Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
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 abandoned Flora before Jack's birth. The author adopted the name of John London, whom his mother married in September of 1876.
His childhood was spent in Oakland 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 seventeen, 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 workers headed to Washington, D.C. to protest unfair working conditions. He left the group before it reached Washington and traveled the country on freight cars. He was arrested for vagrancy and spent thirty days in jail.
London later entered the University of California at Berkeley. For one semester, he studied Darwinism, Marxism, and other liberal philosophies, but he soon left college. He then traveled to the Klondike Territory in 1897 to search for gold. Although he made no money from gold, his adventures in the Yukon gave him the background for many of his stories, including The Call of the Wild and White Fang.
Upon his return from the North, London began to write. In 1899, the first of several science fiction stories was published. In 1900, London married Bessie Maddern and really settled down; they had two daughters. He devoted himself to writing and published 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, Charmian Kittredge; he also published his favorite book, The People of the Abyss, a story about poverty. White Fang, published in 1906, was written as a companion piece to The Call of the Wild, but it was never as successful as the first novel about the Wild.
London lived in poverty and sickness most of his life, and he drank heavily. In 1909 he published Martin Eden, a novel in which he tells of his discouragement as a writer. In 1913 he published John Barleycorn, a book about his own alcoholism. By 1915, he was using opium and morphine to ease the pain of his bowels, and he soon became addicted to these drugs. On November 21, 1916, he injected an overdose that caused his death. Whether his death was, in fact, a suicide is still disputed.
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 remembered most for his naturalistic writing and his development of the theme of "the survival of the fittest."
The Yukon Region of Northwestern Canada was first explored in the 1840s by Robert Campbell, a British fur trader for the Hudson Bay Company. In 1870, it became part of Canada's Northwest Territories, but was still largely unpopulated. In 1896, George Carmack and his Indian friends struck gold 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, mined 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 a 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, including White Fang.