed some 1950s manuscripts as Mary Rainbow, even although by then she was married to Frederick Stewart. Mary Rainbow is a fabulous name, even without the added bonus of those middle names. But in a way, it is too wonderful and sounds slightly fake, more like a nom de plume than a real name. Her married name, Mary Stewart, has a touch more gravitas as an author name – and of course it is an excellent name for a writer who had moved to Scotland as it is so close to Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. When Frederick Stewart was knighted in 1974, it added the final touch to her name as it meant that she became Lady Mary Stewart – although of course I think her true title is Queen of Plots…
2. Her childhood sassitude
I submit two pieces of evidence as to young Mary Rainbow’s sassy attitude. First, as she discusses in her interview with Jenny Brown for Off the Page, Mary was so determined to learn to read – aged three to four – that she ‘cried and cried and cried’ until she was included in her older brother’s reading lessons.
I learned to read very very early actually. I could read by the time I was about four because my brother was 18 months older than I was, and so my father taught him to read before he went to school. We went to school at five. And I was so jealous that I remember making terrible scenes – I must have been 3 ½ to 4 or something, I can remember this – and I cried and cried and cried until I was included on the lessons. It was ‘the cat sat on the mat’ for some time I suppose but I remember being given, well before I was seven, Arabian Nights and Hans Anderson, of course the Bible, and fairy stories.
As well as being totally focused on getting her own way, wearing down her Anglican vicar father until he gave in, our second pointer to sassitude is that young Mary was apparently a tom-boy. That’s right, the writer of elegant, exquisitely dressed, poised heroines like Charity, Gianetta and Christy was a tom-boy – I love this perspective, as given by Grace Clark nee Gamble, the girl employed to help look after the young Rainbow children (for more information, see one of my earlier posts here).
3. Her talents and interests
Mary Stewart had many interests outside of writing. In fact, one of her earliest ambitions, as discussed in her autobiographical booklet ‘About Mary Stewart’ and elsewhere, was to be a painter. She illustrated her early childhood stories and her artistry was developed during her schooldays:
I made history (school history anyway) by passing all six grades of the Royal Drawing Society examinations by the age of thirteen, and had drawings hung in Junior Exhibitions at Burlington House.Mary Stewart in ‘About Mary Stewart’ (1970, 1973)
Although Mary would have liked to study art at university, she ‘had a living to earn’ and instead studied English, with a view to becoming a teacher. All the same, she kept up her drawing – in her 1971 essay ‘The Loch’ she wrote of drawing rare birds with burnt matches when she had neither camera nor pencil to hand, and the published essay is accompanied by a small drawing of birds, signed ‘MS’.
Other interests from her school and university days are shown by her having been House Cricket and Tennis Captain, President of the Women’s Union, and having swum for Durham University where she ‘set up one record (probably broken by now)’. She wrote in ‘About Mary Stewart’ of her love of gardening (‘the best and most satisfying hobby in the world’), natural history, and the ancient history of Greece and Rome. There have also been mentions of her composing music, riding horses and acting in amateur productions. I can’t imagine the talent, commitment and passion required to write as well as Mary Stewart, let alone all her other achievements on top!
4. Her marriage
Something I have read over and again of Mary Stewart’s writing is of the ‘insta-love’ between her characters, with the implication that this is unrealistic. But just take a look at Mary’s marriage to Fred Stewart: in 1945, they met in May, were engaged in June and married in September! Seems quick but not quite instant? Then consider this:
The couple remained married until Fred’s death in 2001.
5. Her love of animals
I adore how much time and love Mary had for animals. They permeate her books, not just cats like Hodge and dogs like Rommel, but also horses, dolphins, pigeons, ferrets, and the baby birds that I recently quoted her as protecting in The Loch. They were prominent in her life too – the dog following her around in the Off the Page interview and photographs of her with cats: the earliest photo I have seen of Mary Stewart is a 1954 newspaper article where she is hugging a cat. I could – and perhaps will!- write a whole blog post about her love of animals. For now, on the anniversary of Mary’s death, I would like to finish with these lines from her poem to her cat Troy, called ‘To Troy Dying’, one of the poems in Frost on the Window and other poems:
Time will run on, the dreams we dream
Building a certainty
From passionate hope, that past the dark
You'll wait in light for me.