Ruth Rendell Biography

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

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Ruth Barbara Rendell was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann, the only daughter of two teachers, Arthur Grasemann, and his Swedish wife, Ebba Elise Kruse Grasemann. Although her parents shared an interest in literature and the arts, their relationship was fraught, causing their lonely daughter to escape into an imaginative world. She had been born in an outer suburb of London, then moved farther out to Loughton, Essex, at the age of seven. She attended the local high school and, after graduating, decided to pursue journalism rather than attend a university.

Rendell worked for some years on local newspapers but felt increasingly restricted by the medium. When she had to report on an after-dinner speech at a local tennis club, she wrote up the whole speech without attending, only to find later that the speaker had dropped dead half way through it. Needless to say, she resigned. She met a fellow journalist, Don Rendell, and they married in 1950. She left journalism altogether in 1953 to raise her son, Simon. She then began writing fiction, as much for her own amusement as anything, also extending her own education. She unsuccessfully submitted several short stories for publication. When she submitted a comic novel, an editor responded, asking her to turn it into a detective novel. Thus, in 1964, emerged Inspector Wexford.

Rendell immediately began developing Inspector Wexford as a series, but at the same time began writing suspense novels about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary inner compulsions and situations, the first one of which was published in 1965 as To Fear a Painted Devil. She wrote, and has continued to write, prolifically, alternating detective and suspense novels. In 1975, her marriage fell apart, and she and her husband were divorced; however, by 1977 they had reconciled and remarried. Rendell received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for the short story “The Fallen Curtain” in 1975 and for “The New Girlfriend” in 1984, the 1976 Gold Dagger for fiction for A Demon in My View (1976), and the 1981 Arts Council National Book Award for genre fiction for The Lake of Darkness (1980). About this time, she and her husband purchased a fifteenth century cottage in Suffolk. This became her preferred place to write, though she also retained a place in London.

As Rendell’s reputation grew on both sides of the Atlantic, she decided to start a third group of novels under the pen name of Barbara Vine, being her middle name plus the family name of a grandmother. These novels were also suspense novels but more historical, more exploratory of the tensions between culture and heredity, the past and the present—and also somewhat longer and a more demanding read. The first of these, A Dark-Adapted Eye, appeared in 1986. At this time, the Inspector Wexford novels were becoming somewhat of a chore for Rendell, written for popular demand. The novels became the basis for a successful television series starring George Barker.

Further recognition came in a series of literary awards. From the Crime Writers’ Association, Rendell received Gold Daggers in 1987 for A Fatal Inversion and in 1991 for King Solomon’s Carpet and a Cartier Diamond Dagger for lifetime achievement in 1991. She was also awarded a Companion of the British Empire (CBE) in 1996, and the next year was created Baroness Rendell of Babergh, partly through her political involvement in a number of causes, to sit as a Labour peer in the House of Lords. She was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in 1997.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ruth Rendell (REHN-duhl) was born Ruth Barbara Grasemann, the only child of a Swedish mother and an English father, both schoolteachers in London. Her early years appear to have been lonely and reflective. Having discovered a talent for writing in childhood, her first work was as a journalist. Following that trade, she met and married, twice, Donald Rendell, a political reporter. Their son, Simon, eventually became a sociologist and settled in...

(The entire section is 1,538 words.)