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.