The Valley of the Moon (novel)
Frontispiece to the 1913 first edition.
The Valley of the Moon (1913) is a novel by American writer Jack London (as well as the mythic and romantic name for the wine-growing Sonoma Valley of California). The valley where it is set, is located north of the San Francisco Bay Area in Sonoma County, California, where Jack London was a resident; he built his ranch in Glen Ellen.
The novel Valley of the Moon is a story of a working-class couple, Billy and Saxon Roberts, struggling laborers in Oakland at the Turn-of-the-Century, who left the city life behind and searched Central and Northern California for a suitable farmland to own. The book is notable for the scenes in which the proletarian hero enjoys fellowship with the artists' colony in Carmel, and he settles in the Valley of the Moon.
It begins with Billy as a Teamster and Saxon working in a laundry. Billy has also boxed professionally with some success, but decided there was no future in it. He was particularly upset by one bout in which he was fighting a friend and they had to go on fighting and making a good show after his friend injured one hand.
Their early married life is disrupted by a major wave of strikes. Billy is involved in violent attacks on scabs and goes to jail. Saxon loses her baby in the backwash of the violence. She hears socialist arguments but does not definitely accept them. She also meets an old woman who takes a very individualist view, describing how she successfully attached herself to a series of rich men. She also meets a lad called Jack who has built his own boat and seems modeled on Jack London's own teenage years.
When Billy gets out of jail, Saxon insist that they leave the city and try to get their own farm. They have memories of when the government gave out land free, but find that is long past. They pass through an area where the earliest European settlers have been displaced by Portuguese. There is a detailed description of how the Portuguese, who arrived very poor, have flourished by using the land more intensively. They also stay a few days with a middle-class woman who grows flowers along with her vegetables and has a flourishing business selling high-quality products to rich people.
Moving on, they find an artists' colony which they like, but they move on, still looking for their own place. Billy begins dealing in horses as well as driving them. He also returns to the boxing ring, using a new name so he will not be identified against an up-and-coming boxer. Saxon is scared for him, but in fact he wins the fight in the first few seconds, much faster than he intended. This gets him 300 dollars for a pair of horses he wants. Invited to a rematch, he accepts and finds it much harder, but still wins. He resolves to fight no more.
They also encounter well-known writer and journalist 'Jack Hastings', generally considered to be a self-portrait of Jack London as he then was. His wife—presumably modeled on London's second wife—is also described as very much like Saxon. They are directed to a suitable place to settle, and do settle. There is also much talk about the wastefulness of the early American farmers, exhausting the land and moving on. These reflect Jack London's views on sustainable agriculture.
They find their 'valley of the moon' and presumably live happily ever after. A character in the book says that this is the Native American meaning of 'Sonoma Valley'. This was Jack London's belief, though it is disputed.
Though not one of London's most popular books, it remains in print and can also be downloaded. It has been described as "road novel fifty years before Kerouac" and as reflecting London's loss of hope in socialism and growing interest in scientific farming. And as a hymn of praise to his second wife Charmian.
The novel is referenced in Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano, by the protagonist Geoffrey Firmin (the Consul).
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- "Book review at the University of California Press". UCpress.edu. University of California Press. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
- The Valley Of The Moon (1914 film)