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The World of Jack London

Life and Jack London

Introduction by Dan Wichlan

Dan WichlanTHE following fictionalized biography of Jack London was written by Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968) and was serialized in eight monthly installments in Sunset magazine during the period October 1917 to May 1918. It was the first posthumous biography of London to appear in print. This website posting is the first reprinting of Lane's biography since 1918. The original copy of this rare publication comes from the library of Dale Walker to whom we are most grateful.

As the best selling and most beloved writer of his day, London's death made headlines around the world. Consequently, there was a rush among publishers to print his first biography, and the Sunset magazine version appeared less than a year after London's death on November 22, 1916. This short-term deadline did not allow much time for interviewing those who knew London, collecting his letters, or doing other research, so Lane drew heavily from London's own writings, both fiction and nonfiction. Readers familiar with London's writing will recognize descriptions based on and quoted from Tales of the Fish Patrol, Dutch Courage, The Road, The Kempton-Wace Letters, Martin Eden, The Cruise of the Snark, John Barleycorn and selected articles.

In fact, Lane did not set out to write a fact-based biography of London. More likely, based on his popularity, she chose to eulogize him and remember him as the literary hero he had become to millions of his readers. Any other approach at that time would have been considered scandalous and would not have been published. Therefore, she ignored the true circumstances of his birth and death and glossed over his drinking and divorce. Also there are other minor factual errors that are mostly inconsequential.

Lane's biography deliberately romanticizes London, and she frequently fills in the gaps with hypothesized conversations that, although undocumented, are entirely plausible and which make the reader feel to be part of the conversation. Lane knew London's writing well and had a valid insight into his psyche based on this knowledge. Absent any contemporary psychoanalysis, Lane's descriptions provide a fascinating psychological profile of London. Lane was a highly accomplished and proficient writer and her descriptions are both colorful and engaging. The reading of her London biography provides a unique opportunity to see him through the eyes of a contemporary of similar status.

The London magazine series launched Lane's career as a biographer. She later wrote book-length works on Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin and Herbert Hoover. Lane's own career closely paralleled that of Jack London. After high school, she was largely self-educated through voracious reading on her own. She wrote both novels and short stories that appeared in the leading magazines of the period, worked as a journalist for newspapers such as The San Francisco Bulletin, and became a war correspondent for the Red Cross during World War I. She eventually became the highest paid woman writer in America. She also became involved in politics, although, unlike London, she opposed socialism and became a staunch supporter of libertarianism.

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