Mary Roberts Rinehart was born August 12, 1876 in Pittsburgh. She would attend the Pittsburgh Training School for Nurses where she graduated in 1896, the same year she married Dr. Stanley M. Rinehart.
Early in her career Rinehart did write some nurse fiction, but she is best known for both her mainstream and mystery fiction. The famed phrase “the butler did it,” dates to her novel “The Door” where in fact the butler did do it, however Rinehart never actually used the phrase in her story.
Enclyclopedia Brittanica credits Mary Roberts Rinehart’s first short fiction appearance as being in a 1903 issue of Munsey’s. I printed out 4-1/2 pages of her short fiction credits from the excellent FictionMags Index and the earliest story they give her credit for is also in Munsey’s but the February 1905 issue. This just leads me to wonder how many pages I’d have to print out if I came across a complete listing of every Mary Roberts Rinehart magazine appearance!
Arranging the FictionMags list chronologically shows that most of her earliest magazine appearances did come in Munsey’s as well as The All-Story Magazine and a few others such as Blue Book. But with her first sale to Saturday Evening Post coming with “The Borrowed House” serialized over the August 14 and 21, 1909 issues, Mary Roberts Rinehart had found a regular home for her fiction for the decades to come.
While she does appear in other magazines Rinehart showed up in the Post several times per year throughout the teens and twenties, and often enough after that up through 1953. Her “Tish” stories about Letitia Carberry originally appeared in the Post and were a mainstay throughout the years of her relationship with the magazine. Tish was a strong character who often broke accepted stereotypes and is thus considered an important feminist model.
Mary Roberts Rinehart also published quite a bit of fiction in book form beginning with “The Circular Staircase” in 1908, the first of more than 50 books. “The Circular Staircase” itself is an interesting bit of Americana as Rinehart later adapted it into a play titled “The Bat” which was a success in 1920. In 1926 “The Bat” was adapted into an effective silent film starring Jack Pickford and Louise Fazenda and is often credited with having a big influence on Batman.
In addition to “The Bat” Mary Roberts Rinehart also wrote seven other plays, several poems and special articles. This brief biography was actually inspired by one of our Random Issues, the May 29, 1915 edition of The Saturday Evening Post in which Rinehart reports from the front in Ypres. She was a war correspondent during World War I and eventually published many of her reports in 1915’s “Kings, Queens and Pawns.”
At the time of her death in 1958 Mary Roberts Rinehart had sold over 10 million copies of her books. She died in New York City and was buried with her husband in Section 3 of Arlington National Cemetary.
Historically she is remembered more as a popular period writer than as an especially talented author. That said, she has many fans to this day and her magazine appearances are moderately collected, especially her “Tish” stories in the Post.
Personally, I have only read her report from Ypres in the issue of the Post mentioned above. It was well-written and quite descriptive, definitely enlightening read as a historical piece today. I’m not a huge fan of mystery, but based upon the report I read I would give a Mary Roberts Rinehart mystery a try the next time I come across one.
Her work was said to have influenced more respected writers, even Agatha Christie to some degree, so even if the public doesn’t remember Mary Roberts Rinehart as well as they probably should, at least she had the respect of her peers.
- “Mary Roberts Rinehart.” Arlington National Cemetary Website. 1 May 2006. < http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/mrine.htm >
- “Mary Roberts Rinehart.” Wikipedia. 1 May 2006 < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Roberts_Rinehart >
- “Rinehart, Mary Roberts.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service. 1 May 2006 < http://www.britannica.com/eb/article?tocId=9063715 >.