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The Soul of Jack London, Part 3

4,140 words

[1]Part 3 of 4

We saw in the first part[s] of this study that virtually all of Jack London’s writing, even his earliest work, gave explicit expression to his strong racial consciousness. Despite his otherwise very healthy racial and philosophical views, however, London’s understanding of the Jews required a long time to mature.

He was certainly well acquainted with members of that race through the radical socialist circles to which he belonged, where they abounded. He viewed them as clever, aggressive, and hard working, as well as dedicated leaders in the struggle for the betterment of the proletariat, and so it was difficult for him to think entirely ill of them. Later, however, his disenchantment with the socialist movement seemed to proceed apace with the growth of his understanding of the true nature of the Jew.

At the beginning of his writing career London established a close intellectual relationship with the Jewess, Anna Strunsky, whom he met in the socialist‑Bohemian circles of San Francisco. Jack described her as “a Russian Jewess who happens to be a genius.” She had immigrated with her Red‑activist parents from Czarist Russia. Jack and Anna eventually became close friends, and it seems that he was briefly on the verge of falling in love with her, while still bound in his unhappy first marriage to Bess Maddern.

Anna, however, never had any romantic inclinations, and the relationship remained strictly platonic ‑‑ an affair of the minds only. Once divorced from the bland Bess, Jack soon married the more fun‑loving and independent Charmian Kitteridge; and Anna remained as she always had been ‑‑ a woman with whom he could argue intelligently.

Jack and Anna were two opposites, in both race and mind, and the fair Teuton and the dark Jewess argued greatly on all subjects. Among other things, Anna scolded Jack for his accumulation of material possessions and for his brash statement that he would write for money and show the capitalists a thing or two. Anna, who was from a well‑to‑do family and would eventually marry millionaire socialist William Walling English, ironically argued that no real socialist could hoard up his money until he had a fortune, because his compassion for the less fortunate would force him to give it away as soon as he earned it.

By late 1900 their letters arguing the nature of love evolved into a literary collaboration. Jack, using the nom de plume “Herbert Wace,” would discuss love from the biological viewpoint. And Anna, writing as “Dane Kempton,” would argue love from the emotional perspective. The Kempton‑Wace Letters was published in 1903, and it remains one of the oddest books ever written.

A personal incident a few years later, in 1910, gives us some insight into the changed attitude toward Jews which London had been developing in the interim. After being beaten up by a San Francisco bar owner as the result of a misunderstanding, he brought charges against his assailant, but they were thrown out of court by a Jewish judge, George Samuels ‑‑ who just happened to own the land on which the bar stood. Infuriated, London denounced Samuels as “a dark, sinister Hebrew judge who . . . [draws] his inspiration from the cruelty of the old scriptures.”

In a letter to Charmian, referring to Judge Samuels, Jack wrote: “Dear Woman, the more I think of that cowardly, oily Jew, the angrier do I get about it.” And in a letter to Samuels himself he wrote: “You played the cheap, unfair, bullying game that police judges and magistrates have played in the Anglo‑Saxon world for a score of generations before you and yours entered said Anglo‑Saxon world and embraced its unfair practices.” Jack reiterated his attack in another letter to Charmian, referring to the judge as “Samuels, a sheeny shoe peddler.”

That his understanding of the Jews still had not crystallized, however, and that he still was not ready to acknowledge fully and forthrightly at an intellectual level the visceral antipathy he felt for that race and had manifested in his reaction to Samuels, is illustrated by something he wrote the following year. The September 22, 1911, issue of The American Hebrew and Jewish Messenger ran an article entitled “The Jew in English Fiction,” which was a symposium of letters solicited from a number of prominent authors on the subject of their depiction of Jews in their writing. The Jews were up to their age‑old game of “sensitizing” their Gentile hosts. In this case the implied suggestion was that, in order to be fair, Gentile writers should bend over backward to avoid any negative portrayal of a Jew. London had been asked to contribute to the symposium, and he sent the following response:

“I have no recollection of having made a Jew serve a mean fictional function. But I see no reason why I should not, if the need and the setting of my story demanded it. I cannot reconcile myself to the attitude that in humor and fiction the Jew should be a favored race, and therefore be passed over, or used only for his exalted qualities. . . . I am a terrific admirer of the Jews; I have consorted more with Jews than with any other nationality; I have among the Jews some of my finest and noblest friends . . . it is as unfair for a writer to make villains of all races except the Jews, as it is to make villains only of Jews. To ignore the Jew in the matter of villainy is so invidious an exception as to be unfair to the Jews.”

Actually, London already had portrayed the Jew in a despised or villainous role in some of his works, and he would do so with increased frequency and conviction in the years to come. The outstanding example is The Mutiny of the Elsinore, in which he appropriately cast the scheming Semite as the sinister foe of the noble Aryan.

London wrote his two best and most important racial‑ideological novels during the last four years of his life. The Valley of the Moon, published in 1913, and The Mutiny of the Elsinore, published in 1914, are powerful literary works whose theme is the uncertain future of the White race. It was during these last years of his life that race became an overriding obsession with him. During the same period he also achieved a mature understanding of the Jew’s role in the world.

The idea of the unconquerable Teuton projected in the much earlier A Daughter of the Snows is replaced in The Valley of the Moon and The Mutiny of the Elsinore with the recognition that the White race is not invulnerable and that it is granted no divine guarantee of survival. London, in deteriorating health, had become aware of his own mortality by this time, and this may have awakened him to the mortal threats to the race itself.

In The Valley of the Moon the heroine is Saxon Brown. Her first name was intended to symbolize the purity and strength of her ancestors. When Saxon first meets her future husband, Billy Roberts, they talk about their racial heritage. Billy remarks that “Saxon” is a peculiar name. Saxon responds:

“My mother gave it to me. . . . The Saxons were a race of people ‑‑ she told me all about them when I was a little girl. They were wild, like Indians, only they were white. And they had blue eyes, and yellow hair, and they were awful fighters. . . . We’re Saxons, you an’ me, an’ Mary, an’ Bert . . . .”

As Saxon looks through a scrapbook of her mother’s, containing depictions of historical paintings, one of the paintings reminds her of the similarity between her Teutonic ancestors and the man who will become her mate:

Between bold headlands of rock and under a gray cloud‑blown sky, a dozen boats, long and lean and dark, beaked like monstrous birds, were landing on a foam‑whitened beach of sand. The men in the boats, half naked, huge‑muscled and fair‑haired, wore winged helmets. In their hands were swords and spears, and they were leaping, waist‑deep, into the sea‑wash and wading ashore. Opposed to them, contesting the landing, were skin‑clad savages, unlike Indians, however, who clustered on the beach or waded into the water to their knees. The first blows were being struck, and here and there the bodies of the dead and wounded rolled in the surf. One fair‑haired invader lay across the gunwale of a boat, the manner of his death told by the arrow that transfixed his breast. In the air, leaping past him into the water, sword in hand, was Billy. There was no mistaking it. The striking blondness, the face, the eyes, the mouth were the same. . . . Somewhere out of the ruck of those warring races had emerged Billy’s ancestors, and hers . . .

In the novel London attacks the socialists as dreamers and foreigners. Billy says, “I for one won’t stand for a lot of fat Germans an’ greasy Russian Jews tellin’ me how to run my country…”

Democracy also is attacked, as being “the dream of the stupid peoples”: “. . . [D]emocracy is a lie, an enchantment to keep the work brutes content, just as religion used to keep them content. When they groaned in their misery and toil,they were persuaded to keep on in their misery and toil by pretty tales of a land beyond the skies where they would live famously and fat while the clever ones roasted in everlasting fire. Ah, how the clever ones must have chuckled! And when that lie wore out, and democracy was dreamed, the clever ones saw to it that it should be in truth a dream, nothing but a dream.”

The Valley of the Moon is a novel about blood and soil. Saxon and Billy are the descendants of a great people, but they are trapped as members of the working class in the young Industrial Age. Newly married and entangled in labor problems, Saxon decides that they must flee the city of Oakland to escape the spiritually unhealthy urban environment and the massive influx of non‑White labor from Asia and the increased numbers of Mediterranean types from southern Europe. She realizes that they must return to the soil for their racial and spiritual rejuvenation:

Her mind was made up. The city was no place for her and Billy, no place for love or for babies. The way out was simple. They would leave Oakland. It was the stupid that remained and bowed their heads to fate. But she and Billy were not stupid. They would not bow their heads. They would go forth and face fate. Where, she did not know. But that would come. The world was large . . . The world was free to her and Billy as it had been free to the wandering generations before them. It was only the stupid who had been left behind everywhere in the race’s wandering. The strong had gone on . . .

Always had her race been land‑hungry, and she took delight in believing she had bred true; for had not she, despite her life passed in a city, found this same land‑hunger in her? And was she not going forth to satisfy that hunger, just as her people of old time had done, as her father and mother before her?

Saxon and Billy settle on a farm in the Valley of the Moon, an exceptionally scenic gorge on the American River, a few miles south of San Francisco, which was the site of London’s own ranch: the place where he himself had returned to the soil. When the novel ends Saxon is heavy with child, symbolizing hope for the future of the race.

But London expresses his uncertainty about that future in the following, as Saxon recalls a lithograph that she had seen when she was a young girl: “It was of a Plains Indian, in paint and feathers, astride his horse and gazing with wondering eye at a railroad train rushing along a fresh‑made track. The Indian had passed, she remembered, before the tide of new life that brought the railroad. And were Billy and his kind doomed to pass, she pondered, before this tide of life, amazingly industrious, that was flooding in from Asia and Europe?”

The Mutiny of the Elsinore, which followed The Valley of the Moon by only a year, is a starkly foreboding novel depicting the struggle for survival of the Aryan in the face of the revolt of the world’s Untermenschen, led by the Jew. The ship, the Elsinore, named after the tragedy‑ridden castle in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, is a microcosm of the world. The blond Aryans comprise the heroic officer class of the ship, while the darker breeds and degenerate blonds comprise the crew. The Aryans must withstand a mutinous revolt, led by a Semitic‑Mediterranean trio from New York City.

The latter are introduced early in the book as they board the ship. One of them, “Nosey” Murphey, has the following encounter with the Aryan officer, Mr. Pike:

“What’s your name ‑‑ you?” Mr. Pike barked at the first of the trio, evidently a hybrid Irish‑Jew. Jewish his nose unmistakably was. Equally unmistakable was the Irish of his eyes, and jaw, and upper lip. Bert Rhine, “in whose veins ran God alone knows what Semitic, Babylonish, and Latin strains,” and “who looked the admixture of all that was Mediterranean and Semitic,” is the leader of the trio. The third member, “Kid” Twist, is “a dark‑eyed, olive‑skinned fellow . . . from southern Italy ‑‑ from Naples, or even Sicily.”

The only other Semitic character in the story, and one who will side with the mutiny, is introduced in the following: “One more, sir, a sheeny. I didn’t know his name before, but Mr. Pike got it ‑‑ Isaac B. Chantz. I never saw in all my life at sea as many sheenies as are on board the Elsinore right now. Sheenies don’t take to the sea, as a rule. We’ve certainly got more than our share of them.”

The story is written through the eyes of the young Aryan officer, Pathurst. He makes the following observation, voicing the theme of the book and London’s own racial concerns:

Every one of us who sits aft in the high place is a blond Aryan. For’ard, leavened with a ten per cent of degenerate blonds, the remaining ninety per cent of the slaves that toil for us are brunettes. They will not perish . . . they will inherit the earth . . .

And I look at the four of us at the table ‑‑ Captain West, his daughter, Mr. Pike, and myself ‑‑ all fair‑skinned, blue‑eyed, and perishing, yet mastering and commanding, like our fathers before us, to the end of our type on the earth. Ah, well, ours is a lordly history, and though we may be doomed to pass, in our time we shall have trod on the faces of all peoples, disciplined them to obedience, taught them government, and dwelt in the palaces we have compelled them by the weight of our own right arms to build for us.

Captain West is referred to as “the blond Aryan master, the king, the Samurai,” while the crew is described as being “a nightmare spawn of creatures, assumably human, but malformed, mentally and physically, into the caricatures of men.”

Pathurst relates his racial pride when Mr. Pike fearlessly rescues two of the crew during a severe storm: “I knew augustness and pride as I gazed ‑‑ pride that my eyes were blue, like his; that my skin was blond, like his; that my place was aft with him, and with the Samurai, in the high place of government and command. I nearly wept with the chill of pride that was akin to awe and that tingled and bristled along my spinal column and in my brain. As for the rest ‑‑ the weaklings and the rejected, and the dark‑pigmented things, the half‑castes, the mongrel‑bloods, and the dregs of long‑conquered races ‑‑ how could they count? My heels were iron as I gazed on them in their peril and weakness. Lord! Lord! For ten thousand generations and centuries we had stamped upon their faces and enslaved them to the toil of our will.”

Pathurst again lauds Mr. Pike, much later, with: “How Nietzsche, with his eternal slogan of ‘Be hard! Be hard!,’ would have delighted in Mr. Pike!”

Events of the voyage bring Pathurst’s ancestral past to the fore:

It is nothing new. I have been here before. In the lives of all my fathers have I been here. The frost is on my cheek, the salt bites my nostrils, the wind chants in my ears, and it is an old happening. I know, now, that my forebears were Vikings. I was seed of them in their own day. With them I have raided English coasts, dared the Pillar of Hercules, forayed the Mediterranean, and sat in the high place of government over the soft, sun‑warm peoples. I am Hengist and Horsa; I am of the ancient heroes even legendary to them.

Bert Rhine and his cohorts, the “ripened product of the New York City inferno,” organize and maintain the mutiny, which achieves a peculiar result. The Aryan officers manage to hold off the dark horde and maintain control of the “high place,” and thus the steering of the ship. And the mutinous crew controls the deck, and thus the motive power.

Near the end of the book, Bert Rhine, the Semitic mongrel and leader of the revolt, sneeringly suggests to Pathurst the possible fate of his beautiful Aryan woman, the daughter of Captain West. Pathurst’s response is the most revealing and most moving passage in the book:

And I knew anger. Not ordinary anger, but cold anger. And I caught a vision of the high place in which we had sat and ruled down the ages in all lands, on all seas. I saw my kind, our women with us, in forlorn hopes and lost endeavors, pent in hill fortresses, rotted in jungle fastnesses, cut down to the last one on the decks of rocking ships. And always, our women with us, had we ruled the beasts. We might die, our women with us; but, living, we had ruled. It was a royal vision I glimpsed. . . . It was the sacred trust of the seed, the bequest of duty handed down from all ancestors.

And I flamed more coldly. It was not red‑brute anger. It was intellectual. It was based on concept and history; it was the philosophy of action of the strong and the pride of the strong in their strength. Now at last I knew Nietzsche. I knew the rightness of the books, the relation of high thinking to high conduct, the transmutation of midnight thought into action in the high place on the poop of a coal carrier in the year nineteen thirteen, my woman beside me, my slant‑eyed servitors under me, the beasts beneath me and beneath the heel of me. I knew at last the meaning of kingship.

My anger was white and cold. This subterranean rat of a miserable human, crawling through the bowels of the ship to threaten me and mine! A rat in the shelter of a knothole making a noise as beastlike as any rat ever made!

Shortly after this incident, Bert Rhine, the Semitic rat, has a bucket of sulfuric acid tossed in his face. His resultant excruciating torment makes exceptionally delightful reading.

The book ends with the Elsinore nearing port, the rebellious crew eager to reach shore, and Pathurst eager to see them in jail. The Aryan has survived, at least temporarily. Many good members of the race have died in the struggle, however, and there seems an infinite supply of rats and lesser‑breeds for future confrontations. Pathurst and Margaret, the daughter of the dead captain, have decided to marry in the face of an uncertain future. London summarizes the pessimistic but heroic outlook in the following thoughts of Pathurst: “Yes, I am a perishing blond, and a man, and I sit in the high place and bend the stupid ones to my will; and I am a lover, loving a royal woman of my own perishing breed, and together we occupy, and shall occupy, the high place of government and command until our kind perishes from the earth.”

In 1915, the year before London’s death, The Star Rover was published. It is an interesting novel, in which London relates the harshness of prison life. It is written through the eyes of the character Darrell Standing, a former professor of agronomy at the University of California who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a fellow professor, committed during a surge of anger over some private matter. To escape the pain and confinement of prison, he has developed the ability, real or imagined, to remove his spirit from his physical body and rove the stars, transcending both time and space.

In one such roving he travels back in time to the period of Christ, as Ragnar Lodbrog, a Teuton captured and made slave by the Roman legions, eventually to become a freeman and a Roman soldier. He travels to Jerusalem to witness the religious madness of the Jews and meets with Pontius Pilate, whom he had known before the latter became the “procurator over the Semitic volcano of Jerusalem.” The piece is essentially an attack on Judeo‑Christianity, illustrating the foreignness of Levantine thought to the European peoples. Darrell Standing describes his journey in the following:

It was my observation that it was the custom of the country for every man to call every other man a madman. In truth, in my judgement, they were all mad. There was a plague of them. They cast out devils by magic charms, cured diseases by the laying on of hands, drank deadly poisons unharmed, and unharmed played with deadly snakes ‑‑ or so they claimed. They ran away to starve in the deserts. They emerged howling new doctrine, gathering crowds about them, forming new sects that split on doctrine and formed more sects.

“By Odin,” I told Pilate, “a trifle of our northern frost would cool their wits. “. . . Never were such troublemakers. Everything under the sun was pious or impious to them. They, who were so clever in hair‑splitting argument, seemed incapable of grasping the Roman idea of the State. . . . In Jerusalem, that last time I rode in, it was easy to note the increasing excitement of the Jews. They ran about in crowds, chattering and spouting. Some were proclaiming the end of the world. Others satisfied themselves with the imminent destruction of the Temple. And there were rank revolutionists who announced that Roman rule was over and the new Jewish kingdom to begin.

Ragnar encounters Miriam, a Jewess who “was an aristocrat by nature.” The Teuton develops something of an affection for her, although they spend all of their time arguing their two very different views of life, seemingly mimicing London’s own earlier closeness to the Jewess Anna Strunsky. Miriam asks him where his spirit will go upon death, which sparks a conversation that emphasizes the differences of character and soul between the Teuton and this Jewess who is the embodiment of Judeo‑Christian thought:

“As I have said, Valhalla,” I answered. “And my body shall be there, too.” “Eating? ‑‑ drinking? ‑‑ fighting?” “And loving,” I added. “We must have our women in heaven, else what is heaven for?” “I do not like your heaven,” she said. “It is a mad place, a beast place, a place of frost and storm and fury.” “And your heaven?” I questioned. “Is always unending summer, with the year at the ripe for the fruits and flowers and growing things.”

I shook my head and growled: “I do not like your heaven. It is a sad place, a soft place, a place for weaklings and eunuchs and fat, sobbing shadows of men. “.  . . My heaven,” she said, “is the abode of the blessed.” “Valhalla is the abode of the blessed,” I asserted. “For look you, who cares for flowers where flowers always are? In my country, after the iron winter breaks and the sun drives away the long night, the first blossoms twinkling on the melting ice‑edge are things of joy, and we look, and look again. “And fire!” I cried on. “Great glorious fire! A fine heaven yours where a man cannot properly esteem a roaring fire under a tight roof with wind and snow a‑drive outside. . . .We build roof and fire to go forth from into the frost and storm and to return to from the frost and storm. Man’s life is fashioned for battle with frost and storm.”

Their differences pronounced, the Teuton leaves the Jewess and departs the land of the Jews. Ragnar remarks: “Quickly enough will come the dark, and you depart for your coasts of sun and flowers and I for the roaring table of Valhalla.”