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Jack London (Jack John Griffith London) Biography

(1876–1916), (Jack John Griffith London), The Son of the Wolf, The Call of the Wild

writing social socialist dog

American novelist, essayist, and social activist; he was born in San Francisco and led an irregular childhood living on the waterfront. After leaving school at 14, he continued this way of life and eventually sailed for Japan and the Arctic aboard a sealer, before returning to America where he also travelled extensively. In 1894 he joined Kelly's Industrial Army, which was to join forces with Coxey's Army, to form a massive crusade across America against unemployment and poverty before arriving in Washington DC; this event drew together his developing interests in both writing and socialism. He studied briefly in Oakland High School and for a semester in the University of California before heading for the Klondike in March 1897. He failed as a prospector and became ill, but wrote of his experiences for periodicals and in The Son of the Wolf (1900), a collection of stories. He used similar material for his famous dog stories, The Call of the Wild (1903), in which a dog escapes civilization to lead a wolfpack, and its counterpart, White Fang (1906), in which a wild dog is domesticated, and for his celebrated short story ‘To Build a Fire’, published in the volume Lost Face (1910), where a man endures the seeming cruelties of the natural environment. He was influenced by his reading of Darwin and Marx, and became a committed socialist, writing People of the Abyss (1903), based on his first-hand experience of British slum-dwellers ‘dying miserably at the bottom of the social pit called London’, and The Iron Heel (1908), a futuristic work predicting a fascist dictatorship which would later give way to a socialist paradise. However, London also applied the writings of Herbert Spencer and Frederick Nietzsche to his faith in the primordial power of individualism, and much of his writing tends towards fantasies of a superman or woman especially fitted to survive and adapt. This tension between collectivism and Social Darwinism is reflected in novels like The Sea-Wolf (1904), about a ruthless captain of a sealing ship; The Game (1905), the tale of a boxer; Before Adam (1906), the story of a primordial human society; and Martin Eden (1909), an autobiographical novel about the development of a writer. Later works include The Valley of the Moon (1912), expressing outright admiration for the Aryan race; Smoke Bellew (1912), stories about a journalist in the Yukon; and John Barleycorn (1913), which was subtitled ‘Alcoholic Memoirs’, and drew largely on London's own drink problem which began when he was 15. The contradictory influences of Marx and Nietzsche are well illustrated in two posthumously published works: The Human Drift (1917), a socialist treatise, and Jerry of the Islands (1917), a fantasy of an Irish setter pup in the South Sea Islands.

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