Jack London

  • Stoddard Martin


London’s first great novel was The Sea Wolf (1903). Its hero, Wolf Larsen, captain of the sealing-ship Ghost, is the classic literary embodiment of the Nietzschean Übermensch. Its narrator, the poet and critic Humphrey Van Weyden, whom Larsen has shanghaied from his pleasant dilettantish life in the San Francisco Bay Area, seems Larsen’s natural opposite in his over-civilisation and timidity. Only temporarily, however, can Larsen reduce Van Weyden to the status of an Underman. In the perfect ‘X’ the novel forms, Van Weyden grows to physical as well as moral strength at the same time as Larsen’s physical dominance is sapped by his moral brutality. Education and culture preserve Van Weyden from the abyss. The true Underman in London’s Dantesque scheme must issue from some hideous and blighted background. He must be a villain totally lacking knowledge of his villainy; a man so consistently wronged by the ways of the world, so consistently remote from access to decent civilisation, as to defy the existence of morality altogether. This type will be the true brute, not the Nietzschean like Larsen, who is conscious of his brutality as much as of the morality it is designed to supersede. He will exist through the pragmatism of satisfying immediate needs. He will not shrink from crime if it serves his interests — he will not recognise crime as crime if it serves his interests — and he will be condemned. by his fellows perpetually, scapegoated whenever there is any provocation, because of his evident ignorance of, and transparent carelessness for, the minimum fellow-feeling.


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Notes to Chapter Two: Jack London

  1. 1.
    Letters from Jack London ed. King Hendricks and Irving Shepherd (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1966) p. 308 (quoting from his own ‘What Life Means to Me’).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Jack London The Sea Wolf (London: Macmillan, 1904) p. 13. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jack London, The People of the Abyss (London: Macmillan, 1903) pp. 157–62 (’The Sea Wife’). Further references in text.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Andrew Sinclair, Jack (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1978) pp. 88, 89.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Philip Foner, Jack London: American Rebel (Berlin: Seven Seas Press, 1974) pp. 48–52, 67.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Sinclair, Jack p. 244. Also Richard O’Connor, Jack London (Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1965) p. 6. Quotes Krupskaya on Lenin’s love for London’s stories, which he had read to him on his death-bed.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Jack London, The Iron Heel (London: Everett, 1908) p. 89. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Earle Labor, Jack London ( New York: Twayne, 1974 ) p. 102.Google Scholar
  9. 16.
    Joan London, Jack London and His Times (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1939, 1968 ) p. 362.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Jack London, The Star Rover (London: Macmillan, 1963) p. 101. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  11. 25.
    Jack London, The Mutiny of the Elsinore (London: Mills & Boon, 1915) p. 394. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  12. 28.
    Jack London, A Daughter of the Snows (London: Ibister 1904) p. 111. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  13. 29.
    Jack London, Adventure (London: Macmillan, 1911) ch. 1. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  14. 31.
    Jack London, The Valley of the Moon (London: Mills & Boon, 1913) p. 21. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  15. 35.
    Jack London, Burning Daylight (London: Macmillan, 1910) pt 2, ch. 5. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  16. 36.
    The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche ed. Oscar Levy (London: T. N. Foulis, 1909–13) vol. vi, Human, All-too-Human, 1 p. 384.Google Scholar
  17. 40.
    Jack London, The Little Lady of the Big House (London: Mills & Boon, 1916) chs 1–6. Further references in text.Google Scholar
  18. 46.
    Edmund Wilson, Axel’s Castle ( New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1931 ) p. 177.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Stoddard Martin 1983

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  • Stoddard Martin

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