To start, I know Jack London is not exactly Victorian, but we Vicky A girls are equally fascinated by the Gay 90’s, the Gilded Age, the Roaring 20’s – basically all things pre-World War II. Well, ok, we also love the fashion of the 40’s (why did we ever stop wearing HATS?!) but to keep this blog manageable, generally we will focus on the Victorian era (in Europe and the US) through WWI. I can’t guarantee, however, that we aren’t going to go all flapper on you once in a while – particularly when that Great Gatsby movie finally comes out. I digress slightly, but the point is that I’m going to talk about Jack London who was not exactly Victorian but was exactly awesome.
Have you ever seen those Dos Equis commercials with The Most Interesting Man in the World? Jack London was actually the most interesting man in the world in his day, and I think he still holds a pretty high spot on the list of The Most Interesting People of ALL TIME, somewhere between Alexander the Great and Neil Armstrong. Perhaps you think I exaggerate. Allow me to explain.
Besides being a prolific and inspired writer, Jack London was a pirate, a fish-patroller, an able-bodied seaman, a gold prospector, a hobo, a Socialist politician, and a ranch owner. When he was in high school, he went to a saloon to study. That could be a Chuck Norris joke it is so ridiculous. With his schooling delayed and sporadic, he was largely self-taught, and his many life adventures (and the colorful characters he met along the way) inspired his great and memorable stories. He was incredibly intelligent and though self-educated, he was very well-educated. He had a passion for workers’ rights and twice ran for Mayor of Oakland on the Socialist ticket. He lost both times. He spent time living in the slums of London in order to write about the experience in “The People of the Abyss.” He wrote a dystopian novel about a fascist future that influenced George Orwell’s 1984, using this platform to further promote his Socialist ideas. He fearlessly embraced adventure and new experiences of all kinds. During a cruise in the South Seas on his sloop the Snark, the ship was battered and thrown off course in a sudden squall. When his companion started to become anxious about their whereabouts and well-being, London said to him,
“We’re not more than two miles from land now.”
“Which way?” asked his worried friend.
“Straight down, Martin, straight down.”
He was tough, strong, and self-confident – quintessentially masculine – as well as well-spoken and thoughtful. He was an amateur boxer known to be involved in the occasional bar brawl. He signed letters, “Wolf.” He is the best storyteller I have ever read. He was a passionate and exciting man whose stories thrilled and challenged me in my youth and still do so today. Plus, look at these pictures. He was hot. This is why I love him.
He was also an alcoholic, a white supremacist, a bit of a misogynist, and a Nietzschean. He relished the ideal of the Nietzschean superman, and many of his characters personified the traits of that ideal, always large, light-eyed white males both physically and mentally superior to those around them. He referred to his second wife as his “Mate-woman” and had a Darwinian view of love and relationships with little respect for the idea of monogamy. I have a feeling he was not the type of husband to do the dishes after his wife cooked him dinner. He died at the age of 40, his ill health at such a young age a result of his destructive lifestyle. This is why I would never want to marry him.
I respect and admire him (and I devour his writings) while simultaneously being repulsed by some of his ideas and beliefs. He would be a great bad-boy college fling before settling down with a nice, normal man. I love him, but I would never marry him.
I close with a credo popularly attributed to London though it cannot be proven that it is entirely written by him. Regardless of its origin, it sums up his attitude about life very neatly, and I still find it inspiring.
“I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.”
Sources: Alex Kershaw’s “Jack London, a Biography,” a little from Wikipedia, and mostly from my own years of reading about him in various sources.