Wolf: The Lives of Jack London by James L Haley - review by Richard Gray

Richard Gray

The Lycanthorpe

Wolf: The Lives of Jack London


Basic Books 348pp £17.99

Jack London did not enjoy his one trip to England, but it helped make him famous. Arriving in London in 1902, the as yet unknown American writer was immediately struck by the abject poverty of the East End. ‘I never conceived such a mass of misery in the world before,’ he confessed. Disguising himself as a stranded sailor down on his luck, and living for a while in Whitechapel Workhouse, he observed and wrote tirelessly about the conditions he found: they were so bad, London claimed, he had to look at them a ‘second time’, in order to convince himself ‘that it was really so’. The weather did not help his mood, either. ‘Been in England 11 days,’ he noted, ‘& it has rained every day. Small wonder the Anglo-Saxon is such a colonizer.’ ‘I have heard of God’s Country,’ London added, ‘but this country is the country God has forgotten that he forgot.’

On returning to the United States, London turned his research in the miserable, rain-swept backstreets of London into a book called The People of the Abyss. It was published in 1903. In the same year came The Call of the Wild, a short novel about a domestic pet

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