The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VI. The Short Story

§ 28. London

It may be illustrated also by Jack London’s (1876–1916) headlong art: strangeness always,—Alaska of the gold rush, the ultimate South Seas, the unknown recesses of the prize ring, the no-man’s land of the hobo,—impressionistic studies in sensation. He was writing for money and for little else, and he studied his market like a broker. Earlier literature was aristocratic,—it was written for the refined few; the latest literature is democratic,—it is written for the mass, and the mass is uncritical and unrefined. Its demands are gross: sensation, movement, physical thrill. London gave the mass what it demanded, every sensation which the brutal underworld he knew had afforded him, and he sold his work well. Of the graces demanded in the earlier periods, finish, elegance of style, melody, elevation in tone, he knew nothing. He had immediacy—he told vivid stories of physical prowess in the world of the present moment; he had the note of authority—he wrote only of wild epic things of which he had himself been a large part; he had sensation—the appeal of crude physical horror, the strange and the unheard-of in hitherto unknown regions; and he had a barbaric style—a lurid wealth of adjectives, a melodramatic intensity, and a headlong rush of incident that sweeps the reader along as in a stampede. Force undoubtedly he had and freshness of material, but, lacking poise and moral background and beauty of style, he must be passed as an ephemeral sensation.