Monday, March 10, 2014
Jack London: The Unpublished and Uncollected Articles and Essays. Edited by Daniel J. Wichlan
A tasty serving of leftovers
Jack London: The Unpublished and Uncollected Articles and Essays collects 26 pieces of short nonfiction that have never before appeared between the covers of a book. In his introduction to this 2007 collection, editor Daniel J. Wichlan claims that these are likely the final pieces of Jack London’s complete works to be uncovered. Most of these writings were penned for various magazines and newspapers, and are journalistic in tone. A couple essays were written as contest entries, and at least one began as a public speech. In the past I’ve been less than impressed with London’s essays. His two collections The Human Drift and Revolution are both chock full of mediocrity. Since the writings in Wichlan’s collection had never been reprinted before, I assumed they would prove worthy of their obscurity. Thankfully, I was wrong. I was very pleasantly surprised by how good many of these pieces are. The articles are arranged chronologically in order of original publication, which allows one to see the development of London’s thought and writing from clumsy and vague to mature and eloquent. They’re not all winners, but even the more poorly written pieces are valuable for the insights they provide into the author’s personal philosophy.
Wichlan deserves to be commended for digging up these buried treasures. In the brief introductions he writes for each essay, however, he’s shamefully guilty of hero worship. He sees every bit of London’s writing in the best light, and to hear him tell it you’d think London never wrote a racist word in his life. London, like many authors of his time, did have some racist inclinations, though scholars argue over how far they went. While a few of his books make him out to be a white supremacist (The Mutiny of the Elsinore comes to mind), this is not one of them. In the most controversial piece, “The Salt of the Earth,” London outlines his idea of how the process of evolution is still at work in the social, political, and economic forces of the present day. While London has often sung the praises of his Anglo-Saxon race, in this essay he clarifies that white people who speak English are merely winning the game right now (in 1902), and won’t be on top forever. London’s obsession with evolution forces him to see the various peoples of the world as little more than giant colonies of bacteria fighting over sustenance in a giant petri dish. In another article he looks at womankind through the same unflattering Darwinian lens. Rather than racist or sexist, London’s opinions come across as brutally blunt, deliberately provocative, and generally misanthropic. Yet at the same he was a firm believer in the power of the human spirit and preached multicultural brotherhood in pieces like “The Language of the Tribe.”
Several political essays are included, in which London takes an unapologetically Socialist stance on various issues. In general these aren’t as good as the essays that make up his book War of the Classes, but they still help to clarify his personal political views. Overall he comes across not as a textbook Socialist but rather simply an anti-Capitalist. Beyond race and politics, a range of lighter topics are covered as well, from Klondike sled dogs to a night out at a burlesque show to the filming of the 1913 movie of The Sea-Wolf.
If you’re a casual fan of The Call of the Wild, don’t read this book. The audience for this collection is London scholars and aficionados of his work. For anyone who falls under either of these categories, this book is a must-read. Perhaps more than any other nonfiction collection in the London canon, this book broadens our understanding of the role London played as a public intellectual of his time.
Essays and articles in this collection
The Principles of the Republican Party
Telic Action and Collective Stupidity
What Socialism Is
Direct Legislation Through the Initiative and Referendum
What Are We to Say?
The Economics of the Klondike
Husky—The Wolf Dog of the North
Washoe Indians Resolve to Be White Men
Girl Who Crossed Swords with a Burglar
Finds Presumed Descendants of Sir John Franklin’s Party
The Salt of the Earth
The Stampede to Thunder Mountain
What Shall Be Done with this Boy?
Rising Tide of Revolution
Denied Admittance to the U.S. Because He Loves Liberty
Saved—and Lost! The Sobraon Boys
Running a Newspaper
The Yankee Myth
Jack London Sees Movies Made of His “Sea Wolf”
Jack London Goes to a Burlesque Show
In Extravagance of Adornment the Modern Woman is Still a Savage
The Message of Motion Pictures
The Language of the Tribe
Pressure of Population and Preparedness
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