Monday, April 28, 2014

When Life Reads Like a Novel

You know how every once in a while you come across someone whose life sounds like something out of an over-the-top movie? Have you ever heard of the novelist F. van Wyck Mason?

Born into an old patrician Boston family, Mason grew up in Berlin and Paris, where his grandfather was in the Foreign Service. At the age of 16, he ran away from home to fight in World War I, somehow managing to enlist in the French Army, where he distinguished himself so well he rose to become an officer and earned the French Legion of Honor. He then went home to prep school (one has to wonder how that worked out) and, while earning his BS from Harvard, was arrested for murder (it was a mistake). He then started an import business and spent years traveling the world, trekking through Russia, Asia, Africa, and the West Indies; he even spent nine weeks on a caravan in the Sahara and rode across South America on a horse. And then, at the ripe old age of 26, he decided he wanted to be a writer.
He first became famous for a series of mystery/espionage novels about a James Bond precursor named Colonel Hugh North, who was basically Mason himself: polished, elegant, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, lethal. He also wrote a number of historical adventure novels and a ton of short stories. Oh, and in between he reenlisted for WWII, became a member of Eisenhower's staff, and was one of the first allied troops into Buchenwald. He died while swimming off the coast of Bermuda at the age of 76.

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite novels was Van Wyck Mason's Rivers of Glory. Then I lent the book to my friend Betty and never saw it again. I can remember desperately trying to get it back before I moved to Australia (the first time), but no luck. Over the years, I forgot about it until, a few weeks ago while cataloging my books for the book sale, I found myself thinking about it. I realized that while I could visualize my old tattered hardcover (my copy didn't have the dust jacket), I could recall neither the title nor the author's name. But then, a couple of days ago, thanks to that marvelous thing called serendipity, I was reading about authors associated with Bermuda and one name, F. Van Wyck Mason, leapt out at me. I stared at it; could that be him? I turned to Le Google, discovered that he had also written historicals, and eventually tracked down my old favorite's title.

While I probably wouldn't like it if I were to encounter it for the first time today (talk about politically incorrect!), there is no denying that Rivers of Glory is one of those books that had a tremendous impact upon my development as a writer. Out of curiosity, I intend to track down some of those old Hugh North books. What's amazing to me is how completely Van Wyck Mason is forgotten today, given how successful he was in his time--probably because Hollywood never translated any of his works to the silver screen. Have you ever heard of him?

18 comments:

JustWingingIt said...

I've never heard of him but, wow, does he make me feel like an unproductive sloth. Now HE sounds like the most interesting man in the world. lol

Veronica

Anonymous said...

C- I'm with Justwingingit - God I feel like I have done nothing! Wow what a life. But sadly this is the first I have heard his name. I just popped his name into Alibris and there is a bunch of stuff there including Rivers of Glory - and I did see a hardcover for sale. Don't know if you ever have used them but I have some good stuff with them. Oh and glad to hear about Banjo! Best, Ali
PS- Good luck with #11!

cs harris said...

Veronica, that's the kind of life that is nice to have lived but scary as hell when you're actually living it.

Ali, the funny thing is I actually left out some bits!I have used Alibris and will I suspect be making them wonder why the sudden run on Mason.

Suzanne said...

What an amazing man. I have never heard of him either but will be adding him to my authors to look for list. I very much enjoy John Buchan's books, so these sound just like the sort of books I would enjoy. Thanks for sharing this with us.

I often find that when reading old books I just have to shut down my instinctive reactions against political incorrectness. They thought differently in the past and nothing can change that. We just have to realize how fortunate we are to live in an age where things like racism and sexism are not acceptable anymore.

Susan J. said...

Do you find when re-reading books you read when young, that you see more in them than you did previously? For example, I read somewhere that Virginia Woolf said that the Jane Austen you read when sixteen is not the Jane Austen you read at sixty. Now that I'm sixty, I would say that is very true.

Anonymous said...

I was very curious and found several of this books on Amazon.

and Yes I ordered one--just to see

cs harris said...

Suzanne, I think you're right; I don't allow myself to get annoyed by, say, Dumas, so when dealing with someone from a different era, even if it is close to our own, one just needs to let it go.

Susan, that's an interesting topic. Although I recently reread Little Women and disliked it every bit as much as I did as a child! (my apologies to all LITTLE WOMEN fans out there)

Anon, you'll have to tell us what you think! I haven't gotten around to ordering any yet. I find it odd I never looked in the library for more books by him when I was a teenager.

Lynne said...

Nice story and interesting man, Candy. If you find his books somewhere let us know...I'd never heard of him but he sounds like he's worth trying out. I've discovered a couple of authors I'd never heard of on Amazon, among the free e-books that show up now and then. I think because some of these older books/authors are out of copyright range they can be reproduced free in e-book form. This fellow sounds like a perfect candidate.

cs harris said...

Lynne, I've looked to see if they're available in ebook form, free or otherwise, but haven't found them. I wonder who his heirs are? They seems to simply be sitting on the rights, which is a shame. I don't think he had any children.

Vicki said...

I am not at all surprised to hear that you read his stuff. I discovered his books at the library when I was very young (probably to young to read them) but I loved them. I enjoyed the historical stuff more than the espionage of the Hugh North, but I read everything I could get my hands on. I think I may still have a few old paperbacks around, I'll have to dig them out.

Susan.J said...

I liked 'Little Women' and all the follow on books as a child but would probably find them a bit sentimental and dated now.

Henryk Baran said...

Hi, I did read some of his historicals many years ago, but none of the espionage novels. Probably hard to find in public libraries nowadays, given the way they purge older books!
HB

cs harris said...

Vicki, I wish I had read more of his books. I'm still puzzled that I never found him in the library. But it was a tiny library and I'm not sure I specifically looked. The book I read was given to me by my grandmother.

Susan, I think my problems with it were 1) it didn't have the action and adventure I loved as a child, and 2) those girls were all TOO good.

Henry, I'm thinking the same thing, that they are probably gone from the libraries. It's so frustrating. And they're not in ebook.

Susan J. said...

I seem to remember I liked 'Good Wives' better. I liked the story of Jo feeling lonely when she had to get away after she had refused Laurie and felt the need to strike out on her own. She shared her feelings of being an outcast with the kindly mild mannered German Professor who she eventually married.

cs harris said...

Susan, I never read that one. I didn't get beyond Little Women and Little Men.

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