Martin Eden is I think the longest novel Jack London wrote, and it’s the only one of his that is not an adventure tale. Plenty of the other of his writing has struck me as autobiographical, but this feels very much so. As another reviewer points out Martin Eden = M.E. = Me?
Anyway, Martin Eden is a rough returned seaman who stumbles upon the daughter of a just outside the edge of upper crust educator after reading some poetry by Charles Swinburne. He has a visceral reaction to the poetry and an earnest reaction to this woman, who he quickly falls for, seeing her as the embodiment of class, taste, refinement, beauty, and decency. Too rough for her (according to one Martin Eden) he feels awkward and clunky in her presence, but they do become friends. As he works toward refinement of his own, he begins an exhaustive process to better himself with reading. He spends many many days and night reading and reading, and where he lacks the tempered sense of temperance to the reading, he makes up for with raw brain power and enthusiasm. This also awakens in him a desire to write, which he feels will be a trade-off for the various kind of physical labor he’s more used to, as well as an access point into the kind of society he wants.
He also becomes more and more aware of the disparity between intellectuality and intelligence, as well as the market forces at play in publishing and reading taste. He receives lots of rejections professionally and otherwise as this tension builds throughout the novel.
This is a book I would have found eye-opening as a younger man Martin Eden’s age, but instead, I find it sympathetic and touching, and a little ironic as an adult.