Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Sobel Wiki: tears of a clown

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on Richard Mason, the governor-general of the C.N.A. from 1953 to 1963. Mason is one of the most peculiar figures in For Want of a Nail. He serves as a sort of personification of the collective survivor's guilt that sweeps the C.N.A. after the end of the Global War. The C.N.A. remained neutral throughout the war, and so managed to avoid the appalling death and destruction that the rest of the world suffered. Under Mason's leadership, the C.N.A. undertakes a massive foreign aid program, like a supersized version of the Marshall Plan, motivated not by geopolitical considerations, but by a collective sense of guilt.

Sobel describes Mason breaking down in tears while giving a national address in November 1953, and then becoming even more emotional and erratic over the years. In April 1956 Mason gives a speech in a chorale setting, and sings the last paragraphs. Whether Sobel actually believed that a national leader could act this way and still remain popular (Mason was re-elected in February 1958) is impossible to say. On the other hand, we in the 2010s know from experience that a tendency to break into tears is no impediment to a successful political career.

Which leads to an interesting speculation. Given the link between weepiness and alcoholism in politicians, it may be that Mason's erratic behavior was due to alcoholism rather than mental instability. Sobel never suggests that Mason had a drinking problem, but then, he never suggests that any of the figures in Nail had a drinking problem either. At least, he never directly suggests that Mason was an alcoholic, but he does describe Mason's critics as being like "the only sober people at a drunken orgy, trying to discuss serious matters with individuals in a state of advanced inebriation."

Mason was probably the most prominent figure from the later chapters of Nail not to have appeared as a character in a For All Nails vignette. Maybe the FAN Cabal just didn't know what to say about him.

I think I know what to say about him now.

1 comment:

DaveMB said...

What I find fascinating about Mason is Sobel's references to his Christianity, almost his only mention of religion in the book. Of course, those references are nearly all quotes from Jeffrey Martin, so it may have been Martin who had the fixation on religion.

Are you thinking that Jay and Speigal might have refrained from a no-confidence motion in 1962 because they feared what would come out about Mason if they challenged him?

Plenty of room for new For All Nails canon here. Several of my characters have expressed the opinion that Mason was nuts, at least at the end, but that was just their opinion...