True to his famous words, “I would rather that my spark burn out in a brilliant blaze than be stifled by dry-rot,” Jack London’s life was a short, intense glow.
From newspaper boy to cannery worker, from sailor on a seal hunting schooner, to vagabond and gold miner, Jack London rose from poverty to become one of the most famous and highest paid writers of his time, all by the age of 30.
Born a bastard, raised by a loving ex-slave, and later nurtured by a kind step-father, London’s early life in rough-and-tumble San Francisco and Oakland forever shaped him. With hard work, the kindness of others, and sheer force of will, London turned disadvantage into opportunity.
The constant need to work for wages coupled with a desire for freedom and adventure meant London never finished school, yet by his early 20s he knew that his calling was to be writer.
After two years of extreme but motivating hardship in the Klondike, he returned to California filled with a lifetime of experience and stories. Determined to “sell his brains” and make books “the tools of his trade,” his efforts to get published were met only with constant rejection. One editor even suggested he abandon writing altogether and find a different vocation.
Severely depressed but undeterred, London exhibited, perhaps most intensely, those traits for which he became renowned – discipline and action, and worked until rejection gave way to acceptance and success. He worked and worked and then worked some more until, as he said, “toil had become delight.”
Soon, with the success of Call of the Wild and later White Fang and Sea Wolf, all inspired by personal experience, London was world-famous and extraordinarily wealthy.
He was “a doer and a thinker,” said his wife. Friends called him a “a force of nature” and a man with “colossal energy” who possessed a certain “magnetism and vigor of life.” Even peers, such as Upton Sinclair, remarked about his “unmatched zeal for living.”
London’s hard work and active lifestyle was accompanied by equally hard drinking and by the young age of 40 he was dead.
Passionate, engaging, industrious and determined, Jack London’s legacy is not only his fascinating and eternal literary works but also his inspirational story as a self-made man.
The Men of Character features are strictly editorial. In no way does this article imply association with or endorsement from the Estate of Jack London.