Jan Cohn was G. Keith Funston Professor of American Literature and American Studies at Trinity College and the author of four other books, including Creating America (1989).
The mystery stories and other popular fiction of Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876–1958) brought her wealth and fame, but she was much more than a writer. She was a well-known American, respected and loved during a time when few women achieved national influence.
Her early life was conventional enough. Trained as a nurse, she met and married a physician, with whom she had three sons. She was living the stereotypical life of a young matron in Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), when her husband’s investments evaporated during a stock market crash. She began writing as a means to supplement the family income.
Rinehart became a prolific writer. In addition to her mysteries, she wrote serious fiction, plays, poems, magazine articles, and editorials. Her regular contributions to the <I>Saturday Evening Post</I> were immensely popular and helped the magazine mold middle-class taste and manners.
In this fascinating account of a woman ahead of her time, Cohn illuminates the tensions that pervaded Rinehart’s life. Rinehart’s commercial success conflicted with her domestic roles of wife and mother; she often endured periods of illness and depression but also pursued adventure, including a job as the first woman war correspondent at the Belgian front during World War I. Throughout, Cohn presents Rinehart as a woman of many complexities whose zest for life always prevailed.
Before movies, radio, and television challenged the hegemony of the printed word, the Saturday Evening Post was the preeminent vehicle of mass culture in the United States. And to the extent that a mass medium can be the expression of a single individual, this magazine, with a peak circulation of almost three million copies a week, was the expression of its editor, George Horace Lorimer. Cohn shows how Lorimer made the <I>Post</I> into a uniquely powerful magazine that both celebrated and helped form the values of the time.