Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Alfred Edward Woodley Mason was born on May 7, 1865, in Camberwell, a southern suburb of London, England. He was the youngest son of William Woodley Mason, an accountant, and Elizabeth Hobill Mason. He was educated at Dulwich College, London (1878-1884), and at Trinity College, Oxford University (1884-1887), where he earned a degree in classics. While at Oxford University, he was interested in acting and in public speaking; he appeared in numerous plays and was a notable speaker in the Oxford Union, the university’s debating society.
On graduation from Oxford, he turned to acting for his first career. Although moderately successful on the stage, in 1894, encouraged by Oscar Wilde, he wrote his first novel, A Romance of Wastdale (1895). Over the next seven years, he published other novels, plays, a short-story collection, and many short stories. He then wrote and published his most successful and famous work, The Four Feathers (1902), which was to set his style of writing, modern adventure, for the next forty years. Throughout his life Mason traveled widely and sought adventure through activities such as exploring, sailing, and mountain climbing. For five years he was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Coventry. During World War I he served in the Royal Marine Light Infantry and was involved in Naval Intelligence Division secret service missions in Spain, Morocco, and Mexico.
After the war, Mason returned to writing and achieved substantial success for the next twenty-five years in a variety of genres, including adventure, mystery, and historical fiction. His best work is considered to be in the historical novels, in which, as he matured as a writer, he showed insight and understanding of character development. Several of his novels were adapted to the screen in the 1930’s (Fire over England, which was published as a novel in 1936, and The Four Feathers, among others). Mason was also a dramatist, although he was far less successful in that area.
Mason’s writing success resulted in his being financially secure; he was also a member of many famous clubs, a much sought-after guest in society, a brilliant storyteller, and generally a well-liked man. Mason was never married and “refused a knighthood since ’such honours mean nothing to a childless man.’” He died in London on November 22, 1948.