Martin eden, p.1
Martin Eden, p.1Jack London
Table of Contents
Jack London—his real name was John Griffith London—had a wild and colorful youth on the waterfront of San Francisco, his native city. Born in 1876, he left school at the age of fourteen and worked in a cannery. By the time he was sixteen he had been both an oyster pirate and a member of the Fish Patrol in San Francisco Bay and he later wrote about his experiences in The Cruise of the Dazzler (1902) and Tales of the Fish Patrol (1905). In 1893 he joined a sealing cruise which took him as far as Japan. Returning to the United States, he travelled throughout the country. He was determined to become a writer and read voraciously. After a brief period of study at the University of California he joined the gold rush to the Klondike in 1897. He returned to San Francisco the following year and wrote about his experiences. His short stories of the Yukon were published in Overland Monthly (1898) and the Atlantic Monthly (1899), and in 1900 his first collection, The Son of the Wolf, appeared, bringing him national fame. In 1902 he went to London, where he studied the slum conditions of the East End. He wrote about his experiences in The People of the Abyss (1903). His life was exciting and eventful. There were sailing voyages to the Caribbean and the South Seas. He reported on the Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst papers and gave lecture tours. A prolific writer, he published an enormous number of stories and novels. Besides several collections of short stories, including Love of Life (1907), Lost Face (1910), and On the Makaloa Mat (1919), he wrote many novels, including The Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea-Wolf (1904), The Game (1905), White Fang (1906), Martin Eden (1909), John Barleycorn (1913), and Jerry of the Islands (1917). Jack London died in 1916, at his home in California.
Born in 1935, Andrew Sinclair took his doctorate at Harvard University and Cambridge University and became a noted social historian and novelist. He has written major works on Prohibition and on feminism in the United States and biographies of John Ford and J. P. Morgan. Mr. Sinclair spent more than two years reading all the London family papers before writing his definitive biography of Jack London, Jack (1977). Andrew Sinclair has also edited the Penguin edition of Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Other Stories.
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell,
Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)
Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads,
Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by The Macmillan Company 1909
Published in Penguin Books, 1967
This edition published in The Penguin American Library 1984
Introduction copyright @ Viking Penguin Inc., 1984
All rights reserved
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
London, Jack, 1876-1916
I. Title. II. Series.
PS 3 5 2 3.O46M3
eISBN : 978-1-101-12746-9
Set in Linotron Janson
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Jack London was a born rebel whose personality demanded the immediate gratification of his contradictory wants. He had a dialectic of appetites without a synthesis of satisfaction. He once confessed to wanting to drive forty horses abreast with the thousand strong arms of his mind; his ambitions in writing and ranching were as excessive as his self-discipline and vigor. Yet his incessant forcing of himself led to occasional nervous collapses into morbidity and despair. Then his horses changed masters. “Satiety and possession are Death’s horses,” he wrote; “they run in span.”
Martin Eden (1909) is London’s most autobiographical novel. It describes his struggle for education and literary fame in his youth and his disillusion with success in his middle age. It mythologizes his rise from obscurity and prophesies his early death at forty. The author’s passionate identification with his hero, Martin Eden, creates the power and compulsion of the book, which remains today equaled only by Knut Hamsen’s Hunger as an archetypal study of the urge to write subordinating even the will to live.
London had a hard raising, although not as hard as did Martin Eden, who mysteriously has no parents, only a brood of vagrant brothers and slatternly sisters. London himself was born in 1876 in San Francisco, the only child of Flora Wellman, a spiritualist and music teacher from a middle-class family. His father was probably a wandering astrologer called William Henry Chaney. Shortly after the boy’s birth, his mothe married a widower, John London, and her son was given his stepfather’s name.
The boy grew up in Oakland and on neighboring small farms. To earn a few dollars, he worked as a newsboy and fought some of the fights Martin Eden fought with Cheese-Face. He had an early love of books and of sailing on San Francisco Bay. By the age of fifteen, he was a delinquent, gang leader, and oyster pirate. Foreseeing an early death on shore, he set off for a seven-month seali
It is at a similar point in life that London chose to introduce his hero Martin Eden. London himself, supported by his mother and by a job as a school janitor, completed high school, took the entrance examinations for the University of California at Berkeley, and attended classes there for two semesters, grasping at knowledge with the desperation of a drowning man and the arrogance of the self-taught. He met a middle-class family, the Applegarths, and fell in love with their daughter Mabel, whose ethereal beauty embodied the visions of his favorite romantic poets. Browning and Swinburne on the shelves always signified for London a touch of class.
Mabel Applegarth was the model for Ruth Morse in Martin Eden, observed with the ruthless hindsight of eleven years’ more experience of life. The episode in the novel when Ruth is seen as a woman because black cherry juice stains her lips is based on the moment at which Jack London first saw Mabel “stripping off her immortality.” As he wrote in 1900 to the second love of his life, Anna Strunsky, Mabel seemed very small a mere four years after he first knew her. “Her virtues led her nowhere. Works? She had none. Her culture was a surface smear, her deepest depth a singing shallow. Do you understand? Can I explain further? I awoke, and judged, and my puppy love was over.”
During the time, however, when the young Jack London adored Mabel Applegarth, he was trying to adopt the values of her class and to leave his own. His memory of his feelings explains the marvel of the opening chapters of Martin Eden, when the youthful sailor rolls into the Morse household and soon feels like “God’s own mad lover dying on a kiss.” Eden’s reverence for bourgeois standards and culture mirrors London’s own rapture at his first encounter with them. When London described the novel as primarily an attack upon the bourgeoisie and all it stood for, he was not wrong; but fortunately, his artistry and awareness of his former illusions enable him to lurch with his hero through the bric-a-brac and deceits of the Morses’ mansion and see all as Camelot and Parnassus.
The novel, London always insisted, was also an attack on individualism. “Being unaware of the needs of others, of the whole human collective need, Martin Eden lived only for himself, fought only for himself, and, if you please, died for himself.” He died because of his lack of faith in men. London, however, claimed to have faith in men. He was a socialist and not an individualist. And so he lived.
Unfortunately, London’s character was nearer Martin Eden’s than he allowed. His individualism and Nietzschean belief in the strength of the will were usually more apparent than his faith in socialism. To reconcile his beliefs in the survival of the fittest and in the aristocracy of the intellect with his compassion for his fellow workers was a task as difficult as driving forty horses abreast. Martin Eden was more consistent, living and dying an individualist, ignoring the decadent poet Brissenden, who praised socialism as the answer to the death wish.
After leaving Berkeley, London joined the Klondike gold rush, a vain quest that he equated with Martin Eden’s treasure hunt in the South Seas. He returned, married his first wife, Bess Maddern, and began to make some literary progress. After the success of his short Klondike stories, The Call of the Wild (1903) and The Sea-Wolf (1904) gave him an international reputation almost as sudden and spectacular as Martin Eden’s. Disillusioned with fame, he retreated from Oakland to a ranch at Glen Ellen, where he hoped to counteract the rape of the American earth by restoring the virgin soil and making a paradise from the land looted by the greed of the pioneers.
By 1906, London’s reaction to overwork and notoriety—experiences that drove Martin Eden to commit suicide—plunged him into long periods of disgust. He summed it up in his drinking confession, the novel John Barleycorn: The things I had fought for and burned my midnight oil for had failed me. Success—I despised it. Recognition—it was dead ashes. Society, men and women above the ruck and the muck of the waterfront and the forecastle—I was appalled by their unlovely mental mediocrity. Love of woman—it was like all the rest. Money—I could sleep in only one bed at a time, and of what worth was an income of a hundred porter-houses a day when I could eat only one? Art, culture—in the face of the iron facts of biology such things were ridiculous, the exponents of such things only the more ridiculous.
The way out of disgust was love of the people and escape. In 1906, London married Charmian Kittredge, made a lecture tour of the United States preaching revolutionary socialism, and set off on a self-designed ketch called the Snark to sail round the world. He had bought too much land at Glen Ellen and had ruined himself building the boat. His captain was incompetent, the ketch was inefficient, and London found himself navigating the vessel with Charmian as his true “mate-woman.” Only his iron determination—and the need to earn a large income to pay for the voyage and the ranch in California—kept him writing a thousand words a day in any weather.
The book he wrote on the voyage was Martin Eden. He was only thirty-one years of age, yet he had already achieved too much too soon. His mental energy seemed to him at times to be mental sickness. He had lamed his splendid body and began to suffer from bowel diseases. The voyage of the Snark was meant to reassert his physical dominance, but it ended in his physical collapse. By the time the Snark reached Hawaii, London had to fire his captain for allowing the sails, ropes, and decking to rot in the sun. Penniless, he had to beg an advance from his publisher to refit the ketch; he beat two thousand miles in variable winds on the Pacific Traverse to the Marquesas, where Gauguin had found his own disillusion and death. There London rented the clubhouse where his boyhood idol Robert Louis Stevenson had stayed and set out for Melville’s paradise of Happar. Tuberculosis, leprosy, and elephantiasis had decimated Melville’s noble warriors. The survivors were mostly freaks and monsters.
More disillusion was to come. There was a financial panic in the United States. London’s checks were being returned by the banks; the mortgages on his properties were threatened with foreclosure. His teeth, which were in terrible shape (unlike Martin Eden’s), were giving him incessant pain. He booked a passage back to California on the Mariposa so he could finish the novel and use the proceeds to pay his debts.
London’s sense of disgust and despair, his physical pain, and his pressing financial problems all help to explain why he pushed his hero through the porthole of a boat that he was taking back to California. Charmian’s diary reveals London’s state of mind while he was finishing Martin Eden on the voyage home: “Jack is sick sometimes, mentally, or he wouldn’t do as he does. This reflection helps me through some hopeless, loveless times—seldom, thank God.” London’s disgust and self-destructive urges at that time were transferred to Martin Eden, but not fully explained. The result is that Eden’s sudden suicide by drowning appears not inevitable but willful—the self-dramatization of a spoiled youth, not the necessary action of a strong man. The published work was an immediate failure with the critics and the public—but has had long-term success as the parable that London always intended it to be, the parable of an individualist who had to die, “not because of his lack of faith in God, but because of his lack of faith in men.”
Had London not been in a temporary slough of disgust, he might have let Martin Eden continue his South Seas voyage as originally intended, even if in the end he was still to drown splendidly in the surf. But the book was long enough, the finish fitting, if depressing. It suited the dark side of London: preoccupied with the struggle of all life against death, the “Noseless One,” he was prodigal with his own energies and physique, excessive in his eating and drinking, driven to die unwillingly at forty from a drug overdose, his body no longer capable of responding to the deman
Unlike Socrates, who only knew that he knew nothing, and spent his life inquiring, both Martin Eden and Jack London though they knew everything and therefore died from a surfeit of boredom. Satisfaction kills the cat, curiosity brings it back. “Work performed” was the ceaseless maggot in Martin Eden’s mind that led him to world-weariness and self-destruction. He had worked too hard and wanted to perform no more. To the self-taught American at the turn of this century, the facile world view of Herbert Spencer comprehended all knowledge and superseded all other philosophies. The paradox was never clear to London or to his surrogate hero: If evolution and Social Darwinism explained everything, thought could evolve no further, and the Social Darwinist would become bigoted and reactionary.
Although the action of Martin Eden takes place primarily on land, the novel itself is dominated by the sea. At the beginning, Martin Eden heaves in, the quintessential sailor, terrified that his sway and gait and shoulders will destroy the bourgeois furniture around him. He is literally at sea in the Morses’ genteel parlor. He sees an oil painting of a schooner in a storm, approaches it, and finds it only an illusion, a trick picture. He does not heed the warning that this new world will trick him. He holds the guests captive at dinner with his vehemence about life afloat and provokes in Ruth the desire to put her lily-white vampire hands about his rough neck and absorb its vigor into her frailty.
Martin Eden himself is a fluid organism, swiftly adaptable, ready to be channeled, like any flow. Ruth first shows her desire for him by leaning against him, the master of a sailboat, at the tiller; and she first shows her jealousy when he recalls a shipwreck and the love of a leper princess. It is the sailor’s diseases he might have caught from port whores that make marriage with him impossible for Ruth; he has played much with pitch, Mrs. Morse thinks, and the children will be unclean. When he cannot pay for his education, Martin Eden considers returning to the sea; but as the city enfeebles him, the sea’s lure becomes more dreamlike and literary, the siren call of South Sea maidens and tropical beaches. His Lucifer figure, Brissenden, urges him to go before the city rots him, but he will not. In his memories of his past, which crosscut the narrative, the images of his life in the forecastle give way to images of himself as the hoodlum gang leader, the Cheese-Face he might have become, the Cheese-Face he had to destroy in himself before he went to sea or took to books. His successful novel, worthy of Conrad, is a sea-novel called Overdue. Finally, when he does return to the sea as a first-class passenger on the Mariposa, it is to die. He has left his own class and found it impossible to join a new one. The forecastle is brutish, the petty officers truly petty, the captain a snob interested only in reputation. So he chooses to drown, quoting his favorite stanza from Swinburne, the poet whom the sailor read first in the overstuffed Morse parlor, the poet whose verse seduces him to plunge into the depths to terminate his ennui. He has had too much of living. He knows that dead men rise up never. So, like the weariest river, he winds his way safely to sea, and darkness.
Martin Eden by Jack London / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes