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90 Western American Literature Jack London and His Daughters. By Joan London. Introduction by Bart Abbott. (Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1990. 184 pages, $10.95.) The last letter Jack London ever wrote was to his first daughter, Joan. It contains plans for his two girls and himself to take a long-awaited sailing excursion. Even if one has read this letter before (it has often been reproduced as partial proof that London did not commit suicide), how much more mean­ ingful it is in the context of Jack London and His Daughters. Joan London’s memoir offers a heretofore unpublished perspective on London, focusing as it does on the difficulties created for him and his family by his divorce from Bess Maddern London and his marriage to Charmian Kittredge London, and of course on him as a father. London had a great deal of contact with his children, and he wanted to have had more, but was opposed by their mother. The book is a sad, poignant, at times even a tragic story of a little girl’s perspec­ tive on events which she did not understand at the time and which preoccupied a good part of her adulthood, as she always asked herself the painful question, “Did Daddy love me?”, and the perhaps even more difficult one of why her beloved mother used her control over visiting rights to punish her ex-husband. Joan’s book is beautifully written, evocative of a time and place long vanished, and full of interesting and necessary perspectives on her famous father. This personal account of Joan’s life with her father needs to be evaluated primarily in light of its personal nature, for it will not prove to be a good source for scholars or students of London. Given the controversies that have sur­ rounded London’s personal life, the book as presented does not give a disinter­ ested account of London’s relationship with his daughters, or even just with Joan. First of all the volume is mistitled. It should have been called something like Joan London Tells of Her Childhood, for it offers only one side of a terribly complicated story. The perspectives of the other daughter, Becky London Fleming, as she is called today, are not at all presented, and the picture of Jack London it furnishes, while loving and understanding, is obviously so informed by the fierce hurt of London’s rejected first wife that crucial information, such as that concerning the infamous “window incident,” when London accidentally caused Becky to injure her ankle while playing with her, seems too redolent of a “party line” to be reliable. In addition, one would like to have seen a fuller and more balanced introduction, or perhaps two, one by Bart Abbott, Joan London’s son, and one by a London scholar; explanatory footnotes; and some other letters between Joan and her father to balance the invective of the one (February 24, 1914) from Jack to Joan London reproduced in full as an appendix. If one reads the other letters, one realizes how unusual this angry example is in their correspondence. Finally, the publisher’s press release copy is disgraceful: “Meet a Jack London You Never Knew Existed!” This advertis­ ing is one more example of the kind of celebrity-jargon which London’s work and reputation have always had to suffer. For all its shortcomings in a larger frame of reference, this book is much worth reading. Its record of young Joan’s feelings toward herself, her father Reviews 91 and mother, and her world is rewarding for anyone interested in families; its rich period details are fascinating; its descriptions of nature quicken all the senses. But more than anything else, one sees the family resemblance between Joan and Jack: the power of their writing, their extraordinary sense of life, and their shared difficulties in managing the intimate relationships within their troubled family. That Joan went on to write Jack London and His Times, an important biographical source, as well as So Shall Ye Reap: The Story of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Workers’ Movement, comes as no surprise to those familiar with the influence of London’s writing and political...


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pp. 90-91
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