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London, Jack

Summary Article: London, Jack, (12 Jan 1876 – 22 Nov 1916) from The Crystal Reference Encyclopedia

Writer, born in San Francisco, California, USA. He is said to have been the illegitimate son of William Henry Chaney, an astrologer. His mother, a spiritualist, married John London shortly after Jack was born. He had little formal schooling although he was an avid reader, and he spent much of his youth on the Oakland, CA waterfront, where he worked at a variety of jobs, some of which were illegal, such as oyster pirating. In 1893 he worked on a ship that hunted seals from the Arctic to Japan. During 1894–5 he travelled as a hobo and oddjobber throughout Canada and the USA, at one point joining ‘Coxey’s army’ in its march to Washington, and was arrested for vagrancy in New York City. His experiences and reading (including the ‘Communist Manifesto’) convinced him that he was a Socialist, and on returning to California he briefly enrolled at the University of California and tried to sell his early writings.

Beginning his restless wanderings again, he worked as a goldminer in the Klondike, Yukon Territory (1897–8). Returning to San Francisco, he began to sell stories, novels, and non-fiction, much of it drawing on his experiences in the North. The best known of these are The Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea Wolf (1904), and White Fang (1906). In 1902 he visited the slums of London, and this inspired his book The People of the Abyss (1903). In 1904 he covered the Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst newspapers, and in 1914 he covered the Mexican Revolution for Collier’s. In 1907 he went to the South Pacific in a small sailboat, a trip described in The Cruise of the Snark (1907). His peripatetic life was the major source for his fiction, especially his thinly autobiographical novels, Martin Eden (1908–9) and John Barleycorn (1913). From 1905 on he was based on his large ranch in Glen Ellen, CA, but he often travelled on the lecture circuit.

His work earned him over a million dollars, but he never seemed able to deal with his success; he promoted explicit Socialist views in both fictional and non-fictional works, even while exalting the life of the primitive and self-sufficient. He became an alcoholic and by 1909 was plagued with a variety of ailments. Dependent on painkillers, he died from a (possibly self-inflicted) overdose of morphine.

See also American literature, novel.

Major works:

 (1902) A Daughter of the Snows
 (1902) The Cruise of the Dazzler
 (1903) The Call of the Wild
 (1903) The People of the Abyss
 (1904) The Sea-Wolf
 (1905) The Game
 (1906) Before Adam
 (1906) White Fang
 (1908) The Iron Heel
 (1909) Martin Eden
 (1910) Burning Daylight
 (1912) Smoke Bellew
 (1912) The Valley of the Moon
 (1913) John Barleycorn
 (1915) The Star Rover

 (1900) The Son of the Wolf
 (1907) Love of Life
 (1910) Lost Face
 (1911) South Sea Tales
 (1918) The Red One

 (1905) The War of the Classes
 (1917) The Human Drift

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