London, Jack

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

London, Jack

Jack London (John Griffith London), 1876–1916, American author, b. San Francisco. The illegitimate son of William Chaney, an astrologer, and Flora Wellman, a seamstress and medium, he had a poverty-stricken childhood, and was brought up by his mother and her subsequent husband, John London. At 17 he shipped out as an able seaman to Japan and the Bering Sea. He was at times an oyster poacher, a hobo, a laborer, a gold-seeker in the first Klondike rush, and a newspaper correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War and Mexican Revolution. His stories, romantic adventures with realistic characters and settings, often where life is harsh and hard to sustain, began to appear first in the Overland Monthly and soon after in The Atlantic. In 1900, The Son of the Wolf: Tales of the Far North was published. London's Klondike tales are exciting, vigorous, and brutal. The Call of the Wild (1903), about a tame dog who becomes wild and eventually leads a wolf pack, is one of the best animal stories ever written. Among his other works are The Sea-Wolf (1904), White Fang (1905), and Smoke Bellew (1912). Martin Eden (1909) and Burning Daylight (1910) are partly autobiographical. Although he was a highly paid writer of extremely popular fiction, London, a socialist, considered his social tracts—The People of the Abyss (1903) and The Iron Heel (1907)—as his most important work. The Cruise of the Snark (1911) is a vivid account of his interrupted voyage around the world in a 50-ft (15.2-m) ketch-rigged yacht, and John Barleycorn; or, Alcoholic Memoirs (1913) is autobiographical. Beset in his later years by alcoholism and financial difficulties, London died at the age of 40. There is a museum in Shreveport, La., devoted to London and his works.

See C. London, his second wife, The Log of the Snark (1915), Our Hawaii (1917), and The Book of Jack London (2 vol., 1921); biographies by his daughter, Joan London (1969), and by J. Hedrick (1982), A. Sinclair (1983), C. Stasz (1988), A. Kershaw (1998), and E. Labor (2013); studies by E. Labor (1977) and C. Watson (1982).

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