I want to share with you one of the most fascinating novels I have ever come across: Martin Eden by Jack London. I would feel like keeping something beautiful from you if I failed to recommend this book. Also, it’s one of the rare novels with whose main character I can identify. If you want to understand me, you could do worse than reading this novel.
Martin Eden is an impoverished sailor who pursues, obsessively and aggressively, dreams of education and literary fame.
He educates himself feverishly and becomes a writer, hoping to acquire the respectability sought by his society-girl sweetheart. She spurns him, however, when his writing is rejected by several magazines and even more so when he is falsely accused of being a socialist. After he achieves fame, she tries to win him back but Martin realizes her love is false. Financially successful and robbed of connection to his own class, aware that his quest for bourgeois respectability was hollow, Eden travels to the Pacific as a sailor again.
The issue of class:
Social class is a very important theme in the novel. Martin is a sailor from a working class background, who feels uncomfortable but inspired when he first meets the bourgeois Morse family. Spurred on by his love for Ruth Morse, he embarks on a program of self-education, with the aim of becoming a famous writer and winning Ruth’s hand in marriage. As his education progresses, Martin finds himself increasingly distanced from his working class background and surroundings. Eventually, when he finds that his education has far surpassed that of the bourgeoisie he used to look up to, he finds himself more isolated than ever.
I especially liked that the theme of class was not connected to material wealth, but to education, and then not mainly to formal education expressed in degrees and diplomas, but to a combination of what Martin read and what he had experienced himself, and to his ability of critical thinking and analysis. This, it turns out to his disappointment, is actually a much higher education than the formal one enjoyed by the class he initially looked up and wanted to belong to.
The language of the book is beautiful, marvelous. Several times, I read some of the paragraphs again, loud (and I’ve never done that with any other book before), reveling in the beauty and the art of the language.
This work of literature is the closest thing to “perfect” and maybe it even is perfect. Nothing I have read has left such an inspiring impression on me before. It manages to put things into (in my opinion: the right) perspective, especially the unmeasurable wealth of education in contrast to materialism. When I read this book, I was a busy lawyer. Ever since reading it, I felt the urge to return to university, to read more and to explore the world. Not long thereafter, I really quit my job, studied philosophy and then embarked on a hopefully never-ending journey around the world.
The story is ultimately sad, but it is still so great and so wonderfully written that you don’t feel sadness, but emotional and intellectual enrichment.
The book is unputdownable in the most extreme sense of the word; right after you have finished it, you want to go back to it and read certain chapters again. This is the first time that I would be thankful for having the ability to completely forget what I read – just for the sake of enjoying reading it again for the first time.
This book is not only a 5 out of 5 or a 10 out of 10, but a 99 out of 100. And the one point is only missing because the novel ends too soon and too abruptly.
Links to the full text of Martin Eden:
But who would want to read such a beautiful book in electronic form? This is a book to take to the lake or the forest and read it slowly, cherishing each chapter. You can order the paperback here.
- More about books, including my wishlist.
- Zur deutschen Fassung dieser Empfehlung.
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Very nice article!And I have the same opinion about this book!
That’s not a book at all but a masterpiece!!!
Just today, while I was walking along the coast in Malta, I thought again about which books have influenced my thinking and left a lasting impression. “Martin Eden” came up immediately.
Martin Eden demonstrates an iron will. I think the author shows that by killing himself, Martin Eden does not obey to natural dying process or any accident. He just kill himself just showing that he did everything by his own will.
I fully agree with your interpretation of suicide: https://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/world-suicide-prevention-day-on-10-september/
London stresses that it is this individualism that eventually leads to Eden’s suicide. He described the novel as a parable of a man who had to die “not because of his lack of faith in God, but because of his lack of faith in men”. Jack killed him because the story is actually supposed to say the opposite of what most people think it is saying. London was a socialist.
interesting idea. i wonder if the writer had already plan his own death when he wrote Martin Eden. maybe he had that fear of void and emptiness that happenned to some writers when they have finished to write a novel. he probably thought he had said everything and had no more reasons to live just like Hemingway…
Wow! White Fang and Call of The Wild are good; this is exceptional. Why did it take me so long to read it?
It’s really odd that “Martin Eden” is one of the lesser known works of Jack London. But I am glad you discovered it!
A friend of mine was reading this book and I asked if I could take a look at it. I read a few paragraphs somewhere in the middle chapters and liked the language that I decided to read it. I got a free e-book for Kindle from Amazon.com and I’ve just finished reading it. While posting a recommendation of it on Facebook, I discovered your excellent blog review and I posted a link to it.
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i am currently reading this novel and i love it. the style is very fluid and the story facinating. i like this self-taught man who seeks desperatly recognition in literature, so brave and hard-working. the end is sad and at the same time predictable. i take my time to read the book to appreciate also the text. it is a shame that i started to read it in French as i am sure the original version must be much richer.
You might be lucky that you read it in French, because now you can read it in English – maybe after a gap of a few years – and you will enjoy it again. It has been 6 or 7 years since I read it, and I would like to read it again because I have such fond memories of this novel.
it will probably be easier now to read it in English. I wonder if there is a film on it…
I have only found this film in Italian: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VJcvfEC-Fl4
exceptionally good book. felt very sad with the ending. here is the classic case of major depression( when martin eden visits a doctor near the end he assures him hale and healthy but deep down he feels that he is sick in mind and i truly feel sorry for him. as the story is almost a century back and there is no development of medicine especially psychiatry at that time, many worthylives must have been lost during that period. even now people with exceptionally high IQ and brilliant intellect have high incidence of depression . after all who can fathom the unknown depths of human mind.
my observation after reading these novels of Jack London – white fang, call of the wild and martin eden is that, animals never loose the fighting spirit and the survival instinct at anytime under any adverse circumstances unlike human beings .
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The best one, I’ve ever read
I go back to read it every few years again.
I have shared this article on Facebook. The book sounds like an awesome read. I like the ideals of the story,
Thank you very much for sharing!
Ich habe beim dtv-Verlag ein Rezensionsexemplar der neuen deutschen Übersetzung angefragt. Falls ich das bekomme, kann ich auch etwas zur deutschen Übersetzung sagen.
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I first read the book in my adolescence and a decade later, it is still the book that means the most to me.
I’ve also read it twice again since, once because it seemed the suitable book for a ship passage across the Atlantic, and the other time because there was a new German translation.
Either time, it didn’t disappoint.