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Jack London was born out of wedlock in San Francisco, on January 12, 1876. His father, William Henry Chaney deserted his mother Flora Wellman before he was born and Jack assumed the last name of John London, the man whom his mother married when he was small boy. There are many accounts (some of them said to be exaggerated) of his struggles in his youth with poverty and of the odd jobs that he took to sustain and support his family.
After graduating from the eighth grade in 1890, London left home. He hitchhiked around the country and wandered throughout the northeast as a hobo. He marched to Washington D.C. with a group of unemployed men and began to agree with many Marxist ideals. In 1894 he was arrested in Niagara Falls and jailed for vagrancy.
Even though he had no formal education, he was an avid reader and educated himself. At the age of 19, he gained admittance to the University of California at Berkeley. Financial problems prevented him from completing his schooling and he turned to writing to earn a livelihood. His early stories appeared in the Overland Monthly and the Atlantic Monthly.
In 1900 he married Elisabeth Maddern, but left her and their two daughters three years afterwards.
London's career was as romantic and out of the ordinary, as the heroes and characters of his own novels. He worked in the Cannery as a laborer but found that this job didn't pay enough. Looking for a way to get rich, he decided to borrow money for a Sloop and become an oyster pirate. When this venture failed, he took a job with the local Fish Patrol, clashing with the same men who had been former colleagues in piracy. He was also a sailor on a sealing ship and crossed the Bering, to Japan. He went to the Klondike region to prospect for gold during the gold rush years of 1897. Though he did not find any gold, his experiences provided the rich material that made his novels so unique and authentic.
When he returned from the North, London began to write and his first novel, A Daughter of the Snows was published in 1902. This was followed by several other books; Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906) are hailed as twin pieces, and were instant hits. They portray the instincts of freedom and power as opposed to love and civilization. He was also the author of several work of non fiction: War of the Classes (1905), The Iron Heel, Revolution and Other Essays (1910), and People of the Abyss, a study of the London slums.
Writer of 50 books in 17 years, he won acclaim as a teller of tales with images of vivid and powerful projection.
He never enjoyed a life of prosperity, although he loved to live lavishly. He kept an open house and willingly supported his parents, sister and family. He loved action, adventure and glamour. He died as he lived and as he wrote - he died at forty, a burnt out man.
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