Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jack London Biography

Jack London (1876-1916)

v     Jack London was a writer and journalist, one of the first big names in the new industry of commercial literary magazines.

v     He's most famous for his stories about the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska, with the novels White Fang, and Call of the Wild, and the short story "To Build a Fire".

v     As a journalist he witnessed the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, where he was frequently arrested by the Japanese, and the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

v     He was also an ardent socialist, writing the exposé The People of the Abyss, The War of the Classes, and the dystopian novel, The Iron Heel.

v     Jack London was controversial, not only for his political views, but also for being an atheist, and accusations of plagiarism. Jack often used news stories as inspiration for his writing.

v     The bar in San Francisco where young Jack often went to study, is now called Jack London's Rendezvous in his honor.

Personal Life:

John Griffith London was born in San Francisco, and much of his life was shaped by the difficulties he faced as a child. His mother, Flora Wellman, was a music teacher and spiritualist, who claimed to be able to channel spirits of the dead. Jack never knew who his father was, partly because of an earthquake that destroyed thousands of documents in San Francisco in 1906 (including his birth certificate), but mostly because his mother was... a bit strange.

At the time of his birth, his mother was married to an astrologer named William Chaney. They split immediately following her conception (počatie), and Jack didn't learn the details of this divorce until he went to university, and searched through newspaper stories in the library. Jack discovered that he was the reason for the breakup. According to the newspapers, Chaney had demanded that Flora have an abortion, and she refused. When he left her, she shot herself, but miraculously both she and the unborn Jack survived.

When Jack was born he was given over to the care of an ex-slave, named Virginia Prentiss, until later that year when Flora remarried to a disabled Civil War veteran named John London. The family settled in Oakland, CA, where Jack went to school. He dropped out at age thirteen to...

1. Work in a cannery, over twelve hours a day.
2. Buy a boat to be an "oyster pirate".
3. Sail to Japan and back.
4. Work in a jute mill (a factory that makes burlap cloth (vrecovina)).
5. Live as a tramp (parník? tulák?), being arrested in New York for "vagrancy" (túlanie).

Finally, Jack returned to high school and graduated. He got a small loan, and attended the University of California, Berkeley... where he went to the school library.

Discovering his family history, Jack decided to write to his "biological" father, asking for money to finish university. Chaney wrote back that he couldn't possibly be Jack's father because he had been impotent (neplodný) at the time, and besides, his mother had been sleeping around with many other men - anyone could be his father. He also said that he had never talked about abortion, that Flora was a liar and deranged, and that he didn't want anything to do with either of them.

Devastated (zničený), Jack had to quit school. Jack's sister had married a ship captain, so Jack sailed north with him to Alaska to join the Klondike Gold Rush. Jack never got rich from gold, instead becoming very sick and losing his four front teeth.

Jack came back to California in 1898, determined to be a writer. He had a difficult start, but soon started earning good money, selling short stories to literary magazines, which had just begun in America and became immensely popular. Jack also married a childhood friend, Bessie Maddern, and had two children, although the marriage quickly fell apart. Jack was used to going out at night and returning the next day, which Bessie, obviously didn't like. They divorced in 1904, and Jack remarried a year later to Charmian Kittredge, the love of his life. This second marriage lasted to the end of his life.
Despite Jack's success as a writer and the money it brought him, he still suffered from bad luck. He bought a ranch, which was a financial failure. He built a huge mansion that burned down two weeks before it was to be finished. And he died young from kidney failure, related to a string of illnesses he suffered in the Klondike and various tropical locales, plus alcoholism. There is some debate whether or not Jack killed himself with morphine at the end of his life to stop the pain. No one knows.

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