Jack London

(1876-1908), American Novelist

Jack London is remembered today for his contributions to American literature and early fame as a literary giant within the country. Jack London, born with the name John Griffith Chaney, was born in San Francisco, California, in 1876. His father left him and his mother when he was young, and she remarried John London, whose surname the author later used.


Life Facts

  • Jack London was born in San Francisco, California, in 1876.
  • His birth name was John Griffith Chaney.
  • London’s biological father refused to acknowledge him.
  • He passed away on November 22nd, 1916, at 40.
  • He was suffering from various disorders as he neared death, including dysentery.

Interesting Facts

  • He stole oysters while sailing around San Francisco in his boat as a boy.
  • He married twice.
  • He was arrested three times while working as a war correspondent.
  • An expensive ranch mansion he built burnt down before he moved into it.
  • Jack London may have committed suicide.


Famous Books and Short Stories by Jack London

  • The Call of the Wildpublished in 1903, London’s best-known novel is set in the Yukon during the 1890s. It follows Buck, a sled dog, who, when the book begins, is stolen from his home in California. He’s forced to survive in the harsh Alaskan environment and turns to his primal instincts for help.
  • White Fang – perhaps London’s second-best known novel, White Fang was published in 1906 and serialized in Outing magazine. It’s usually considered a companion novel to The Call of the Wild and is written from the viewpoint of White Fang, who experiences a great deal of violence and presents readers with a unique view of humanity.
  • Martin Eden – was published in 1909 and documents London’s struggle to become a writer through the title character. It was serialized in The Pacific Monthly. 
  • To Build a Firea short story published in 1902 and set in the Yukon. It follows an unnamed protagonist into the forest, along with a native dog. He underestimates the conditions and freezes to death after being unable to relight his fire.
  • Love of Life is a Jack London short story that conveys many of the themes readers are familiar with from his books. Including man vs. wild. It begins with the lines: “They limped painfully down the bank, and once the foremost of the two men staggered among the rough-strewn rocks.”

Early Life

Jack London’s early life was marked by change. When his mother became pregnant with him, his birth father demanded that she have an abortion. She refused, and she tried to kill herself. She failed, only temporarily wounding herself. After Jack was born, he was sent to live with Virginia Prentiss, a wet nurse who raised him throughout much of his youth. His father left him, his mother, and his siblings when he was young to rove the country as an astrologer. Jack’s mother, Flora, remarried in 1876 to John London, a Civil War veteran. London left school air fourteen to find a job and escape the poverty that his family was living in. For a time, he sailed around San Francisco Bay and worked for the government fish patrol. He eventually finished primary school in Oakland and went to the University of California, Berkeley. It was during this period that he first began writing and submitting articles to his school’s magazine. His first published work was “Typhoon off the Coast of Japan.” At one point, Jack sought out a record of his birth father, and after finding him, the man declared himself impotent (suggesting there was no way he could be Jack’s father). The young man was wounded by his father’s refusal to accept him (and the man’s slandering of his mother). He soon quit school and moved to Klondike during the gold rush. It was here that his first well-known stories were set.

Literary Career

London returned to California in 1898 and got a few stories published for very little money. During this time, London recalls considering abandoning his dreams of becoming a writer. But, his career boomed in the early 1900s when he made $81,000 (in today’s money) for his published stories in one year. His early writing career and struggles for success were documented in his novel, Martin Eden, in 1908 (in serialized form).

In 1903, he sold The Call of the Wild to The Saturday Evening Post. A book campaign by Macmillan helped bring the book to the public’s attention and ensure its success.

He was married for the first time in 1900 to Elizabeth Mae. Together, the two had two children. But, their marriage was difficult. Only a few years later, they were thinking about divorce. He moved out in July 1903, and the two were divorced a year later.

In 1904 he began working as a war correspondent. He traveled to Yokohama and was temporarily arrested by Japanese authorities (only to be released after the American ambassador intervened). He was arrested again in Korea before traveling with the Imperial Japanese Army.

Only a short time later, he was arrested a third time, this time for assaulting his Japanese assistants, who he accused of stealing his horse’s fodder. President Roosevelt intervened on his behalf.

London remarried in 1905 to Charmain Kittredge. The same year he bought a ranch, later known as Beauty Ranch, in Sonoma County, California. Despite hoping the ranch would be a success, London took a hands-off approach which limited the economic success of the enterprise.

He built a huge mansion, Wolf House, on the property


Death

Jack London died on November 22nd, 1912, while sleeping in a cottage on his ranch. For months he’d been suffering from several afflictions, including kidney failure and a variety of tropical diseases he and his wife had picked up. Reports also indicate he suffered from late-stage alcoholism, dysentery, and uremia. Some have suggested that London may have committed suicide due to a large amount of morphine in his system. But, it was a well-known fact that he was suffering from addiction at this time too.


Influence from other Writers

Jack London was notably influenced by writers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, Robert Louis Stevenson, Herbert Spencer, and more.


Literature by Jack London

Explore literature by Jack London below, created by the team at Book Analysis.