At Stanford, September 19: Jack London: Apostle of the American West

Jack London: Apostle of the American West

Centennial Celebration, Symposium, and Exhibition at Stanford
TIME AND DATE

Monday, September 19, 2016

4:15 – 6:45 pm

Note: This event is currently at capacity. Registered attendees will be admitted up to capacity on a first-come, first-served basis. A recorded broadcast by C-SPAN will be made available to after the event for those who are unable to attend.

http://west.stanford.edu/events/jack-london-apostle-american-west

Participants

Jeanne C. Reesman, University of Texas at San Antonio, Professor of English

Sara (Sue) Hodson, Huntington Library, Curator of the Jack London Papers
·   Both Reesman and Hodson will be presenting on Jack London and his photojournalism.

Donna M. Campbell, Washington State University, Professor of English
·   Campbell will be presenting on Jack London’s literary influences on the American imagination and his relationship to other western fiction writers.

Peter Blodgett, Huntington Library, Chief Curator of Western Manuscripts
·   Blodgett will be presenting on the history of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in California and the historical and cultural events that shaped Jack London’s literary themes and lifestyle.

Moderated by Professor Bruce Cain, Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director Bill Lane Center for the American West

With fellow panelists Jeanne Campbell Reesman (UTSA), Peter Blodgett (Huntington Library), and Sara S.Hodson (Huntington Library), I spoke last night at the inaugural event of The Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University. A great audience turned out for the talks, which will be broadcast on C-SPAN in October. Our thanks go out to the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Marc Levin, Bruce E. Cain, and Preeti Hehmeyer for this wonderful experience.

Interview on Jack London from jacklondons.net

A longtime and valuable site for Jack London studies, Dave Hartzell’s jacklondons.net, is giving a “not found” message, so it may be down permanently.

You can find its archives at the Wayback Machine, and if you’re interested in any of the content, you may want to look at it while you still can: https://web.archive.org/web/20160310175855/http://www.jacklondons.net/

I did an email interview with Dave Hartzell for the site in 2010, and, since I don’t have another copy of it, I’m reposting it here.

Please trace the origin of your interest in Jack London.

Donna Campbell

My interest in Jack London began as part of a more general interest in turn-of-the-century American culture. After reading naturalist authors such as Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, and Stephen Crane, I read Martin Eden and The Sea-Wolf and was struck by the ways in which those novels, though prompted by very different experiences, reflected the themes of their works. From his letters and other writings it’s clear how much London, like the others, admired Spencer and Darwin, but there’s an intensity about the ways that London depicts class and gender issues that makes reading his work really compelling.

Later on, I read the California novels (Valley of the Moon, Burning Daylight, and The Little Lady of the Big House) and was struck by how hard he worked to create—and to educate his readers about—an agrarian alternative to what was already becoming a high-stress, industrialized way of life. The contrast between those idyllic California romances about living on the land and the reality of daily writing that London had to complete to keep his ranch going is striking. One of the things London does best is to think about what’s lost and what’s gained when people—as individuals and as societies—rush to be “modern.”

In higher education American literature studies, does London have a high “standing”?
Not exactly, although the situation is improving thanks to good scholarship from a multitude of perspectives, including work by Jeanne Campbell Reesman, Earle Labor, Earl Wilcox, Susan Nuernberg, Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin, Lee Clark Mitchell, Donald Pease, Jonathan Auerbach, the essayists in Reesman and Cassuto’s Rereading Jack London and in Reesman and Hodson’s Jack London: One Hundred Years a Writer, and the authors of recent essays about him in American Literature and other journals. For someone who lacks the high standing in the academy of a William Faulkner or a Toni Morrison, London inspires a surprising amount of critical prose. New approaches to his work and his politics, including interest in London’s journalism, his South Seas tales, and his socialist stories, should help his critical reputation.
In teaching London’s works, what do you emphasize and hope your students understand?
When teaching London to undergraduates, I talk about London as a bridge between the nineteenth and the twentieth century. We talk about naturalism, of course, but we also discuss style. London’s style sometimes veers into the sentimental rhetoric of the nineteenth century, but when reading his crisp and sometimes pitiless descriptions (in “To Build a Fire,” for example) and his handling of sentences, it’s hard to imagine a writer like Ernest Hemingway if London hadn’t come before. In reading passages closely with my students, I also try to point out the highly conscious ways in which he uses syntax, word choice, and point of view; this helps to dispel impression students have that all London did was to dash off experiences and ship them off to magazines. In graduate classes, we discuss London in light of work we’ve been reading the ways in which cultures construct race, class, and gender. We also discuss some of the “untapped areas” (below).
Aside from the “He was a writer of dog stories” canard what are some of the misunderstandings about London and his works?”
That’s the most common misapprehension about London; another is that he wrote only juvenile fiction. Although many writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century wrote for children as well as for adults, there’s been a division between “children’s literature” and “literature written for adults.” Recent attempts to break down that barrier might help a reconsideration of some of London’s work.

Also, as critics have said, London’s a better writer of short stories than of novels.

Jack London’s real-life world, from the turn of the century to the First World War, seems “dated” to young readers who know nothing of the Klondike or socialism. What is there in his work to appeal to a new generation of readers?
I’m guessing that young readers would be interested in the same features that young readers have always liked about London’s prose: vivid descriptions, fresh prose, exotic locations, and lots and lots of adventure (with a little violence for good measure). Can readers still read “To the Man on Trail” or “To Build a Fire” and shiver with the cold that he describes, even if they don’t know London’s views on race or socialism? I think they can.
Are there untapped areas of London scholarship? Please give some examples of research that needs to be done.
Jeanne Campbell Reesman and Sara S. Hodson would have much more to say about this than I do, but here are some possibilities. Some have already been the subject of articles and books, in fact:
  • Sustainable agriculture, agricultural experimentation, and so on in the California novels.
  • Discussions about masculinity, race, body culture, and food culture in the Progressive Era
  • London and celebrity culture
  • London and other writers, especially women writers
  • London and race
  • London’s speculative and science fiction writings
  • Travel, empire, tourism, and London’s South Seas writing
What are your own current areas of London research?
I’ve published on London and gender in Martin Eden, on London and landscape in The Valley of the Moon, and on London and Edith Wharton in The Little Lady of the Big House; in addition, I have work in progress for the Blackwell Companion to the Modern American Novel, for the proposed MLA book Approaches to Teaching Jack London, and for an essay on Rose Wilder Lane as London’s first biographer.
[Update: You can find a number of these completed projects online if you go to the WSU Research Repository link on the sidebar.]

Did Jack London set fire to Wolf House?

Jack London Ranch 2010 033In this month’s Valley of the Moon Magazine, Jonah Raskin says, well, maybe he did.

http://www.vommag.com/january-2016/

Background for this excerpt: Wolf House, the ruins of which still stand in Jack London State Park, was London’s dream home, designed with his input and built from California materials. After citing a 1995 forensic investigation that found oily rags and spontaneous combustion to be the cause, Raskin continues:

Still, not everyone was convinced, including Greg Hayes [Jack London State Park Ranger and London expert]. Even Robert Anderson [forensic investigator] wasn’t entirely convinced of his own argument, especially when I pointed out to him that Jack had written in an essay published before the fire, “It will be a happy house–or else I’ll burn it down.” Just what did Jack mean when he made that provocative remark? Just how unhappy was he in 1913 when his doctors told him that if he didn’t stop drinking, alcohol would kill him.

There was no investigation of the fire that year, not by London’s insurance company, not by law enforcement and not by the fire department, since there was no fire department in Sonoma County in 1913. . . .

Whatever the cause, one thing seems clear. It wasn’t one big happy family on Beauty Ranch. Jack’s second wife, Charmian Kittridge, whom he had married in 1905, typed his manuscripts, followed him most everywhere he went and put up with his philandering. Often depressed, he drove her crazy, and she continued to love him.
According to a witness who overheard an argument in Wolf House shortly before it burned, Charmian told Jack, “You’ll never live here.”

Raskin goes on to discuss other suspects, including jealous neighbors.

What to make of this evidence? A few thoughts:

  1. London’s “or else I’ll burn it down” sounds a lot like London being London to me. That melodramatic note is a fairly characteristic pattern in some of his writing, and holding him to it as a threat, which may work in a police procedural drama, probably means less than you’d think.
  2. “How unhappy was he in 1913”–London’s legion of biographers can sort that one out. He was devastated when Wolf House burned down, as numerous witnesses attest. A brutal letter to his daughter Joan upbraids her for not writing to him to sympathize with its loss.
  3. “You’ll never live here”–Again, in the heat of an argument, the participants say things for effect rather than as actual threats. 1913 was a fraught year for the Londons (see The Little Lady of the Big House), but the two months spent in New York City in 1912 rather than the events of 1913 were a low point in their relationship. If Charmian had to “put up with” a lot from London and his depressions, would she be inclined to burn down a house, knowing that it would send him into a further depth of despair and that, since she’d be there, she’d have to bear the brunt of it?

You can read the article on pp. 46-47 of the issue, which is online at the link above.

Jack London’s Photographs at the Huntington Library

JL_camera_korea_582pxJay Williams, author of Author Under Sail: The Imagination of Jack London, 1893-1902,  recently announced to the Jack London listserv that the Huntington Library is in the process of digitizing the contents of London’s photograph albums:

http://hdl.huntington.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16003coll7

Among the photographs available there are this one picturing the Bond brothers at their cabin with “Jack,” the dog that inspired the character of Buck in The Call of the Wild. wolf

 

Approaches to Teaching Jack London

2015-10-24 10.13.17It’s here! I received a hardcover and a paperback version of Approaches to Teaching the Works of Jack London yesterday. Nicely done, MLA, to give the volume’s contributors both a hardcover and a paperback edition.

I saw an earlier ad with a different cover (here). That one has the traditional dog sled associated so much with London’s Klondike adventures.  I’m glad they chose this picture instead, for unless I’m mistaken, this is the picture of London dressed for going undercover in the slums of London for his book The People of the Abyss. It’s this other London–the rancher, journalist, socialist, etc.–that people need to know better.

The Amazon page didn’t have a table of contents, and I couldn’t find it on the MLA site,  so here’s a picture of the ToC:

2015-10-24 10.26.55 2015-10-24 10.26.39

MLA Approaches to Teaching the Works of Jack London available soon

approachesThe new MLA volume Approaches to Teaching the Works of Jack London, edited by Kenneth Brandt and Jeanne Campbell Reesman, should be available soon; Amazon.com lists the publication date as August 1.  http://www.amazon.com/Approaches-Teaching-Works-London-Literature/dp/1603291431

I have an essay on teaching “Samuel” as regional literature in the volume and will update with a full table of contents later.

Jack London on the modern university

jacklondonJack London took a lot of potshots at universities and university professors; in Martin Eden, for example, or in “South of the Slot,” where a professor vanishes into the life of a labor organizer. The portrayals are usually highly unflattering.

But in The Iron Heel, a professor loses his job because of his radical associations, but not before the president of the university tries to get him to leave quietly:

“He [the president] said that the university needed ever so much more money this year than the state was willing to furnish; and that it must come from wealthy personages who could not be offended by the swerving of the university from its high ideal of the passionless pursuit of passionless intelligence.  When I tried to pin him down to what my home life had to do with swerving the university from its high ideal, he offered me a two years’ vacation, on full pay, in Europe, for recreation and research.  Of course I couldn’t accept it under the circumstances. . . . It was a bribe.”

The Iron Heel was published in 1908, and professors don’t get offered vacation on full pay any more, if they ever did, but London had some insight into how the university works.