Martin Eden -Jack London   Leave a comment

This is another novel from the list, ‘1001 books to read before you die’. I had not heard of it before, although I had read ‘Call of the Wild’ by the same author, years before.

Martin Eden was written in 1909, and dates from a mature period and later than his more famous works-Call of the Wild, White Fang, Iron Heel and Sea-Wolf. London was born in San Francisco and his early life finds a lot of echoes in Martin Eden.

The novel follows the struggles of a young man, Martin Eden, in his efforts to better himself through self-educating, and then as he tries to forge a career as a writer. He is determined to do this initially to make himself worthy of the young rich woman he has fallen in love with, Ruth Morse.

The novel then becomes a version of a Künstlerroman; describing a young artist’s journey to maturity. It is graphic in its description of the poverty and difficulties involved in this. Martin is constantly being sent rejection letters. It takes almost 2 years for him to get his career breakthrough, but sadly it doesn’t lead to a happy ever after.

The novel has been described as largely autobiographical. Certainly many of the past adventures Martin is said to have had, the poverty of his upbringing and the self-education largely completed through the state library are all examples of London’s life.

Ruth Morse is often said to be based on London’s first love, Mabel Applegarth. As a response to his success, Martin leaves in a ship for a final voyage to the east as he is disenchanted with the system. London wrote Martin Eden whilst on a similar 2 year voyage.

The final similarity between life and art is much disputed. In the novel, Martin takes his own life, and it has often been claimed to be a foreshadowing of London’s own death, which many claimed was suicide and linked it to opium abuse. However his family have always denied this, and his death certificate lists Uremia following Renal Colic.

Despite the tragic ending, Martin Eden is usually seen as a positive example for the young writer, and spawned and entire generation of young aspiring novelists.

I did pick up some interesting themes in the novel, his comments on the social conditions of the time, an obsession with machinery and also with a need to find beauty.

I had no expectations when I started the novel, but if you have read Call of the Wild, prepare to be surprised. This is a very readable gentle tale of a young man and his self determination to make something of himself, against all the odds and eventually with only his own self-belief to keep him going. I really enjoyed the book, reading it in 2 days. It is very inspiring. The romance that is entwined within the story is very well done, not overly sentimental, as writing of that time tended to be, but straightforward but very touching. A must read if you ever hope to write yourself!

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Posted July 21, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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