At age twenty-three, Jack London (1876–1916) sold his first story, and within six years he was the highest paid and most widely read writer in America. To account for his success, he created a fiction of himself as the quintessential self-made man. But as Clarice Stasz demonstrates in this absorbing collective biography, London always relied on a circle of women who nurtured him, sheltered him, and fostered his legacy.
Using newly available letters and diaries from private collections, Stasz brings this diverse constellation of women to life. London was the son of freethinking Flora Wellman, yet found more maternal comfort from freed slave Jennie Prentiss and his stepsister Eliza. His early loves included a British-born consumptive, a Jewish socialist, and an African American. His first wife, Bess Maddern, was a teacher and devoted mother to daughters Bess and Joan, while his second wife, Charmian Kittredge, shared his passion for adventure and served as a model for many characters in his writings. Following his death, the various women who survived him both promoted his legacy and suffered the consequences of being constantly identified with a famous man.
In recasting London's life through the eyes of three generations of women, Stasz manages to untangle his seemingly contradictory attitudes and actions. She also reveals the struggle that ensued, after his death, among family members and scholars over how he should be remembered. What emerges from this well-researched book is a new understanding of London and a compelling portrayal of the women who knew him best.