- Birth name:
- John Griffith Chaney
- Date of Birth:
- 22 November 1876 San Francisco, California, USA
Jack London was born in 1876, in San Francisco. He was raised by his mother Flora Wellman and his stepfather John London. He did not know who his father was until his adulthood. After graduation from a grammar school he worked 12 to 18 hours a day at a cannery. Jack had a special relationship with his black foster mother, Virginia (Jenny) Prentiss. She lended him some money, and in 1891 he bought a sloop to become an oyster pirate. A few months later he joined the California Fish Patrol. In 1893 he joined the crew of a sealing schooner, bound for Japan. His first story, "Typhoon off the coast of Japan", based on his sailing experiences, was published in November, 1893. Still unemployed, he became a tramp and hoboed around the country. In 1894 he was arrested for vagrancy and spent a month in jail, where he was a witness to "awful abysses of human degradation". His entire life, after these events, became a race to erase the traumatizing memories of his childhood and youth.He continued his self-education at the Oakland Public Library. Among his readings were Gustave Flaubert and Leo Tolstoy. In 1896 he was admitted to the University of California, but after a year was forced to leave for financial reasons. In 1897 he went to Yukon and joined the Klondike Gold Rush. There he experienced all the hardships of uncivilized life and suffered from severe frostbites, scurvy, malaria, and dysentery. This left his health seriously impaired. London's struggles for survival inspired "To Build a Fire" (1902), which is considered his best short story. Writing became his ticket out of poverty; a way, in his words, to "sell his brains". His first marriage to Bess Maddern began as friendship, not love; and ended 3 years later, leaving her with two daughters. His second marriage to Charmian Kittrdge, an editor, lasted until his death."The Call of the Wild" (1903) was his biggest success. "The Sea-Wolf" (1904) was turned into the first full-length American movie. Later came "The Iron Heel"(1908), a premonition of the Orwellian world, and the autobiographical "Martin Eden" (1909). The highest-paid writer of his time, he earned over 2 million dollars, yet he was always broke. In 1905 he bought a ranch in California, where he designed the first concrete silo in the state. His books provided operating income. He once said: "I would write a book for no other reason than to add three or four hundred acres to my magnificent estate." His ecological approach and effort to adapt the ideas of Asian sustainable agriculture was ahead of his time. In 1913 his Big House was ruined by a devastating fire and Jack London was financially and mentally hurt. He built a small cottage and made big plans, but he lived only 3 more years. His 1400 acre ranch is now a National Historic Landmark, named Jack London State Historic Park. The writer's cottage was preserved by his wife Charmian, who lived there until her death in 1955.His changing views and philosophy were often misunderstood as he grew out of his own mistakes. At one time he wrote, "I have been more stimulated by Nietzsche than by any other writer in the world." Later London disregarded the "superman" theory of Friedrich Nietzsche, calling himself his "intellectual enemy." His readings of Carl Jung contributed to his complex philosophy. His other influences ranged from Kipling, Stevenson, to Darwin, Spencer, Huxley, and Marx. While sympathizing with the Mexican revolution in "The Mexican", he later wrote differently; when he was sent to Mexico as a reporter in 1914. By age 40, somewhat disillusioned, he resigned from the socialist party and from various clubs. During his last years Jack London was in extreme pain, caused by the complications from kidney failure (uremia is recorded in his death certificate). He is buried at his ranch according to his will: "And roll over me a red boulder from the ruins of the Big House."