JACK LONDON, born out of wedlock in San Francisco in 1876, grew up across the Bay in and near Oakland, where he worked at odd jobs, read voraciously in the public library, and eventually drifted into rough company as an oyster pirate. At 17 he sailed to Japan and the Bering Sea on a seal-hunting schooner, and a year later he rode the rails as a cross-country tramp. The latter adventure ended when he was jailed for vagrancy near Niagara Falls, New York, and he returned to California to become, at 19, a more serious student, an active socialist, and an ambitious writer. Leaving the University of California at Berkeley after one semester, in 1897 he joined the gold rush to the Klondike. With little gold and a severe case of scurvy, he returned home the next summer and began writing the stories of Northland adventure that rapidly began to find an audience. His first collection of tales, The Son of the Wolf, appeared in 1900; three years later the novella The Call of the Wild made him famous; and his next novel, The Sea-Wolf ( 1904), was also a bestseller. By then he was in the process of divorcing his first wife, Bessie Maddern, in order to marry Charmian Kittredge, whose eagerness to accompany him on his adventures made her the model for many of the energetic female characters in his subsequent fiction. During these years he also studied slum conditions in the East End of London, the subject of the muck-raking People of the Abyss ( 1903); covered the Russo-Japanese War in Korea for the Hearst newspapers; and frequently wrote and lectured in support of the socialist cause. In 1907 he sailed his ketch the Snark on a two-year voyage to Hawaii and the South Sea, meanwhile writing of his tramp journey in The Road ( 1907) and fictionalizing his own struggle to become a writer in Martin Eden ( 1909). Thereafter his popularity somewhat declined, though his output remained steady and included the vivid alcoholic memoir John Barleycorn ( 1913) and novels such as Burning Daylight ( 1910), The Valley of the Moon ( 1913), and The Little Lady of the Big House ( 1916), which reflected in various ways his devotion to the development of his ranch at Glen Ellen, north of San Francisco Bay, where his deteriorating health led to his death in 1916 at the age of 40.
CHARLES N. WATSON, JR., is Professor of English at Syracuse University. He is the author of The Novels of Jack London: A Reappraisal in addition to essays on London and other American writers.