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A short history of Jack London

 

Jack London at about 9 years old .

 

American writer and social activist Jack London ( Jan 12, 1876 - Nov 22, 1916) was born in San Francisco, the son of Flora Wellman and W.H. Chaney . Chaney, was an astrologer, who, when he discovered Flora was pregnant with Jack, demanded she have an abortion and drove her out of their residence after she refused . Afterward, Flora tried to commit suicide and the resulting scandal forced Chaney to leave San Francisco . When Flora's son, known as Johnny or Jack was eight years old, she married John London, and her son grew up thinking John was his biological father . John had two sisters, Eliza and Isa, who Jack remained close to all his life .

 

Jack London as a teenager at Heinold's bar .

 

Jack had little schooling apart from two years of high school and a semester at the University of California . He was mainly self-educated by omnivorous reading and frequented the Oakland Public Library. In his youth he was a newsboy, dock worker, oyster pirate in his sloop the Razzle Dazzle and a mill hand to help support his struggling family  .  Jack was not able to attend high school full time and worked in a cannery, by the age of 15 he was familiar with the seedy world of the Oakland and Frisco waterfronts and enjoyed hearing sailors tell their tales in such saloons as Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon in Oakland .

 

Heinold's First and Last Chance Saloon in Oakland  opened in 1883 and is still open for business on what is now Jack London Square .  As a schoolboy, London would study at the bar's tables that remain there today. In his autobiographical novel, John Barleycorn, the saloon is often mentioned .

 

At 17 he was employed on a sealer that went to Japan and won a writing contest in 1893 with his essay "Story of a typhoon off the Coast of Japan." In 1894 he joined " Coxey's Army of the Unemployed " that planned to march on Washington which would become his inspiration for The Road .  Returning home, he was arrested for vagrancy in New York and sentenced to 30 days in jail .

 

 

 The 1943 movie Jack London starring Michael O'Shea and Susan Hayward

 

Resolving at the age 19 to become a Socialist , he entered high school in Oakland and published many stories in the school paper . In 1896 he joined the local branch of the Socialist Labor Party and entered the University of California at Berkeley, but had to withdraw in 1897 to help his family with expenses, but decided to continue writing .

 

At the age of 21 he learned John London was not his biological father . He tried his hand at searching for gold in the Yukon gold rush with Eliza's husband, Capt. James Shepard . The overland journey to the Klondike region was grueling, and the middle-aged Shepard had to turn back . It was here he became fond of a friend's dog that would become the inspiration for Black, the canine hero of The Call of the Wild . Jack did not find much gold in the Northlands, but struck gold in the stories he heard there . For example, he heard the story of a man caught outdoors whose fingers froze before he could light a fire, the source of his story " To Build a Fire ." Suffering from scurvy, he returned home to Oakland after making a 1,800 mile trip on a skiff from the Yukon to the port of St. Michael, Alaska .

 

London's cabin in the Yukon

 

In Oakland he found himself broke, depressed and still sick and learned that his father John London had died . In 1899, the Atlantic Monthly accepted his story " An Odyssey of the North" and paid him $120 and by the end of the year he signed a contract with a publisher to publish a collection of stories that would be called The Son of the Wolf .  As the new century dawned, Jack had realized his dream of earning a living with his brain, rather than being a 'work beast' and married Bessie Maddern . He was able to rent a large house for his mother and family .

 

Jack with his two daughters, Joan (1901 -1971) and Becky (1902 - 1992), from his marriage with Bessie . He had no children with his second wife, Charmain .

 

By 1902, Jack had established himself as a successful up-and-coming writer and published many stories about the Northlands such as The God of His Fathers, Children of the Frost and A Daughter of the Snows, his first novel .

 

Photo taken by Jack for The People of the Abyss . " Tottery old men and women were searching in the garbage thrown in the mud "

 

Later that year he traveled to England to travel to one of the poorest places there, London's East End and write of conditions there which became The People of the Abyss, on of the best sociological works on poverty published in America up to that time . Originally, Jack was asked by the American Press Association to go to South Africa to report on the Boer War  to interview Boer commanders . This commission was canceled when the Boer leaders went to Europe for a conference, yet Jack already had a ticket for London and was given the go-ahead by his publishers to report on the life of the " submerged tenth " of London's East End .  " I went down into the under-world of London with an attitude of mind which I may best liken to that of the explorer. "  . Jack took up the identity of a stranded American sailor and worked and lived in the East End and exposing what he considered the exploitation of workers in the most powerful empire in the world .  Often he would be " Carrying the Banner"  with the homeless, who were not allowed to sleep in the streets and parks at night and had to walk continuously until dawn . escape from the slums was impossible for those who could find work, due to the low wages, resulting in slow starvation and disease . Jack gathered an enormous amount of material and took many photographs .The influence of The People of the Abyss can be seen in George Orwell's later Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier. Orwell read the book as a teen .

 

In 1903, he published The Call of the Wild, his best selling book and making him a star writer . In 1904, he published The Sea-Wolf, about a captain who forces a young man to become part of his crew and can be seen as a protest against the philosophy of Nietzsche and his super man ideal. Jack wished to divorce Bessie at this time, but she would not agree and Jack shared an apartment with a friend's family and purchased a sailboat .

 

Jack at a Japanese military checkpoint in Korea .

 

 

 

In 1904 he was hired by the Hearst Newspaper to write on the ongoing Russo-Japanese War.

and left on the S.S. Siberia bound for Yokohama . Jack joined the other war correspondents in Japan, where they were detained by the Japanese authorities . Becoming feed up with the red tape and censorship, Jack sailed to Korea, guessing the Japanese would make a surprise landing there . After a freezing trip in a sampan on the east coast of Korea, Jack arrived in the port of Inchon on Feb 15 . After being blocked by the Japanese authorities for a few times, Jack was allowed to watch the Battle of the Yalu from a distance . Jack and R.L. Dunn were the only

war correspondents to do reporting of any consequence on the war .

 

 

 Bessie filled for divorce while Jack was away . In 1905 Jack married Charmain Kittridge and spent a honeymoon in the Caribbean . Also in 1905 went on a national speaking tour where he often delivered his "revolution" speech predicting a coming socialist revolution and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Oakland as the Socialist Party candidate . In June Jack bought ranch land at Glen Ellen in the Sonoma Valley,  which would grow to 1,400 acres by 1911 and come to be called the Beauty Ranch  and would become Jack London State Historic Park. In 1910, he began work on his mansion on his ranch called the Wolf House. The house was nearly complete in 1913, but before the London's got to move in, the house burnt down. The ruins still stand today .

 

 

 Early film of the San Francisco earthquake

 

Jack and his wife were at Glen Ellen when the San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906 hit and returned to the city to survey the damage . In 1906 Jack started to build a sailboat which he christened the Snark after the Lewis Carroll poem and sailed to Hawaii in February 1907 with his wife and crew .

 

Jack London (far right) and Charmain London on the Snark .

 

Jack and his crew stayed in Hawaii for five months and completed his most famous short story " To Build a Fire " there . He visited the famous leper colony at Molokai against the advice of friends and wrote movingly on their plight in " The Lepers of Molokai . " In Hawaii he also started to work on Martin Eden, the semi-autobiographical story of a young man who overcomes many obstacles to become a successful writer, considered on of his more important works . The Snark left Hawaii in October and sailed on to Tahiti . In Samoa visited the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson, whom he greatly admired . The Snark then left for Fiji and the Solomon Islands  By this time Jack had contracted malaria and other tropical diseases and had to sell the Snark and return to America . Jack wrote The Cruise of the Snark in 1911 describing his adventures .  

 

Jack found new inspiration from the settings and people of Hawaii and the South Pacific after his Snark voyage, South Sea tales was published in 1911, A Son of the Sun in 1912, the story of a "Mauki" (slave) who regains his freedom, The Red One (1918) the story of a scientist who finds a mysterious otherworldly object in Guadalcanal ( A possible influence on Clarke's "The Sentinel" and 2001 ) . On the Makaloa Mat (1918) contains Jack's last story completed before his death "The Water Baby" a Jungian story exploring Polynesian and Christian myths in the conversations of two fishermen . It can be said that Jack found the Pacific to be as exotic and untamed as the Northland .

 

Jack with Charmain and their Remington typewriter . Despite his success, Jack was perpetually in debt had to keep up a massive output just to pay his bills .

 

 

He returned to Glen Ellen to recover and continue writing . White Fang was published in 1906, depicting the civilizing of a wolf-dog hybrid, the reverse of what had happened in The Call of the Wild . Jack considered White Fang to be superior to The Call of the Wild .  Before he left for his cruise he published The Iron Heel, which was part Socialist and science fiction depiction of tyranny in the future, which bombed with the public and Socialists alike . Film versions were made of Jack's books, with The Seawolf and John Barleycorn coming out in 1913 . he hoped to make a fortune from the film versions of his books, but earned little money from the movie rights .

 

The most famous photograph of Jack, taken on his 30 foot sailboat the Roamer in 1914 .

 

In 1914 Collier's offered Jack $1,000 a week to report on the Mexican Revolution and Jack spent a month in Mexico reporting on the turmoil there . Jack admired and wrote articles of praise of the Mexican revolutionaries in 1911, but seeing the situation in real life changed his opinion . Jack claimed many of the revolutionaries were little more than glorified bandits, which led his socialist supporters accusing him of being a sell out to big business and betraying a real revolution of the working class.  In 1916 Jack and Charmain resigned from the Socialist party . While in Mexico he was able to reunite with his war correspondents friends such as Robert Dunn from the Russo-Japanese War days . Jack suffered from acute dysentery in Mexico and had to return to America .

 

Jack began construction of his dream house at his Glen Ellen ranch, which he called the Wolf House, unfortunately, just before he was to move in 1913 it burned down, the stone walls still survive at the Jack London State Historic Park . In the last years of his life threw himself into managing his 1,400 acre ranch with breeding Shire horses, raising pigs, cactus for cattle feed and eucalyptus trees for timber .

 

Jack at his "pig palace" on his ranch . Jack believed farm animals should live in clean, comfortable conditions

 

In 1912 sailed around the Horn of South America ( the Panama Canal had not yet opened ) in a five month voyage which provided inspiration for his novel The Mutiny of the Elsinore . On the voyage he also worked on The Valley of the Moon, about a young working class couple that survive terrible conditions in urban factories and leave it for a rural life in Glen Ellen . The autobiographical John Barleycorn also appeared in 1913 and was a huge hit . Although he was never able to give up drinking himself, part of the reason for writing the book was a plea for the ban on alcohol . By this time Jack was suffering from uremia, the progressive failure of the kidneys, probably causes by his earlier excesses .

 

By 1913, Jack knew he had this fatal disease but believed through the reading of medical texts that it might be possible to live decades more . In 1915 he returned to Hawaii and spent five months there and Jack began to feel weak . In late 1916 the disease was advancing . His works were selling well and he could hope to be debt free in a few years . He published science fiction and fantasy works such as The Scarlet Plague, The Star Rover and The Red One and became fascinated by the ideas of Carl Jung and the Psychology of the Unconscious . The last story Jack wrote was " The Water Baby. " On November 22, Charmain found Jack in bed in a coma, possible suffering from an overdose of morphine to treat pain or advanced kidney failure . He died two months short of his 41st birthday . He was cremated and his ashes were buried at Glen Ellen . The epitaph on his tombstone comes from his essay " The Human Drift " - " Behold, I have lived ! "

 

Jack London Grave 

 The grave of Jack London, his ashes were buried at Glen Ellen, with a stone from the burned down Wolf House on top .

 

 Rare footage of writer Jack London, filmed 3 days before his death 

 

Jack London's works, audiobooks and movies online

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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