Call of the Wild
“YOU HAVE ALWAYS LOVED YOUR SON AND THINGS WITH US ALWAYS WILL BE WELL”: WARMLY INSCRIBED BY LONDON TO HIS MOTHER IN THE WEEK OF PUBLICATION, FIRST EDITION OF THE CALL OF THE WILD, IN SCARCE ORIGINAL DUST JACKET, EXTRAORDINARY PRESENTATION/ASSOCIATION COPY,ONE OF THE EARLIEST AND MOST IMPORTANT KNOWN PRESENTATIONS
LONDON, Jack. The Call of the Wild. New York and London: Macmillan, 1903. Octavo, original pictorial green cloth, pictorial endpapers, top edge gilt, original dust jacket. Housed in a custom cloth chemise and half morocco clamshell box. $125,000.
First edition, first printing, of one of the most desirable copies in American literature, inscribed from Jack London to his mother within four days of publication, one of the earliest known inscriptions: “Dear Mother, You have always loved your son, and things with us always will be well. Jack. July 22, 1903,” in scarce original dust jacket.
“One of the first American novels to examine the quest of the pioneering individual who breaks away from the sheltered environment of civilization and is romantically compelled to find freedom in nature. In the early part of the century this was considered the American dream” (Parker, 16).
London dated his inscription to his mother only four days after the book’s publication on July 18, 1903. The relationship between Jack London and his mother, Flora Wellman, was a complicated one. Though often simplified to one of an uncaring, undemonstrative mother and an estranged son, that seems to only scratch the surface of the relationship they shared. The trouble between them traced back to London’s conception. When Wellman became pregnant in 1875, Wellman’s husband insisted that she have an abortion. In response, Wellman went temporarily insane and shot herself in the head (a grazing wound). By the time she gave birth, Wellman was unable to care for the child and gave Jack to a Virginia Prentiss, an ex-slave who had just had a stillbirth. It was over a year before she remarried and could reclaim Jack. In that time, he had come to view Prentiss as a second mother. Yet, for the rest of his childhood it was Wellman who would cook for Jack and clean the home. She also taught him piano and taught him to read by the age of four. Though not warm, she was engaged in his activities and his schooling. He, in turn, was humiliated by her fascination with spiritualism and the ghost world. Still, she functioned in most ways as a typical mother of the era.
However, upon reaching adolescence, Jack began to spend more and more time away from home. His mother, though, supported him when he wanted to attend high school (the family could have benefited greatly from more income). Instead, in 1897, London went to the University of California, Berkeley. It was then that he came across a newspaper item related to his mother’s attempted suicide and uncovered the name of his biological father. When London contacted Chaney (his alleged biological father), Chaney claimed impotence and accused London’s mother of promiscuity. Ultimately, London was unable to forgive his mother for lying to him about his paternity, though she had encouraged his writing when everyone else had told him to get a job at the post office. Disconsolate, London quit school and went to the Klondike.
Yet, the connection between London and his mother remained. When London finally made money off his writing, he bought his then-widowed mother a house and provided her with financial support. He inscribed this copy to her, with a spirit of warmth, conviction in her love, and hope for their future. Their relationship, though, remained strained, with Wellman disapproving of her son’s wife and London constantly criticizing her appearing in the newspapers for her involvement with séances and other attention-grabbing endeavors. Nevertheless, upon her death in 1922, “a local obituary focused on the ‘many tributes’ Jack had paid ‘during his literary career to his mother and his sister Mrs. Eliza Shepard’ for their encouragement before he became famous. Nothing else was said of her life apart from her son” (Stasz, Jack London’s Women).
With 18 full-page color illustrations by Philip R. Goodwin and Charles Livingston Bull. With “Set up, electrotyped, and published July, 1903” on copyright page, one leaf of advertisements at rear. BAL 11876. Woodbridge, London & Tweney 19. Morocco bookplate in chemise.
Book lovely and near-fine, with inscription bold, only a few faint spots of soiling to interior, minor rubbing to extremities, and gilt bright. Scarce dust jacket with expert restoration to extremities. A most exceptional copy, quite rare and desirable with such an important association and inscribed at such an early date.