There are victims and villains in the controversial life of Jack London. A large part of the controversy centers around the untimely death of this world famous man who had inspired millions of working class people to assert their rights to a better life; as also his challenge to many of those in upper classes who rallied to his cause of Socialism.
Jack London's short life span of forty years came to an abrupt end on November 22nd 1916 at a time when he was thinking of moving to Hawaii. His plan of creating a Socialistic community for all the workers on his ranch had been thwarted by Eliza Shepard and Charmian. Perhaps his plan of building homes for the many workers and their families might have been acceptable to the two women but not so when it came to his most cherished dream: a school for the many children, a store at better prices, a post office, and a church. And if it was desired, they could be buried on the Little Hill where lay the two little Greenlaw children.
On June 28, 1916, Jack had written to his daughter Joan about his increasing love of Hawaii and his plan to move there in the not too remote future and his hope for the joy of introducing her to the loveable people who would love her for his sake.
There probably was a woman in Hawaii with a claim on Jack's love as George Sterling had reported. Neither Jack nor Charmian could claim fidelity in marriage. It is notable to realize that Charmian would have read what was one of the most loving letters from a father to his fifteen year old daughter. Especially the galling to Charmian would have been that Jack had asked Joan to sing a special song that had been Charmian's favorite personal love song. (See last two lines of Page 74) "If you love me a little will you learn to sing for me 'Sing me to Sleep' and 'The Perfect Day' ... so that I may hear them from you soon."
It is during this last period of Jack's life that he gave up his dream of a Socialist community on the Beauty Ranch. Eliza Shepard and Charmian had been upset with Jack's "Manic Insistence" that his dream become reality. He had many sessions about this with Eliza Shepard who was his Ranch Manager. She had made up her mind that "Our Jack has not returned to us", a reference to his stay in Hawaii. The implication that his mania was so persistent in his discussions with Eliza that both women believed that he had sought to destroy Eliza's brain.
A few weeks after Jack's death Charmian appealed to George Sterling to follow through with Jack's dream. She wished "The Crowd" would heave-to and make the dream a reality, but no one felt the need. Five years after the loss of her husband she published a two volume biography of that untimely death. It is titled "Jack London - Mrs. Jack London" and published by Mills and Boon Limited 49 Rupert Street London W.I. in 1921. It was printed in Great Britain by Turnbull & Spears, Edinburgh, with illustrations and bibliography and many photographs of Jack London inserted apparently by Charmian.
Charmian gave this two volume set to Joan in the mid 1930's when she was working on her first biography of her father, JACK LONDON AND HIS TIMES. In Volume two there are thirty-three photographs of Jack at varying times and places. One photograph of a facsimile of a letter Jack wrote to Ralph Casper, June twenty-five 1914, stands out as strange because it is inserted double-folded on thick shiny paper. The typing is sloppy and a wavering hand underlines three lines of the text, "I believe that when I am dead, I am dead. I believe that with my death I am just as much obliterated as the last mosquito you or I smashed". It is signed at bottom, Jack London, and on left top the well known stamped name and address.
Charmian, in this two volume biography, seems to me too engrossed with death which has lead many readers to question her motives regarding the untimely death of her husband. I too had such questions; Jack London was in the prime of life. Since I was married to Jack's grandson, Bart Abbott, for 45 years there were occasions where I assumed that both Charmian and Eliza were at peace with that too early a death. But how is anyone to know how another person thinks, wishes, or conspires in the death of another.
In many ways Grandson and Grandfather were as though cut from the same cloth. But so was Joan, first of two daughters born to Bessie and Jack London. Bess (Becky), born October 20th, 1902, eight months after the birth of Joan, was more reserved, definitely her own person. Whatever characteristics show up within family ties is very sticky for me to analyze. But whether we are nature's design or copy cat I suppose most of us do draw conclusions. I think I landed into this family of Jack London and Bess Maddern London as an alien from a different planet. But love has many forms. And I always went for the complexity and the challenge of a vastly different world than my first world of childhood.
Charmian too landed in a different world bound by circumstances of alienation after the too early death of her mother, when as a very young child she was cared for by her father, who owned a saloon where "Clara" happily played and was adored by the male patrons. Her mother's sister, Netta, had fits and threatened court action of child abuse unless the child was sent to her. The father was forced to give in under such threats.
It was a lonely journey by train from the midwest to Southern California. In some of her notes Charmian mentions the stylish mourning outfit her father had dressed her in for this trip. No doubt this extravagance on such a young child was a hope that the powerful aunt would approve this and quit her ongoing disapproval of him, especially because he was much too old to have married her much younger sister.
Charmian's birth name was Clara but soon it became Charmian. Considering the life style of a beautiful home with a lovely bedroom all her own, a wardrobe filled with beautiful dresses such as she had never seen, and shoes and coats and more; a play area with toys and crayons and best of all a piano. And beautiful Auntie for a teacher as well as a father or two. There was a special place for school lessons and learning how to make music on the piano. Even when she was naughty on occasion Auntie never scolded but would take her by the hand and leave her alone in her bedroom without scolding her but admonishing her to think over her bad behavior.
Charmian, to my knowledge, was not allowed to play with neighborhood children. There probably were trips to outside places with Auntie who, apparently, was grooming the child into complete dependence on her. Charmian once wrote that "Auntie was like a very high column of such perfection that she herself could never achieve."
As Charmian grew older she learned many skills which gave her entry into a world that kept her enthralled all of her life. She was trained to perfection in social skills, such as ability to earn a living by trading classes for stenographic work for Mrs. Susan Mills of the Mills College for Women in Berkeley California. One of her stepfathers had invented a typewriter and taught Charmian the skill which also gave her a steady job with a shipping firm. This made her self sufficient. She hired a Swedish maid to care for her needs, bought a horse and paid for a stable and the grooming and feeding as well as paying Aunt Netta for her room and board.
She also bought two houses in Berkeley which rented out a steady income for many years. Beside all this, Charmian, having learned the finest skills of sexual pleasure from Aunt Netta, was delighted to join the parties and the banquets of the Piedmont crowd. She became the most sought after dancer to the( delight of the many men charmed by this free spirited woman who could play the piano accompanied by the most popular songs. She on her part delighted in the strolls up lovers lane with one or another of any man who would suit her.
Aunt Netta was aware that her niece was pushing forty with no signs of marriage with any of the men who pretended serious: courtship that would lead to a promised divorce as soon as the "Little woman got around to it." Netta had been planning or a certain fine young man who showed promise of becoming a fine writer. His name was Jack London and in her book store he was already on the road to fame. Netta failed in her plan when Jack made a sudden decision to marry Bessie Maddern, with whom he had the two daughters who were to suffer not only his loss but the tragedy of his early death and the pain of disinheritance. They suffered the ignominy of feeling unworthy of this world famous man, and the mockery of schoolmates.
The famous well known will of 1911 which was not to be probated was cruelly painful to Jack's daughters and their mother, for it seemed that the girls would be separated from their mother and made to live with Charmian, who was planning to go to the lower children court which might have given her an income. But fate intervened when her cousin Willard Growall entered the case that never went through Probate. In fact the only case that went through Probate was proof of the circumstances al the death of Jack London.
I am including in this story a case of many letters exchanged between Willard Growall Jr. and Charmian K. London and Eliza London Shepard, conspirators in what is probably the cruelest and most despicable fraud ever in a plot to deprive the two young daughters of Jack London of their right of inheritance. The entire process of carrying out their successful plan took one full year and a few months.
I am Helen Abbott widow of Jack's grandson, Bart Abbott. There are many descendants of Jack's and Bessie's only children, Joan and Becky London.