This month I have read Martin Eden, my first Jack London novel. It is the semi-autobiographical tale of Martin Eden, a sailor just returned from the sea. He meets Ruth Morse, a beautiful girl from a wealthy, middle class family. The meeting arouses Martin's ambition and he aspires to move in her circles, discuss intellectual subjects and achieve wealth and status through the most direct means he can imagine, as a writer. In his struggle to become a writer he learns a lot about himself, his friends and family and about the real cost of success. I would describe Jack London's style as real and warm. All the time I was reading the novel I felt like Ruth sheltered in Martin's strong arms. The best way for me to review this book is through the words of the author himself.
1 - Chapter 7 - He had fainted but once in his life, and he thought he was going to faint again. He could scarcely breathe, and his heart was pounding the blood up into his throat and suffocating him.
This is just one example of how Jack London is able to put across feeling so that it almost seems you are there. It gives real warmth to the novel. I particularly love the way the relationship between Ruth and Martin develops. Martin falls in love with Ruth at first sight but Ruth's attraction is more physical, more of an awakening.
2 - Chapter 4 - He held up his hand, rubbing the ball of the thumb over the calloused palm and gazing at the dirt that was ingrained in the flesh itself and which no brush could scrub away. How different was her palm! He thrilled deliciously at the remembrance. Like a rose-petal, he thought; cool and soft as a snowflake.
Here Martin is contemplating his hand and it becomes a symbol of his history and class and the contrast between his hand and that of Ruth is the contrast between their two worlds. I love the fact that Jack London dedicated two pages to this reflection. It sets the tone for the novel that allows time and space for the characters to develop and tells me that character development is more important than action.
3 - Chapter 24 - because she could not shape him to live in her pigeonhole, which was the only one she knew.
This idea of pigeonholing, or putting people or things into restrictive categories, is repeated in the novel with reference to Ruth's designs on Martin. It is always easier for us to understand by matching to similiar things we already know. You would not want to be considered a two-dimensional object so why do that to others? Ruth hopes to shape Martin into the man she wants him to be. For me this is evidence of her immmaturity despite her being older than Martin. In my experience, situations may change and people can adapt to situations but they don't really change in the sense of who they basically are. We are all complicated, it's difficult to comprehend and that is why we must have tolerance.
4 - Chapter 44 - There was no justice in it, no merit on his part. He was no different. All the work he had done was even at that time work performed.
For me this is one of the most important quotes of the novel. When Martin was struggling, everyone told him he should find a job and judged him for his scrawny or unkempt appearance. Then, suddenly, when others, in the form of journalists and publishing houses, approved him, this somehow 'allowed' others to recognise him as good. This raises a very important question: does a person have merit for his or her intransic r do these first need to be validated by wider society? Martin rightly confirms that at his time of difficulty he was already the same person and the work for which he was later praised had already been done. In this era of social media we all seek approval and confirmation. Who has the right to judge us?
5 - Chapter 42 - He had traveled far, too far to go back. Their mode of life, which had once been his, was now distasteful to him. He was disappointed in it all. He had developed into an alien. As the steam beer had tasted raw, so their companionship seemed raw to him. He was too far removed. Too many thousands of opened books yawned between them and him. He had exiled himself.
I can see myself in this experience. I have lived abroad for most of my adult life with the result that I don't feel completely at home anywhere. I don't find anywhere distasteful but when I am in England I realise that I have developed Italian characterìstics and behaviours while in Italy I always stand out physically and my core values and principals are different. This has both advantages and disadvantages: every day is a learning experience, I have a big insight into the differences and similarities in human nature between cultures but at the same time I will always be an outsider, no matter how long I live here.
6 - Chapter 37 - I dreamed in my innocence that the persons who sat in the high places, who lived in fine houses and had educations and bank accounts, were worth while!
I have found that I can have an idea of how something will be that is different from how it is in reality. I think this is normal, our knowledge is limited to our personal experience. Be careful what you wish for, it just might come true!
I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on Martin Eden.
Next month, June 2019, I will be reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hidgson Burnett. Check out the BOOKS section of my website for copies in different formats. I hope you will read along with me. I will share my thoughts and favourite quotes on Instagram and on my Facebook Page throughout the month. I will be back with another review at the end of June!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.