Cover image for Jack London's women
Jack London's women
Stasz, Clarice.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xvi, 393 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3523.O46 Z894 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 lif

Author Notes

Clarice Stasz is professor of history at Sonoma State University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Writers like Ernest Hemingway and Jack London, notorious for their hard drinking, womanizing, and adventure seeking, are ripe for biographies that focus on the women in their lives. Can these men really embody the monolithic machismo they project to the public, or is there another story to tell in private? In this biography, Stasz (history, Sonoma State Univ.; The Vanderbilt Women) uses newly available letters and diaries to flesh out the various women who knew London best: his mother, a stepsister, a friend, his first wife, two daughters, and, most of all, his second wife, Charmian. What results is a view of London the patriarch, a persona that fits all too comfortably with his hypermasculine image. Within the context of his family, he appears manipulative, miserly, and, at times, downright cruel. (In one letter he compares his daughter Joan to a "ruined colt" that can't be trained: "I say let the colt go. Kill it, sell it, give it away.") As for his women, their stories feel blunted and lackluster, never fully developed apart from their relation to London's fame. Recommended only for academic libraries. Amy Strong, East Boothbay, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Stasz (history, Sonoma State College) explains her purpose in her preface: her biography of Jack London and Charmian London, American Dreamers (1988), was flawed because it cast Charmian "as victim" and it propounded a view "uncomplimentary to Jack's mother, Flora Wellman, his first wife, Bess Maddern, and his elder daughter, Joan." With this volume, Stasz intends to revise the reader's understanding of these women and their role in London's life. The author bases this study on the unpublished letters and manuscripts of Joan London (Jack's daughter and author of Jack London and His Daughters, 1990, and Jack London and His Times, 1939). Though scholars cannot verify the interpretations and conclusions presented here without access to this material, Stasz's biography adds to established views of London's life by focusing on women closely connected to it--e.g., daughters Joan and Becky, second wife Charmian (including her life as a widow after Jack's death in 1916), and early love interest socialist Anna Strunsky Walling (coauthor with London of the fictional Kempton-Wace Letters, 1903). Significant others briefly discussed include foster mother Jennie Prentiss (the subject of Eugene Lasartemay and Mary Rudge's For Love of Jack London, 1991) and stepsister Eliza London Shepard, who deserves extended study. All levels. S. M. Nuernberg University of Wisconsin--Oshkosh

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
1 Mrs. Prentiss, Mrs. Chaneyp. 1
2 Johnny, Jackp. 16
3 Those California Womenp. 38
4 "Gitana Strunsky"p. 56
5 Damned Hard on the Womanp. 76
6 Deceivers and Deceivedp. 97
7 Like Children at a Circus Paradep. 120
8 Mother-Girl, Mother-Notp. 140
9 Bitter Harvestsp. 161
10 A Ruined Coltp. 179
11 Your Silence Is Now Goldenp. 196
12 Widowsp. 211
13 Every Woman Should Fight to Accomplish Her Endp. 227
14 Fate in Their Own Handsp. 246
15 The World Has Fallenp. 268
16 I Want Good Work Done on Jack Londonp. 289
17 He Loved Me Morep. 304
18 Jack London Had Two Daughtersp. 323
Epiloguep. 345
Acknowledgmentsp. 357
Notesp. 361
Selected Bibliographyp. 381
Indexp. 387
Photographsp. 210