I picked up Earle Labor’s book Jack London thinking it was a biography; however, it was actually more of a literary analysis of London’s work with a little biographical information thrown in. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but because it was short, I read it and gathered some interesting facts and insights.
1. According to Labor, The Call of the Wild was London’s “masterpiece”; however, I was surprised to find that he wrote numerous novels that I had never encountered: Martin Eden, Burning Daylight, The Little Lady of the Big House. He also mentions The Scarlet Plague, an apocalyptic, dystopian science fiction novel. I’ve only heard of it within the last few weeks as Jay, over at Bibliophilopolis, recently read this.
2. Critics have generally loved Wolf Larsen of The Sea Wolf but have hated the inclusion of Maud Brewster toward the end as a sort of love interest for Humphrey Van Weyden. While I didn’t necessarily hate her, I thought her popping up in the middle of the ocean seemed a little too coincidental. London indicated that he felt his “fans” would want a romance included in the novel.
3. London was not the starving artist like some authors. He gained a considerable amount of success and fame in his relatively short life (he died when he was 40). The fact that he was successful has always been a source of contention with many critics and has kept him from being considered truly great.
4. He ran for mayor of Oakland, CA as a Socialist candidate twice and lost both times. The fact that many of his protagonists or heroes were rugged individualists and London himself pulled himself up by his boot straps more or less, he considered himself a Socialist and many of his lesser known works have a bit of propaganda included in them.
5. Many have believed that London committed suicide when he was 40; however, according to Labor, London was in bad health, due in part to alcohol and in part to working too hard, and died as a result, but it was not suicide.