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E A R L E L A B O R Centenary College of Louisiana From “All Gold Canyon” to The Acorn-Planter: Jack London’s Agrarian Vision The land is the appointed remedy for whatever is false and fantastic in our culture. . . . We plant trees, we build stone houses, we redeem the waste . . . for remote generations. — R a l p h W a l d o E m e r s o n I believe the soil is our one indestructible asset. . . . I am rebuild­ ing worn-out hillside lands that were worked out and destroyed by our wasteful California pioneer farmers. . . . Everything I build is for the years to come. — J a c k L o n d o n During this time of centennial recognition it is a commonplace that Jack London has been for more than two generations of critics the most underrated, least understood figure in American literature. I might add that he has also been the most oversimplified figure in American literature. Although he has been from the outset enormously popular, London is known to the common reader by a mere handful of books: The Call of the Wild, The Sea-Wolf, White Fang, and a couple of collections of tales from the Northland and the South Pacific. He is vaguely familiar to the average scholar as socialist/artist manque who might have amounted to something if he had not sacrificed his creative genius on the gilded altar of success. It is therefore important to realize that, notwithstanding the well-deserved popularity of his Northland classics and South Sea tales, (1) Jack London spent less than a year in the Klondike; (2) he spent less than two years voyaging in the South Pacific aboard his fabled Snark; (3) in the major portion of his writing (the published total 84 Western American Literature comprising fifty-four books, almost two hundred short stories, and some four hundred nonfictional pieces) he dealt with neither the Northland nor the South Seas but with such multifarious subjects as architecture, alcoholism, astral projection, scientific farming, stock-breeding, psychol­ ogy, penal reform, and the spreading symptoms of decadence in the American capitalistic enterprise ranging from the corruption of profes­ sional athletes to that of Washington politicians; and (4) during the last years of his brief but astonishingly varied career he devoted ten hours a day to the building of his model “Beauty Ranch” in the Valley of the Moon and only two hours a day to the writing which was the sole source of his income. In this essay I will explore the complex interrelationship between his Ranch work and his writing.1 My purpose is twofold. First, I should like to rectify a psychologically modish but specious image of London the Rancher. Second, I wish briefly to chart the progress of London’s agrarian vision, citing key works to illustrate crucial developments in his complex, dynamic attitude. Underlying the second part of my discussion — and, indeed, implicit throughout — is my belief that the evolution of London’s attitude toward the land, and toward the intricate relationship between Nature and Science in the American landscape, constitutes a mythic paradigm and that his view was, ultimately, visionary in the richest sense of that word. The basis for this belief should be readily apparent in the quotations by Emerson and London which introduce my essay.2 Despite his rejection of the Sage of Concord as a “philosophic 1The m aterials and ideas in this essay represent a larger project initiated two years ago in collaboration w ith the late Irving Shepard and supported by a National Endowm ent for the H um anities Senior Fellowship. I wish to acknowledge with thanks the aid in research I have received from the heirs of the Irving Shepard Estate, the staffs of the H enry E. H untington Library and the U tah State University Library, as well as the Committee on Fellowships of the N ational Endowm ent for the Humanities. 2T he Emerson quotation is from “The Young Am erican,” The Complete Writ­ ings of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New Y ork: Wm. H. Wise & Co., 1929), pp. 112, 115. Emerson advocated “agricultural chemistry” as a means...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 83-101
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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