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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
Jack London was born out of wedlock in San Francisco, California, on January 12, 1876. His parents were Flora Wellman and William Henry Chaney, who had left his mother before Jack's birth. The author never knew his father and adopted the last name of John London, whom his mother married in September of 1876. His childhood in Oakland was spent in the slums and was marred by poverty. After completing grammar school, he worked at various odd jobs.
By the age of fifteen, he had become a delinquent, robbing the nets of fishermen. At the age of 17, he became a sailor on the Sophie Sutherland and traveled to the Far East. Upon his return from his first journey, he joined a group of militant workers headed to Washington D.C. to protest. He left the group in Missouri and traveled as a hobo on freight cars. He was arrested for vagrancy and spent thirty days in jail in New York.
After his release, he began to prepare himself to enter the University of California at Berkley. For one semester, he studied Darwinism, Marxism, and other liberal philosophies, but he grew restless and left college during his second semester. He them traveled to the Klondike Territory in 1897 to search for gold. Although he made no money from gold, his adventure in the Yukon became the basis for many of his stories, including The Call of the Wild.
Upon his return from the North, London began to write. In 1899 his first of several science fiction stories was published. In 1900, London married Bessie Maddern, and they had two daughters. Soon after his marriage, he began his career as a serious writer, publishing his first novel, A Daughter of the Snows, in 1902. A year later, in 1903, he published The Call of the Wild. In that same year, London left his wife and children for a new love, Charmain Kittredge; he also published his favorite book, The People of the Abyss, a story about poverty in London. He then wrote a number of socialistic works, including The War of the Classes (1905) and The Iron Heel (1908). White Fang, was written as a companion piece to The Call of the Wild and published in 1906.
Most of London's writing was not financially successful. As a result, he lived in poverty most of his life. He also drank heavily and suffered from ill health. In 1909, he published Martin Eden, a novel in which he tells of his discouragement as writer. In 1913, he published John Barleycorn, a book about his alcoholism.
By 1915, he was using opium and morphine to ease the pain of his bowels and soon became addicted to the drugs. On November 21, 1916, he injected an overdose that caused his death. There is still question as to whether the overdose was intentional. When Jack London died on November 22, 1916, at the age of forty, he left behind a considerable quantity of literature. He had written forty-nine books, including nineteen novels and eighteen books of essays and short stories. London is probably remembered most for his naturalistic writing and his development of the theme "the survival of the fittest."
Robert Campbell, a British fur trader for the Hudson Bay Company, first explored the Yukon Region of Northwestern Canada in the 1840's. In 1870 it became part of Canada's Northwest Territories, but was still largely unpopulated. In 1896, George Carmack and his Indian friends made a gold strike at a mining camp about fifty miles from Dawson City. This discovery led to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 and 1898. Thousands of prospectors poured into the Yukon, and many staked claims. Few, however, were successful in finding gold.
The author, Jack London prospected for gold in the Yukon in 1897, and experienced freezing weather during the winter, gnawing hunger from the scarcity of food, and a deep sense of isolation and loneliness that came with the darkness that lasted for six months. From the mining records of Dawson City, it is known that Jack London filed paper for "Claim No. 545 on the Left Fork ascending Henderson Creek in the aforesaid Mining Division." London also stated before the Gold Commissioner in Dawson, "I solemnly swear that, I have discovered therein a deposit of gold." London, however, never made any money from his gold adventure and soon left the North. Even though he did not get rich from the Klondike Gold Rush, London's Yukon experience gave him enough material to write several of his novels and short stories.
During the gold rush, Yukon transportation depended mainly on dogs, and there were not enough strong dogs locally; therefore, prospectors began to import large dogs from other places, many of them stolen. While in the Yukon, London came to know one of these imports, a cross between a St. Bernard and Scotch Collie, owned by Lois Bond, one of the campers at Dawson City. Lois Bond was the son of Judge Bond of Santa Clara, California. Lois' father became Judge Miller in The Call of the Wild, and his dog became Buck, both in breed and temperament.