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Jack London (1876-1916)

Jack London

After that came a kindly blank. I knew nothing, saw nothing, merely tottered on in my quest for safety. My next nightmare vision was a quiet street of the dead. I came upon it abruptly, as a wanderer in the country would come upon a flowing stream. Only this stream I gazed upon did not flow. It was congealed in death. From pavement to pavement, and covering the sidewalks, it lay there, spread out quite evenly, with only here and there a lump or mound of bodies to break the surface. Poor driven people of the abyss, hunted helots--they lay there as the rabbits in California after a drive. Up the street and down I looked. There was no movement, no sound. The quiet buildings looked down upon the scene from their many windows. And once, and once only, I saw an arm that moved in that dead stream. I swear I saw it move, with a strange writhing gesture of agony, and with it lifted a head, gory with nameless horror, that gibbered at me and then lay down again and moved no more. (The Iron Heel, Chapter 19).

Here we are talking about a prolific, tireless, passionate poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, journalist, sailor, boxer and above all an advocate for social justice and human rights.

Jack London was born on January 12 in San Francisco, California. Before he was born his father William Chaney an itinerant astrologer deserted his mother Flora Wellman. Because of her illness Flora turned the newborn baby over to ex-slave Virginia Prentiss, who played a major maternal role during jack’s life.

Jack was 8 months old when his mother got married to John London, a partially disabled Civil War veteran. They settled in Oakland, California where Jack attended school only through 8th grade. He was a keen reader, self educating at Oakland public library, while was selling newspapers in the streets to help his family’s poor income. In mid-1890s, jack returned to high school and graduated.

In July of 1897 at the age of 21 - during the gold rush boom, he left the University of California, Berkeley and sailed with his step-sister Eliza’s husband Captain Shepard to the Klondike, Yukon. During the time of economic recession of early 20th Century, many unemployed and even those who had somehow a job left the Country and went to this northern territory of Canada in the hope of finding some pieces of the yellow treasure. From hundred thousands of gold hunters, only about 4,000 had some success. After only 2 days, Captain Shepard returned back home from the harsh Alaska conditions. Jack continued his way to Klondike, where he had not found much gold, but he explored a mine of knowledge and experience from which he would extract enormous materials for his future novels.

Lack of fresh vegetables and fruits caused him to develop scurvy, with losing some of his teeth. His poor health forced him to abandon his venture and return back home in June 1898.

Witnessing the hardships and struggles of those gold seekers turned his left-wing leanings to become a committed, passionate socialist activist.

In April 1896, Jack joined the Socialist Labour Party. In 1901, he left the Socialist Labour Party to join the newly established Socialist Party of America.

In 1899, Jack started to write short stories which were published in Overland Monthly journal. Writing and getting published regularly persuaded him to continue his career as a writer.

In April 1900, Jack married his math tutor and friend, Bessie Maddern. Their marriage was based on “good breeding”, not love, usual of the time. They had two daughters, Joan and Becky and in November of 1904 they divorced.

In August-September of 1902 Jack travelled to England to investigate slum conditions in the East End of London. He saw dismal poverty and human degradation far worse than that in America. His first hand experience provided him with material for his book The People of the Abyss, published in 1903.

In the same year, his novel The Call of the Wild was made public, which brought him fame and some money to get away from poverty.

In early 1904, jack accepted an assignment of the San Francisco Examiner to cover the Russo-Japanese War. Because of restrictions in the Japanese side and his detentions, he asked the newspaper’s owner to be allowed to move to the Russian front of the War, where restrctions were less severe. Nonetheless before this could be arranged, he was arrested for the third time in four months by the Imperial Japanese Army, this time for “assaulting” his Japanese assistants. He was released by the personal intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt.

In June 1904, Jack returned back to California, and in 1905 he married his secretary Charmian Kittredge, with whom he found true love. They spend their honeymoon in Cuba and Jamaica. In spite of their 2 failed attempts to have children, their marriage was satisfactory and lasted until the rest of his life.

In 1905, he bought a ranch in the Glen Ellen, California, and studied how to build a system of ranching that still is praised for its ecological knowledge. Though the ranch was not profitable, it was believed to being ahead of its time.

His wife Charmian, a writer herself was always at his side, in the ranch and during his many journeys, including 1907 sail of the yacht Snark to Hawaii, Micronesia Islands, Australia, and Ecuador, back home to California in 1909. Martin Eden, a semi-autobiography was published in 1909.

In 1912, Jack London sailed on the Dirigo from New York to San Francisco by the way of Cape Horn, Chile. In 1914, he went to Mexico covering the Revolution and the anti-revolutionary role of the United States military in that country.

In December of 1915, because of his poor health and by the advice of Charmian, they made their last trip to Hawaii, for a rest. They returned back to their Glen Ellen ranch, as Jacks` health was deteriorated. He died on November 22, 1916 at the age of 40, due to the renal failure.

Jack London obtained far-reaching life experience through working as a factory worker, oyster pirate on the San Francisco Bay, member of California Fish Patrol, sailor, able-bodied seaman, railroad hobo, and as mentioned above gold prospector, which were reflected in many of his literary works.

Charmian died on January 14, 1955 at the age of 83. Her ashes were buried next to Jack London’s ashes in their Glen Ellen Ranch, California.

During his short life Jack London wrote an impressive number of short stories, novels, plays, essays, and poetry. His works have been translated into many languages.

Some of his most famous works are:


Short stories

  • An Old Soldier’s Story (1894)

  • Who Believes in Ghosts! (1895)

  • One More Unfortunate (1895)

  • A Klondike Christmas (1897)

  • The Devil’s Dice Box (1898)

  • The White Silence (1899)

  • The Son of the Wolf (1900)

  • The Lost Poacher (1901)

  • The Law of Life (1901)

  • Moon-Face (1902)

  • The Leopard Man’s Story (1903)

  • Negore the Coward (1904)

  • Love of Life (1905)

  • The Apostate (1906)

  • Chased By the Trail (1907)

  • The Enemy of All the World (1908)

  • The Dream of Debs (1909)

  • The Unparalleled Invasion (1910)

  • The Mexican (1911)

  • The Sea Farmer (1912)

  • The Sea Gangsters (1913)

  • Told in the Drooling Ward (1914)

  • The Hussy (1916)



  • The Daughter of the Snows (1902)

  • The Sea Wolf (1904)

  • White Fang (1906)

  • Before Adam (1907)

  • The Iron Heel (1908)

  • Burning Daylight (1910)

  • Adventure (1911)

  • A Son of the Sun (1912)

  • The Valley of the Moon (1913)

  • The Mutiny of the Elsinore (1914)

  • The Star Rover (1915)

  • The Little Lady of the Big House (1916)



  • Theft (1910)

  • Daughters of the Rich (1915)

  • The Corn Planter: A California Forest Play (1916)



  • If I Were God (1899)

  • Daybreak (1901)

  • When the Rainbow Fell (1902)

  • The Song of the Flames (1903)

  • When All The World Shouted My Name (1905)

  • The Worker and the Tramp (1911)

  • Too Late (1912)

  • My Confession (1912)

  • The Socialist’s Dream (1912)

  • Hors De Saison (1913)

  • Rainbows End (1914)

  • Of Man of the Future (1915)

  • Republican Rallying Song (1916)

  • The Sea Sprite And The Shooting Star (1916)


Non-fiction and Essays

  • The Impossibility of War (1900)

  • Editorial Crimes (1901)

  • How I Became a Socialist (1903)

  • The War of the Classes (1905)

  • The Story of An Eyewitness (1906)

  • Revolution and other Essays (1910)

  • Mexico’s Army And Ours (1914)

  • Our Adventures in Tampico (1914)

  • The Red Game of War (1914)

  • The Trouble Makers of Mexico (1914)


Autobiographical memoires

  • The Road (1907)

  • The Cruise of Snark (1911)

  • John Barleycorn (1913)


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