Martin Eden

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Novel by Jack London, published in 1909.

Like the author, the hero is a sailor and laborer whose endurance and intellectual curiosity lead him to educate himself so that he may share what he conceives to be the fine, high-thinking life of the wealthy bourgeoisie. He is inspired by Ruth Morse, a college-trained society girl, to him a symbol of what he considers are the values of her class. He becomes a writer, expressing the view of life to which his reading of Spencer has guided him, but only Russ Brissenden, a socialist poet (said to be based on George Sterling), understands the power and beauty of his work. His fiancée Ruth, like her family and class, “worshipping at the shrine of the established” and financially successful, deserts him, believing him a failure when magazines will not buy his writing, and is outraged by the notoriety attaching to a newspaper's false accusation that he is a socialist. When one of his books makes him wealthy and famous, she attempts to resume their engagement, but his love is killed by recognition that she really admires only his acclaim and financial success. This realization, the suicide of Brissenden, the loss of affiliation with his own class, and the contempt for the values of the class to which he has climbed rob him of his zest for living. He makes a voyage to the South Seas, and, his will to live destroyed, jumps from the ship and drowns.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Jack London (1876—1916) American novelist

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