Jack had to grow up fast — and make money. Aged just 13 he started work in a canning factory.
By 15 he'd managed to save enough to buy himself a small boat, on which he sold onions and potatoes to the ships anchored in San Francisco Bay. He soon upgraded to a sloop called the Razzle Dazzle and became an oyster pirate, raiding the tidal oyster beds, before switching sides to patrol the same beds for the California Fish Patrol. He then signed up to work on a ship bound for the Bering Sea.
Jack London | Biography, Books and Facts
He returned to America to work in a jute mill, became a hobo, was thrown into prison, became a gold prospector in the Yukon, a stoker on a steamship and a student at the University of California. And all before the age of No wonder he referred to himself as the "Work Beast". And no wonder he saw writing primarily as a source of income. He was hooked. During his adventures London devoured books along with his candy — the staff at the local public library were his mentors — and he began to wonder if he too might become a full-time writer.
He saw writing as a form of labour and soon acquired the habit of knocking out a thousand words a day, wherever he was and whatever he was doing.
Some of the work was claptrap, of course, and much of it was slapdash, but his early short stories were soon gathered together and published as The Son of the Wolf , and he was on his way. He published an average of three or four books a year. London's physical appetites were as insatiable as his passion for writing — his friends called him Wolf — and he seems to have loved men and women equally, though exactly how equally it's difficult to tell.
He certainly enjoyed a close friendship with a poet named George Sterling, whom he called "The Greek".
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Haley retells London's adventures with great relish — and who wouldn't. The trip around the world with Charmian on a ship they called The Snark ; the ranch on which they built their big house made of lava blocks and redwood, which mysteriously burned down; learning to surf in Hawaii; the time in a workhouse; the horses; life among the head-hunters in the South Pacific. It's exhausting merely to read about, but to live it.
Here, he might have been describing his own life: much adventure, a sort of love story, a weird bang of a finish. As a rollicking, turn-of-the-century tale in his own style, the London story reads well. Born in , London was the illegitimate child of a philandering astrologist who later, in a creative move, denied paternity by claiming impotence.
He came of age in a golden era of political corruption, when the octopus of the Southern Pacific Railroad monopoly still held the West Coast in its grip.
The final frame reveals a person perhaps not innately contradictory but forced, by his time, into contradiction: London as both lawbreaker and abider, no sooner giving up poaching oysters from the San Francisco Bay than taking a job with something called the California Fish Patrol, arresting the very sort of person he used to be. He was caught early between the warring forces of socialism and capitalistic success, a magnet at each pole.
He became, consequently, both a dedicated socialist and a dedicated maker of money in the capitalist style.
His personal life was fraught with the same unconscious tensions as his politics. Yet fascination, in the London case, is not exactly a bridge to empathetic engagement. Interest in the man as artist is hard to begin with, thanks to the dated nature of his work: Emotional involvement with him as a character is nearly impossible.
Perhaps, if it were the only instance of his detachment.