Quotable Words: On Jack London

Great lead to a TLS review of a new bio of Jack London.

White Fang, First EditionWhat he sought was an impassioned realism”, Jack London wrote of his alter ego, the striving novelist Martin Eden. “What he wanted was life as it was, with all its spirit-groping and soulreaching left in.” One often wishes that London himself had left out the groping and reaching. For all the wide-eyed breathlessness of his characters and the hurtling momentum of his prose – “To live! To live! To live!”, says Wolf Larsen in The Sea-Wolf (1904) – he was a better writer when he slowed down and even stood still, overcoming his fear that inertia meant creative death. Only then could he abstain from the romantic posturing and philosophical maundering of “London the amateur Great Thinker” (as H. L. Mencken called him) and register the undramatic, minor-key world around him – everything that other writers of the Strenuous Age were too exhausted to notice. He might declare, at the height of liquor-fuelled self-regard, “I have ten thousand august connotations” (as he does in his memoir John Barleycorn [1913]), but he is more convincing when he sharpens his observational skills against the one irreducible fact of life named in White Fang (1906): “They were meat”, London writes of two Klondike travellers monitored by a hiding wolf, “and it was hungry”.

Nice work by Marc Robinson. (Full review behind pay wall, sorry). I particularly love that “amateur Great Thinker” jibe by Mencken. A widely applicable term, methinks.)

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