- Materials: Interview I -
Taken from the Jack London Journal
JL at the newspapers

The Pessimism of
Jack London

Interview taken by
Emanuel Julius - May, 28, 1913

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en minutes after meeting Jack London, one is impressed by his grim pessimism. He is, confessedly, a pessimist. But, before viewing this phase of London, let us have some small talk about things that may prove interesting even though they may not be of great national importance.

To begin with, he looks much handsomer than his pictures, for the camera never gets his soft, gray eyes. Though 37 years old, he doesn't appear to be more than 30. He has a magnificent body—a fine form, with nothing pugilistic except his shoulders. He has a chin that doesn't appear to be of the son to invite dispute. When he laughs, his mouth looks like a Jewelry store window. Dressed simply, he wears a plain ready-made suit of clothes; a soft collared, white shirt and a black silk tie produce a striking effect. His hat is one of those abominable sombreros.

His conversation is decidedly colloquial, having neither the refinement of an over-cultured scholar nor the roughness of a stage westerner. It is just ordinary English, the kind one hears on city street cars and office building elevators. He is quite approachable, always willing to talk streaks just for the asking. His speech is interspersed with mild, harmless oaths. And, here let us give thanks, he doesn't carry himself with an air of dignity. In brief, he is an open, frank fellow, in appearance more of a good fellow than our common conception of a famous author.

When I saw him he was in the hands of a Los Angeles moving picture man, who was using him to pose before the camera. A company has contracted to have London appear in a number of films that will depict many of his famous stories. These films will begin with London sitting at a desk, pen in hand, cigarette at his elbow, writing one of his tales. Of course, if the moving picture man wanted to be realistic, he would have London seated before a typewriter, but that, it is generally agreed, would be lacking in romance. Authors, in pictures, should pen their stories, not typewrite them. He will scratch away for about 200 feet of film, when the scene will fade, soon to open with the action of the story. So says the manager.

After proper intervals, London will reappear on the screen. Then, it will close with a hundred or more feet of film showing the writer in the act of closing the story and inserting the manuscript in an envelope, intending doubtlessly to send it to the harsh, hard-hearted editor. A photoplay of "John Barleycorn," a serial that appeared in a popular weekly magazine, will be one instance, it is announced by the film managers, where London will actually take pan in the action. As this story is autobiographical, it will add much to have London himself in the cast. His famous trip in the Snark will be included. London's wife, Charmian, will also appear in this play, it is said.

"Of course," says London, "I never pretend to be an actor. I don't know a thing about the profession. I'll do whatever I'm told, for I am in the hands of my-friends."

"What, in your opinion, is the effect of the capitalist system on art?" London was asked.

"Awful! Absolutely killing! The editors are not interested in the truth; they don't want writers to tell the truth. A writer can't tell a story when it tells the truth, so why should he batter his head against a stone wall? He gives the editors what they want, for he knows that the stuff he believes in and loves to write will never be purchased."
"What a pleasant view you take!" I said.
"You may wonder why I am a pessimist," said Mr. London; "I often wonder myself. Here I have the most precious thing in the world—the love of a woman; I have beautiful children; I have lots and lots of money; I have fame as a writer; I have many men working for me; I have a beautiful ranch—and still, I am a pessimist. I look at things dispassionately, scientifically, and everything appears almost hopeless; after long years of labor and development, the people are as bad off as ever. There is a mighty ruling class that intends to hold fast to its possessions. I see years and years of bloodshed. I see the master class hiring armies of murderers to keep the workers in subjection, to beat them back should they attempt to dispossess the capitalists. That's why I am a pessimist.
I see things in the light of history and the laws of nature.

"I became a Socialist when I was 17 years old. I am still a Socialist, but not of the refined, quietistic school of Socialism. The Socialists, the ghetto Socialists of the east, no longer believe in the strong, firm Socialism of the early days. Mention confiscation in the ghetto of New York and the leaders will throw up their hands in holy horror. I still believe that Socialism should strive to eliminate the capitalist class and wipe away the private ownership of mines, mills, factories, railroads and other social needs.

"I do not believe that Socialists should soften and yield, eventually becoming mere reformers whose greatest desire is economy in government and low taxes, and the like. They should take upon themselves the task of doing away with the robbing capitalist system, do away with the profit system and place the workers in possession of the industries."

"Are you opposed to political action?" Mr. London was asked.

"I believe there is much to be gained by entering political campaigns," he answered. "The real advantage, in my opinion, is the great opportunity to educate the workers to an understanding of the wrongs of the present system and the means of class consciousness."

"You think that a peaceful and legal change is impossible?"

"History shows that no master class is ever willing to let go without a quarrel. The capitalists own the governments, the armies and the militia. Don't you think the capitalists will use these institutions to keep themselves in power? I do."

"What do you intend to do, Mr. London?"

"I feel that I have done my part. Socialism has cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars. When the time comes I'm going to stay right on my ranch at Glen Ellen and let the revolution go to blazes. I've done my part."
After a pause, he added: "That's the way I feel now. I suppose when the time comes I'll let my emotions get the best of my intellect and I'll come down from the mountain top and join the fray."

"What a grim, pessimistic view you have, Mr. London!"

"Well, I'm a pessimist; I admit."

As I rose to leave, I shook his hand and said: "Yes, and I think I know the cause of your pessimism."

"Tell me."

"I feel positive that your liver is out of order."

—Milwaukee County Leader, 28 May 1913;
reprinted in The Western Comrade (June 1913)

Taken from the "Jack London Journal, Number 3, 1996
(Editor James Williams)
Converted for the Internet by Reinhard Wissdorf

co. Reinhard Wissdorf / StoryNet 1996 | Jack London Home | Essays | eMail