With Illustrations by W.J. Aylward. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1904. 3 pp undated ads. Original blue cloth pictorially decorated in dark blue, red and white.
First Edition of Jack London's great maritime tale, in emulation of Joseph Conrad: in need of the taste of salt air to stimulate him, London wrote most of the book perched on the hatch of his sloop as it sat at anchor. The book consists of three sub-plots, all quite pertinent to London's life at the time. In the first, similar to Kipling's CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS, Van Weyden is forced by necessity into becoming a rough sailor -- much as Jack had done on board the "Sophia Sutherland" when he had gone on a sealing voyage at age seventeen. In the second, Van Weyden and Wolf Larsen carry their love-hate relationship to a fight to the death -- just as Jack was "confessing to George Sterling his man's love of the poet's beauty." And in the third, Van Weyden begins a relationship with the castaway Maud Brewster -- at the time when Jack found Charmian Kittredge.
The creation of the character of Larsen, blended from Melville's Ahab, Milton's Lucifer, and an actual seal-poacher called Alexander McLean, was a triumph that could call forth praise even from Ambrose Bierce. Larsen also seemed to be a version of Nietzsche's Superman... Only after the book was completed did Jack begin to read the new translations of Nietzsche and to recognize an explanation for his own "long sickness"... [quotes from Sinclair]
Macmillan was so excited about this book that it produced a first edition of 63,337 copies, of which 40,000 were sold before its release. Although the book was indeed a huge success, it did little to pull its author out of his own "long sickness."
The spine lettering of this copy is in white, like most copies (a minority has gilt there, though any priority is unknown). It is a very good-plus copy, with a cracked front endpaper and with (typically) some erosion of the white pigment at the bottom of the spine. Sisson & Martens p. 20; Blanck 11882. Item #14902