It's been a long time since I have written about a book from the 'fiction' category. Last time I did that was when writing about The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Regular visitors would have noticed that this site in the reading category mostly has non-fiction, that is – books that teach you something, that make you think. That means a work of fiction must be extraordinary to earn its place here. Finally, the time has come for another book to earn that special privilege.
Jokes aside, Martin Eden by Jack London is indeed an extraordinary book. It’s a novel about a young uneducated sailor from a working class, Martin Eden who after being invited to dinner falls in love with Ruth Morse, a woman from a wealthy and prestigious family. He is utterly infatuated with her and treats her almost like an incarnation of the divinity, as he has never encountered such a delicate woman.
Because she belongs in a social class "above" him, he decides he will no longer earn money using his hands but his mind and starts the journey to become a part of the elite, to rise above what he is currently, to achieve a higher status. He is trying to educate himself, to learn as much as possible about literature and become a successful writer, worthy of Ruth.
Of course, as you can imagine, someone who tries to educate himself and earn through writing is in for a world of struggle. As he dabbles with writing, he tries to have his stories published, so he submits them to magazines only to be rejected time after time. First, he thinks he’s being rejected because he sends his works in handwriting, so he decides to get a typewriter. You can feel his frustration, but it is intermixed with determination. He never ever gives up.
Ruth starts to doubt that Martin will ever become a writer; she insists he gets a job with her father. But little by little, magazines begin accepting his submissions and sending him checks. Then his luck stops again. It’s really a struggle. When his writings are rejected again, and he’s falsely accused of being a socialist – Ruth leaves him. After a while, he is starting to become famous and successful and then Ruth wants him again but then he is not interested.
His success comes with a price – he is starting to fall emotionally. He is starting to look down upon the very rich and elite families he once looked up to. He is starting to think that his quest to improve himself vas in vain and hollow. Nothing can lift his spirits and he gives his money away and goes on the voyage by ship, “Mariposa”. But while on the seas, he decides to end it all and commits suicide by drowning.
It’s really a book that has everything. It colourfully paints various layers of the early 20th century American society – what moves them, their beliefs, their desires. It is a tale of success through persistence and being self-reliant but also about the dangers of depending too much on yourself only and losing faith in humanity.
It is really an amazing book which you will not be easily able to put down and it will inspire various emotions in you – determination, sadness, desire, anger at hypocrisy, willingness to improve yourself. It can also shock you if your story is a bit like Martin’s – one of success, but not of happiness. And that seems kind of like a story of any worker of today – relatively successful but ultimately not happy and fulfilled, so the book was in my opinion very predicting even of the problems in our own society. It’s a tale that lies out the recipe for success in our world, but it is also a cautionary tale.
With it’s mixed messages and the reader being driven to both follow the story for its own sake and trying to fathom the meaning, this is definitely one of the books you should not miss.
The book is in the public domain in many countries, so you might be able to read it for free. Just make sure to check if that is the case in your country as well.
If not, you can always get it from Amazon in physical form.