Jack London: His Life and Work

Prolific American Author and Activist

Jack London
Jack London.  Hulton Archive / Stringer / Archive Photos / Getty Images

John Griffith Chaney, better known by his pseudonym Jack London, was born on January 12, 1876. He was an American author who wrote fiction and nonfiction books, short stories, poems, plays, and essays. He was a very prolific writer and achieved worldwide literary success prior to his death on November 22, 1916.

Early Years

Jack London was born in San Francisco, California. His mother, Flora Wellman, became pregnant with Jack while living with William Chaney, an attorney and astrologer.

Chaney left Wellman and did not play an active role in Jack's life. In the year that Jack was born, Wellman married John London, a Civil War veteran. They stayed in California, but moved to the Bay Area and then to Oakland.

The Londons were a working-class family. Jack completed grade school and then took a series of jobs involving hard labor. By the age of 13, he was working 12 to 18 hours per day in a cannery. Jack also shoveled coal, pirated oysters, and worked aboard a sealing ship. It was aboard this ship that he experienced adventures that inspired some of his first stories. In 1893, at the encouragement of his mother, he entered a writing contest, told one of the stories, and won first prize. This contest inspired him to devote himself to writing.

Jack returned to high school a couple of years later and then briefly attended the University of California at Berkeley. He eventually left school and went to Canada to try his luck in the Klondike Gold Rush.

This time in the north further convinced him that he had many stories to tell. He began to write daily and sold some of his short stories to publications like "Overland Monthly" in 1899.

Personal Life

Jack London married Elizabeth "Bessie" Maddern on April 7, 1900. Their wedding was held on the same day that his first short story collection, "Son of the Wolf", was published.

Between 1901 and 1902, the couple had two daughters, Joan and Bessie, the latter of which was nicknamed Becky. In 1903, London moved out of the family home. He divorced Bessie in 1904.

In 1905, London married his second wife Charmian Kittredge, who worked as a secretary for London's publisher MacMillan. Kittredge helped to inspire many of the female characters in London's later works. She went on to become a published writer.

Political Views

Jack London held socialist views. These views were evident in his writing, speeches and other activities. He was a member of the Socialist Labor Party and the Socialist Party of America. He was a Socialist candidate for mayor of Oakland in 1901 and 1905, but did not receive the votes he needed to get elected. He made several socialist-themed speeches across the country in 1906 and also published several essays sharing his socialist views.

Famous Works

Jack London published his first two novels, "The Cruise of the Dazzler" and "A Daughter of the Snows" in 1902. A year later, at the age of 27, he achieved commercial success with his most famous novel, "The Call of the Wild". This short adventure novel was set during the 1890's Klondike Gold Rush, which London experienced firsthand during his year in Yukon, and centered around a St.

Bernard-Scotch Shepherd named Buck. The book remains in print today.

In 1906, London published his second most famous novel as a companion novel to "The Call of the Wild". Titled "White Fang", the novel is set during the 1890's Klondike Gold Rush and tells the story of a wild wolfdog named White Fang. The book was an immediate success and has since been adapted into movies and a television series.

Novels

  • "The Cruise of the Dazzler" (1902)
  • "A Daughter of the Snows" (1902)
  • "The Call of the Wild" (1903)
  • "The Kempton-Wace Letters" (1903)
  • "The Sea-Wolf" (1904)
  • "The Game" (1905)
  • "White Fang" (1906)
  • "Before Adam" (1907)
  • "The Iron Heel" (1908)
  • "Martin Eden" (1909)
  • "Burning Daylight" (1910)
  • "Adventure" (1911)
  • "The Scarlet Plague" (1912)
  • "A Son of the Sun" (1912)
  • "The Abysmal Brute" (1913)
  • "The Valley of the Moon" (1913)
  • "The Mutiny of the Elsinore" (1914)
  • "The Star Rover" (1915)
  • "The Little Lady of the Big House" (1916)
  • "Jerry of the Islands" (1917)
  • "Michael, Brother of Jerry" (1917)
  • "Hearts of Three" (1920)
  • "The Assassination Bureau, Ltd" (1963)

Short Story Collections

  • "Son of the Wolf" (1900)
  • "Chris Farrington, Able Seaman" (1901)
  • "The God of His Fathers & Other Stories" (1901)
  • "Children of the Frost" (1902)
  • "The Faith of Men and Other Stories" (1904)
  • "Tales of the Fish Patrol" (1906)
  • "Moon-Face and Other Stories" (1906)
  • "Love of Life and Other Stories" (1907)
  • "Lost Face" (1910)
  • "South Sea Tales" (1911)
  • "When God Laughs and Other Stories" (1911)
  • "The House of Pride & Other Tales of Hawaii" (1912)
  • "Smoke Bellew" (1912)
  • "A Son of the Sun" (1912)
  • "The Night Born" (1913)
  • "The Strength of the Strong" (1914)
  • "The Turtles of Tasman" (1916)
  • "The Human Drift" (1917)
  • "The Red One" (1918)
  • "On the Makaloa Mat" (1919)
  • "Dutch Courage and Other Stories" (1922)

Short Stories

  • "An Old Soldier's Story" (1894)
  • "Who Believes in Ghosts!" (1895)
  • "And 'FRISCO Kid Came Back" (1895)
  • "Night's Swim In Yeddo Bay" (1895)
  • "One More Unfortunate" (1895)
  • "Sakaicho, Hona Asi And Hakadaki" (1895)
  • "A Klondike Christmas" (1897)
  • "Mahatma's Little Joke" (1897)
  • "O Haru" (1897)
  • "Plague Ship" (1897)
  • "The Strange Experience Of A Misogynist" (1897)
  • "Two Gold Bricks" (1897)
  • "The Devil's Dice Box" (1898)
  • "A Dream Image" (1898)
  • "The Test: A Clondyke Wooing" (1898)
  • "To the Man on Trail" (1898)
  • "In a Far Country" (1899)
  • "The King of Mazy May" (1899)
  • "The End Of The Chapter" (1899)
  • "The Grilling Of Loren Ellery" (1899)
  • "The Handsome Cabin Boy" (1899)
  • "In The Time Of Prince Charley" (1899)
  • "Old Baldy" (1899)
  • "The Men of Forty Mile" (1899)
  • "Pluck And Pertinacity" (1899)
  • "The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone" (1899)
  • "The White Silence" (1899)
  • "A Thousand Deaths" (1899)
  • "Wisdom of the Trail" (1899)
  • "An Odyssey of the North" (1900)
  • "The Son of the Wolf" (1900)
  • "Even unto Death" (1900)
  • "The Man with the Gash" (1900)
  • "A Lesson In Heraldry" (1900)
  • "A Northland Miracle" (1900)
  • "Proper GIRLIE" (1900)
  • "Thanksgiving On Slav Creek" (1900)
  • "Their Alcove" (1900)
  • "Housekeeping In The Klondike" (1900)
  • "Dutch Courage" (1900)
  • "Where the Trail Forks" (1900)
  • "Hyperborean Brew" (1901)
  • "A Relic of the Pliocene" (1901)
  • "The Lost Poacher" (1901)
  • "The God of His Fathers" (1901)
  • "FRISCO Kid's Story" (1901)
  • "The Law of Life" (1901)
  • "The Minions of Midas" (1901)
  • "In the Forests of the North" (1902)
  • "The Fuzziness of Hoockla-Heen" (1902)
  • "The Story of Keesh" (1902)
  • "Keesh, Son of Keesh" (1902)
  • "Nam-Bok, the Unveracious" (1902)
  • "Li Wan the Fair" (1902)
  • "Lost Face" (1902)
  • "Master of Mystery" (1902)
  • "The Sunlanders" (1902)
  • "The Death of Ligoun" (1902)
  • "Moon-Face" (1902)
  • "Diable—A Dog" (1902)
  • "To Build a Fire" (1902)
  • "The League of the Old Men" (1902)
  • "The Dominant Primordial Beast" (1903)
  • "The One Thousand Dozen" (1903)
  • "The Marriage of Lit-lit" (1903)
  • "The Shadow and the Flash" (1903)
  • "The Leopard Man's Story" (1903)
  • "Negore the Coward" (1904)
  • "All Gold Cañon" (1905)
  • "Love of Life" (1905)
  • "The Sun-Dog Trail" (1905)
  • "The Apostate" (1906)
  • "Up The Slide" (1906)
  • "Planchette" (1906)
  • "Brown Wolf" (1906)
  • "Make Westing" (1907)
  • "Chased By The Trail" (1907)
  • "Trust" (1908)
  • "A Curious Fragment" (1908)
  • "Aloha Oe" (1908)
  • "That Spot" (1908)
  • "The Enemy of All the World" (1908)
  • "The House of Mapuhi" (1909)
  • "Good-by, Jack" (1909)
  • "Samuel" (1909)
  • "South of the Slot" (1909)
  • "The Chinago" (1909)
  • "The Dream of Debs" (1909)
  • "The Madness of John Harned" (1909)
  • "The Seed of McCoy" (1909)
  • "A Piece of Steak" (1909)
  • "Mauki" (1909)
  • "Goliath" (1910)
  • "The Unparalleled Invasion" (1910)
  • "Told in the Drooling Ward" (1910)
  • "When the World was Young" (1910)
  • "The Terrible Solomons" (1910)
  • "The Inevitable White Man" (1910)
  • "The Heathen" (1910)
  • "Yah! Yah! Yah!" (1910)
  • "By the Turtles of Tasman" (1911)
  • "The Mexican" (1911)
  • "War" (1911)
  • "The Unmasking Of The Cad" (1911)
  • "The Scarlet Plague" (1912)
  • "The Captain Of The Susan Drew" (1912)
  • "The Sea-Farmer" (1912)
  • "The Feathers of the Sun" (1912)
  • "The Prodigal Father" (1912)
  • "Samuel" (1913)
  • "The Sea-Gangsters" (1913)
  • "The Strength of the Strong" (1914)
  • "Told in the Drooling Ward" (1914)
  • "The Hussy" (1916)
  • "Like Argus of the Ancient Times" (1917)
  • "Jerry of the Islands" (1917)
  • "The Red One" (1918)
  • "Shin-Bones" (1918)
  • "The Bones of Kahekili" (1919)

Plays

  • "Theft" (1910)
  • "Daughters of the Rich: A One Act Play" (1915)
  • "The Acorn Planter: A California Forest Play" (1916)

Autobiographical Memoirs

  • "The Road" (1907)
  • "The Cruise of the Snark" (1911)
  • "John Barleycorn" (1913)

Nonfiction and Essays

  • "Through The Rapids On The Way To The Klondike" (1899)
  • "From Dawson To The Sea" (1899)
  • "What Communities Lose By The Competitive System" (1900)
  • "The Impossibility Of War" (1900)
  • "Phenomena Of Literary Evolution" (1900)
  • "A Letter To Houghton Mifflin Co." (1900)
  • "Husky, Wolf Dog Of The North" (1900)
  • "Editorial Crimes – A Protest" (1901)
  • "Again The Literary Aspirant" (1902)
  • "The People of the Abyss" (1903)
  • "How I Became a Socialist" (1903)
  • "The War of the Classes" (1905)
  • "The Story Of An Eyewitness" (1906)
  • "A Letter To Woman's Home Companion" (1906)
  • "Revolution, and other Essays" (1910)
  • "Mexico's Army And Ours" (1914)
  • "Lawgivers" (1914)
  • "Our Adventures In Tampico" (1914)
  • "Stalking The Pestilence" (1914)
  • "The Red Game Of War" (1914)
  • "The Trouble Makers Of Mexico" (1914)
  • "With Funston’s Men" (1914)

Poetry

  • "Je Vis En Espoir" (1897)
  • "A Heart" (1899)
  • "He Chortled With Glee" (1899)
  • "If I Were God" (1899)
  • "Daybreak" (1901)
  • "Effusion" (1901)
  • "In A Year" (1901)
  • "Sonnet" (1901)
  • "Where The Rainbow Fell" (1902)
  • "The Song Of The Flames" (1903)
  • "The Gift Of God" (1905)
  • "The Republican Battle-Hymn" (1905)
  • "When All The World Shouted My Name" (1905)
  • "The Way Of War" (1906)
  • "In And Out" (1911)
  • "The Mammon Worshippers" (1911)
  • "The Worker And The Tramp" (1911)
  • "He Never Tried Again" (1912)
  • "My Confession" (1912)
  • "The Socialist’s Dream" (1912)
  • "Too Late" (1912)
  • "Abalone Song" (1913)
  • "Cupid’s Deal" (1913)
  • "George Sterling" (1913)
  • "His Trip To Hades" (1913)
  • "Hors De Saison" (1913)
  • "Memory" (1913)
  • "Moods" (1913)
  • "The Lover’s Liturgy" (1913)
  • "Weasel Thieves" (1913)
  • "And Some Night" (1914)
  • "Ballade Of The False Lover" (1914)
  • "Homeland" (1914)
  • "My Little Palmist" (1914)
  • "Rainbows End" (1914)
  • "The Klondyker’s Dream" (1914)
  • "Your Kiss" (1914)
  • "Gold" (1915)
  • "Of Man Of The Future" (1915)
  • "Oh You Everybody's Girl" (1915)
  • "On The Face Of The Earth You Are The One" (1915)
  • "The Return Of Ulysses" (1915)
  • "Tick! Tick! Tick!" (1915)
  • "Republican Rallying Song" (1916)
  • "The Sea Sprite And The Shooting Star" (1916)

Famous Quotes

Many of Jack London's most famous quotes come directly from his published works. However, London was also a frequent public speaker, giving lectures on everything from his outdoor adventures to socialism and other political topics. Here are a few quotes from his speeches:

  • Why should there be one empty belly in all the world, when the work of ten men can feed a hundred? What if my brother be not so strong as I? He has not sinned. Wherefore should he hunger—he and his sinless little ones? Away with the old law. There is food and shelter for all, therefore let all receive food and shelter.—Jack London, Wanted: A New Law of Development (Socialist Democratic Party Speech, 1901)
  • Out of their constitutional optimism, and because a class struggle is an abhorred and dangerous thing, the great American people are unanimous in asserting that there is no class struggle.—Jack London, The Class Struggle (Ruskin Club Speech, 1903)
  • Since to give least for most, and to give most for least, are universally bad, what remains? Equity remains, which is to give like for like, the same for the same, neither more nor less.—Jack London, The Scab (Oakland Socialist Party Local Speech, 1903) 

Death

Jack London died at the age of 40 on November 22, 1916 at his home in California. Rumors circulated about the manner of his death, with some claiming that he committed suicide. However, he had suffered numerous health issues later in life, and the official cause of death was noted as kidney disease.

Impact and Legacy

Although it is common nowadays for books to be made into films, that was not the case in Jack London's day. He was one of the first writers to work with a film company when his novel, The Sea-Wolf, was turned into the first full-length American movie. 

London was also a pioneer in the science fiction genre. He wrote about apocalyptic catastrophes, future wars and scientific dystopias before it was common to do so. Later science fiction writers, such as George Orwell, cite London's books, including Before Adam and The Iron Heel, as an influence on their work.

Bibliography

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Schweitzer, Karen. "Jack London: His Life and Work." ThoughtCo, Jan. 31, 2018, thoughtco.com/jack-london-biography-4156925. Schweitzer, Karen. (2018, January 31). Jack London: His Life and Work. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/jack-london-biography-4156925 Schweitzer, Karen. "Jack London: His Life and Work." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/jack-london-biography-4156925 (accessed May 27, 2018).