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Reviews Jack London: An American Myth. By John Perry. (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981. 351 pages, $21.95 cloth; $10.95 paper.) Something there is about Jack London that fascinates readers around the world. Even during his lifetime (1876-1916) journalists, biographers, and literary critics capitalized on his life and writings for their commentaries. That interest, so pronounced in the first two decades of the twentieth cen­ tury, continues today; since 1970 more than ten book-length studies in English have been published. While most of these previous accounts have at least admitted London’s limitations as man and writer, none has been as negative as the volume under review. Some of this criticism is justified; London often betrayed his egotism, racism, materialism, selfishness, and sometimes his untruthfulness. More London buffs should admit these flaws in their hero’s character if they are to understand his complex personality. Still, in Jack London: An Ameri­ can Myth, John Perry is too critical. He finds almost no positive qualities, when, in fact, London could be exceptionally generous, loyal, sympathetic; and he was a talented storyteller who produced several notable books and numerous worthwhile shorter works. If Perry’s point-of-view is too negative, some of his research methods are also questionable. While he makes extensive use of obscure newspaper, magazine, and secondary' sources, he seems not to have researched the two largest London collections, those at the Huntington and Utah State Uni­ versity libraries. Perhaps he was denied access to the former, but he could have utilized the large collection at Logan. He also makes limited use of most of the important books and essays on London appearing in the last decade. Generally, his research is not nearly as broad and deep as it could have been. Nor is he always balanced in his use of sources. He accepts several stories from sources particularly critical of London — Joseph Noel, Kevin Starr, Andrew Sinclair — and he utilizes negative evidence from those whose works are primarily sympathetic in their treatment of London — Charmian and Joan London. Perry has read widely in London’s voluminous works, but he is too quick to read autobiographical significances into London’s writings, and little of his commentary on London’s fiction contains sustained and penetrating analysis. 158 Western American Literature Several other problems detract from the value of Perry’s book. He quotes far too much from secondary sources— not only from contemporary reviews but also from books and essays pertinent to subjects tangential to his subject’s life and works. For example, Perry gets sidetracked on minor details in his chapter on London in Japan and Korea; the same is true in his discussions of George Sterling, where he is inclined to emphasize Sterling’s unorthodox activities. More extensive copyediting could have eliminated some jerky narration and culled out the author’s tendency to use too many questions. One wonders too why the book contains no introduction, conclu­ sion, or illustrative material. On other topics, Perry is mistaken. His treatment of London’s tramp activities is muddled, and had he made more extensive use of printed and manuscript correspondence his account of the breakup of London’s first marriage to Bess Maddern, his love affair with Charmian Kittredge, and his subsequent marriage to her could have been less sketchy and jumbled. In short, Perry’s biography is disappointing. Less satisfactory than the earlier accounts by Joan London, Kevin Starr, Richard O’Connor, and Andrew Sinclair that reveal the darker and less positive side of London, it also lacks the careful literary commentary of Earle Labor and James I. McClintock, and it is much less useful than Russ Kingman’s sympathetic but fact-filled pictorial biography. While Jack London was not the god-like paragon that some London aficionados have made of him, neither was he the hardened, insensitive rascal that John Perry portrays in his biography. London and his readers deserve a more balanced portrait than this vol­ ume provides. RICHARD W. ETULAIN University of New Mexico Land of Savagery, Land of Promise: The European Image of the American Frontier in the Nineteenth Century. By Ray Allen Billington. (New York: W. W. Norton &Company, 1981. 364 pages...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 157-158
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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