Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jack London--Author and Adventurer

With Nancy J. Farrier

Jack London 1903
Jack London, born Jack Griffith Chaney, in 1876, wrote many books, stories of high adventure. He penned numerous short stories, non-fiction works and poetry. London lived an adventurous life and many of his writings were based on his own exploits. Jack’s father deserted his family and was never a part of his life, but his mother remarried and Jack took his step-father’s name and became Jack London.

Growing up in San Francisco, Jack had to work hard and
Jack, age 9
didn’t have the opportunity for formal schooling. When he wasn’t working, he enjoyed reading and learning about the world and life. As a teen, London worked a variety of jobs. One of those jobs, an oyster pirate, appeared in some of his stories. As oyster pirates, the men would go in at night to private oyster beds, raid the beds and sell the pirated oysters the following morning at market.

London Cottage

In 1893, seventeen-year-old Jack, went on a sealing voyage. They were caught in the midst of a typhoon, adding to the excitement. When Jack returned home, he entertained his mother with tales of his time on board ship. His mother encouraged him to write the story and enter a writing contest. Jack won the prize for his story, although his writing career wouldn’t take off for several years.

Jack and Charmian

In 1897, when Jack was twenty-one, he sailed with his brother-in-law to join the Klondike Gold Rush. Due to the harsh conditions and constant struggle to survive, Jack’s health declined. He suffered from malnutrition and contracted scurvy, a common ailment among the men. Still, his time there fueled stories and he penned, what critics refer to as one of his best short stories, To Build a Fire, based on the hardships he endured.

In 1900, Jack married his longtime friend, Bess Maddern.
Bess London with daughters
They had two children, Joan and Bessie (Becky). Their marriage didn’t last long. They married because they were compatible, but Bess had difficulty with Jack’s lack of purity in their marriage. Even as they divorced, Jack still treated Bess with kindness. Their divorce was final in 1904 and in 1905, Jack married Charmian Kittridge, whom he considered his soul mate. They remained married until his death.

Jack with daughters Joan and Bessie

The Call of the Wild Jack’s biggest selling book, sold in 1903 to both The Atlantic Monthly and Macmillan publishers. Between 1900 and 1916, Jack wrote over 50 novels
Jack's ship, Snark
, many short stories and some non-fiction books. He also worked as a correspondent for the Hearst newspapers. In 1907, he built a yacht, Snark, and he and Charmian sailed to Hawaii and Australia before ill health made them head home. Jack wrote a nonfiction book, The Cruise of the Snark, based on this voyage. Later Charmian wrote, The Log of the Snark and  Our Hawaii based on their voyage.

Wolf House Ruins
Although he loved the life of adventure, Jack also enjoyed a more peaceful lifestyle. He bought land in Sonoma Valley and built a home there. He wanted to farm and have a quiet place to write. He had a small cottage in the middle of his land where he resided while he planned and built Wolf House, his dream home. Right before he and Charmian moved into their new home, the house caught fire and burned to the ground. Jack was devastated at the loss, but continued to live in their cottage. (In 1955, a group of fire experts visited the site and determined the cause of the fire to be some linseed oil soaked rags left by workers.)

A hard worker, Jack London made it his policy to write 1,000 words a day. With
Jack London 1916
his health declining, his doctors encouraged him to slow down, to curtail his alcohol consumption, and to improve his diet. Jack refused to do any of those things and died gastrointestinal uremic poisoning in November of 1916 at the age of forty.

Even at the end, Jack had many bold plans. He never admitted defeat, and he left a legacy to his ideals in his many writings. Have you ever visited the Jack London Historic Park? Have you read any of his books?  Which of his writings did you enjoy most?

Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needle craft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website:

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