A letter (of love?) from Jack London to fellow writer Anna Strunsky.
Who better to write the world’s most memorable love letters than the world’s most famous writers? In turning to author and journalist Jack London, we are faced with a question – where does close friendship end and love begin?
April 3, 1901
Did I say that the human might be filed in categories? Well, and if I did, let me qualify — not all humans. You elude me. I cannot place you, cannot grasp you. I may boast that of nine out of ten, under given circumstances, I can forecast their action; that of nine out of ten, by their word or action, I may feel the pulse of their hearts. But of the tenth I despair. It is beyond me. You are that tenth.
Were ever two souls, with dumb lips, more incongruously matched! We may feel in common — surely, we oftimes do — and when we do not feel in common, yet do we understand; and yet we have no common tongue. Spoken words do not come to us. We are unintelligible. God must laugh at the mummery.
The one gleam of sanity through it all is that we are both large temperamentally, large enough to often understand. True, we often understand but in vague glimmering ways, by dim perceptions, like ghosts, which, while we doubt, haunt us with their truth. And still, I, for one, dare not believe; for you are that tenth which I may not forecast.
Am I unintelligible now? I do not know. I imagine so. I cannot find the common tongue.
Large temperamentally — that is it. It is the one thing that brings us at all in touch. We have, flashed through us, you and I, each a bit of universal, and so we draw together. And yet we are so different.
I smile at you when you grow enthusiastic? It is a forgivable smile — nay, almost an envious smile. I have lived twenty-five years of repression. I learned not to be enthusiastic. It is a hard lesson to forget. I begin to forget, but it is so little. At the best, before I die, I cannot hope to forget all or most. I can exult, now that I am learning, in little things, in other things; but of my things, and secret things doubly mine, I cannot, I cannot. Do I make myself intelligible? Do you hear my voice? I fear not. There are poseurs. I am the most successful of them all.
Is this the voice of an eloquent man overcome with passion? Clearly. What kind of passion? Good question. At the time of writing, London was a willing participant in a loveless marriage to his first wife, Bessie Madern – a union designed to create stability and children. It would falter, and a divorce would follow in 1904. Through this marriage ran the close friendship he shared with Strunsky. Both writers were fascinated with the nature of love, and would collaborate on The Kempton-Wace Letters (1903), a fictionalised exploration of two philosophies of love with Strunsky taking the romantic view, London the scientific.
So is this a letter exploring a friendship and foreshadowing a piece of academic enquiry – or is it the work of a man who can’t contain his romantic feelings? We may never know.