Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/112

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
The Later Novel

a "corner” on the Chicago Board of Trade. In all these his eagerness to be truthful gave Norris a large energy, particularly in scenes of action, but his speed and vividness are not matched by his body and meaning.

Much the same thing may be said of Jack London (1876–1916), one or two of whose novels will likely outlast his short stories,[1] important as they were in his best days, and close kin as his stories and novels are in subjects, style, and temper. Norris’s “elemental” in London became “abysmal” passions. He carried the cult of “red-blood” to its logical, if not ridiculous, extreme. And yet he has a sort of Wild-Irish power that will not go unnoted. John Barleycorn (1913) is an amazingly candid confession of London’s own struggles with alcohol. Martin Eden (1909), also autobiographical, though assumed names appear in it, recounts the terrific labours by which in three years London made himself from a common sailor into a popular author. The Sea-Wolf (1904) reveals at its fullest his appetite for cold ferocity in its record of the words and deeds of Wolf Larsen, a Nietzschean, Herculean, Satanic ship captain, whose incredible strength terminates credibly in sudden paralysis and impotence. Most popular of all, and best equipped for survival, is The Call of the Wild (1903), the story of a dog stolen from civilization to draw a sledge in Alaska, eventually to escape from human control and go back to the wild as leader of a pack of wolves. As in most animal tales, the narrative is sentimentalized, but there runs through it, along with its deadly perils and adventures, an effective sensitiveness to the Alaskan wastes, a robust, moving, genuine current of poetry.

A real, however narrow, gulf separates London from such colleagued naturalists as Richard Harding Davis, better in short stories[2] than in novels, and often romantic, or even from David Graham Phillips (1867–1911), whose bitter war upon society and “Society” culminated in the two volumes of Susan Lenox (1917), the only extended portrait of an American courtesan No one of them all had quite London’s boyish energy, quite his romantic audacity in naturalism. And the tendency of fiction is just at present away from the world of “elemental” excitement to more civil phases of life, a newer form of realism having succeeded alike the episode of naturalism and the

  1. See Book III, Chap. VI.
  2. Ibid.