London Jack 1876 - 1916 (40)

Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.


The Call

of the Wild

What life

means to me

I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist.

Jack London (January 12, 1876 - November 22, 1916) was an American writer. His mother was a musician and spiritualist and his father an astrologer, their wedding certificates (if there was a wedding) and his birth certificate were burned in the great earthquake of San Francisco. His father did not want the baby and pushed the mother for an abortion, she refused and shot herself in order to persuade him to take on his responsibilities; the father wasn’t moved, he left home before the baby was born. The same year the mother married John London, a partially disabled Civil War veteran, who had two young daughters. He acknowledged the child so he was named Johnny London, he changed it when he came of age to Jack London. His childhood in Oakland was poor and deprived, at 10 he was forced to work, as miner, coastguard, factory worker, sailor, he even hunted cats for their skin. In 1894 he joined the ranks of the unemployed who marched to Washington demanding work and bread. For a while he lived on the streets and he was jailed for vagrancy. In the end he returned to Oakland and at 19 he enrolled at the last year of high school. At the same time he was working and he was writing. His first story was: "Hurricane on the coast of Japan," and had to do with his experiences as a seaman. After finishing high school he passed his examination for the University of Berkeley (California). He studied only for six months, as he was working at day, was writing at night and had no time for the university. He then was caught by the gold fever and went to Alaska, where in the secluded wilderness he gathered material for books and especially for the famous "The call of the wild." Jack London, like many other gold diggers, suffered at some point, scurvy, due to malnutrition and lack of fresh food; his front teeth fell, his face had sores, had endless pain in the abdomen. He nearly died but eventually recovered in the shelter of a Jesuit priest who the gold diggers called saint Dawson for providing shelter, food and medical care in that remote area of the world. Once he stood on his feet he left Klondike, without having found any gold. He returned in Oakland determined to become a successful writer.

His first published story was "The men of 40 miles" and sold it for $5, the second for 40$, was the "A thousand deaths". The circumstances were favorable as a new printing method had just appeared which reduced the cost of magazine publication, so suddenly there was a demand for stories like those he wrote. In 1900 Jack London won $ 2.500 from his writing and his career went into orbit. In the first decade of 1900 he wrote his most important works. In 1902 he went to England and lived with the proletarians in the East End of London, learning their work and life; next year he wrote "The People of the Abyss" (1903) an insightful essay on the living conditions of the working class in London. Also in 1903 he finished "The call of the wild", which describes the poverty and suffering of his former life that made him take a unique look at life and the world of wildlife. In 1904 he published "The Sea-wolf" a study of individualism and self-destruction of man, while "Iron heel" (1908) is a philosophical treatise on the Socialism and Communism. In 1909 he wrote "Martin Eden", the odyssey of a worker who was trying to be educated under adverse conditions. After 1910 his novels lost their qualitatively, he wrote in haste and commercially, palatable stories for the general public.

Jack London had married in 1900 Bess Maderno, they had two daughters he adored but the marriage did not last long; he divorced in 1904. The following year he married Tsarmian Kitretz. Jack was generally prone to extra-marital sexual adventures but with Tsarmian he found the ideal partner, they lived happily together until his death. Although they wanted children they failed to have as one child died in birth and the subsequent pregnancy was interrupted by miscarriage. When he was 20, Jack had become a socialist and in 1901 he run for mayor in Oakland, taking only 245 votes. He tried again for the same position in 1905 and received 981 votes. Apart from writing, London had many other interests, periodically he was engaged with various plans. In 1906-1907 he built a sailboat and started with his wife for a trip around the world; eventually they stopped in Australia after a 27 months of a journey full of experiences. In 1910 he bought a farm of 1,000 acres in Glen Ellen, California, and wanted to implement innovative farming techniques. In 1913 he was declared the most widely read author; in the same year he went to Mexico as a war correspondent. There he was connected with the revolutionary circles of Sancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. He returned to his ranch with a deteriorated health; he died in 1916, suffering from dysentery, uremia, and alcoholism. He was in bad pain and was taking morphine; it is likely that he died, voluntarily or involuntarily, from an overdose of it.