Below, readers can explore a few of the most interesting facts about Jack London’s life and writing accomplishments. Before his birth, his life was plagued with drama and conflict, which continued during his time in the Yukon and later as a war correspondent.
London’s father was a traveling astrologer
Jack London’s biological father, William Chaney, was a traveling astrologer who was not a part of the writer’s life. He left Jack’s mother, Flora, before Jack was born and refused to acknowledge him throughout his adult life.
Flora married John London, a Civil War veteran, only eight months after Jack was born. Jack took on his stepfather’s name and used it as his own, creating John Griffith London. At one point in his youth, London tried to get in contact with his biological father. The man refused to acknowledge Jack as his son and asserted that he was himself impotent and couldn’t have fathered a child. London was outraged and emotionally scarred by Chaney’s dismissal of him.
Jack London’s mother tried to kill herself while pregnant with her son
Jack London’s mother, Flora, was emotionally and physically abused by William Chaney throughout her pregnancy. He demanded that she get an abortion and beat her. She refused to get rid of the baby but ended up trying to commit suicide twice in two days. The first attempt was a drug overdose, and a day later, she tried to shoot herself in the head. But, the gun malfunctioned.
Her emotional turmoil has published as a story in June of 1874 in the San Francisco Chronicle. An article titled “A Discarded Wife” detailed her two suicide attempts and roused the public’s hatred for William Chaney. So much so that they demanded he be executed. Soon after this incident, he moved to Chicago and away from the angry mobs.
Jack London was fostered by a former enslaved person—Virginia Prentiss
After the events of his birth and the troubles that plagued his birth parents, Jack London was sent to live with Virginia Prentiss. His mother was too sick to care for him at the time, and she trusted Prentiss to take on the role of mother for as long as Jack needed.
At fifteen years old, he bought a sloop and poached oyster on San Francisco Bay
As a fifteen-year-old boy, Jack London was working at a low-paying job for up to eighteen hours a day. Tired of the misery, he borrowed $300 from Virginia Prentiss, the woman who cared for him throughout much of his youth and bought a sloop (or a small boat). He used this to travel the San Francisco Bay, poaching oysters to resell.
Jack London represented Hearst newspapers as a war correspondent
In 1904, London traveled to Yokohama, Japan where he was housed along with other journalists. The government refused to allow the journalists any real access to information or events, something that frustrated London. So much so that he eventually found his way to Chemulpo, Korea, where he openly photographed the Japanese military installations there. He was observed and then arrested by the Japanese secret police.
London was interrogated for hours before taking him to court. With intervention from the foreign minister, London was released.
London was arrested three times in the span of three months
After the first arrest for photographic Japanese military installations in Korea, London was again arrested after observing a clash between Russia and Japan. He was sent to prison in Seoul, where he remained, along with other war correspondents.
After his release, he was arrested for the third time by Japanese military authorities after getting into a fight over his horse’s fodder and how the Japanese were caring for the animal. This arrest was the most serious and could’ve resulted in the death penalty. But, Theodore Roosevelt intervened, and he was quickly released (and deported from Korea).
Jack London reportedly wrote 1,000 words every day
It was not until Jack London returned from the cold North in 1898 that he fully committed himself to becoming a writer. While away, his stepfather John London, had died, leaving his mother to fend for herself. He devoted himself, from this point forward to a career as an author. In order to remain disciplined in practice, he wrote 1,000 words daily. This ensured that he was always producing something.
His death is a mystery
After spending a year in the Yukon as a twenty-one-year-old man, Jack London struggled with his health throughout his life. His main issue was alcoholism but a variety of illnesses that he first developed in the Yukon plagued him until his death on November 22, 1916.
Also, during this period, he developed a powerful addiction to morphine that is usually named as one of the contributors to his death, alongside uremia. He had been prescribed morphine three years previous to help with the pain from his failing kidneys.
But, there are those who believe that Jack London’s death at 40 years old was perhaps the result of the still-young writer committing suicide by overdosing on the same morphine that he was addicted to.
Jack London was the first writer in the world to become a millionaire from his literary output
While most literally lovers can name a few of Jack London’s best works, he published many more. So much so, and with so much success, that he became the first writer to become a millionaire based on his written work. Such was his intention as a young man when he returned from the north and determined to take care of his mother.
Did Jack London win the Nobel Prize?
No, Jack London did not receive any notable literary awards throughout his life. But, his work has inspired countless generations of authors who have won awards, many of whom credit him with the path their writing took.
What is Jack London most famous for?
Jack London is most famous for his novels The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea Wolf. The vast majority of his work is classified in the outdoor adventure fiction genre. But, other significant short stories and novels belong to the science fiction genre.
How many words did Jack London write a day?
It has been said that at the height of his career and particularly when he was first trying to become an author, he wrote at least 1,000 words a day, if not closer to 1,500.
Did Jack London inspire Chris McCandless?
The main character and real-life adventurer from John Krakauer’s Into the Wild, Christopher McCandless, did cite Jack London as one of his primary influences.
How did Jack London influence the world?
Jack London helped popularize literary naturalism and pioneered the adventure fiction genre. He paved the way for generations of authors who wrote, and are still writing about, the natural world and themes like survival, adventure, and civilization vs. the wild.