Charmian London

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Charmian London, photo by James E. Purdy

Charmian Kittredge London (November 27, 1871 in Wilmington, California – January 14, 1955 in Glen Ellen, California[1]) was an American writer and second wife of Jack London.

Early life and education[edit]

Charmian Kittredge was born to poet Dayelle "Daisy" Wiley and California hotelier Willard Kittredge in a suburb south of Los Angeles. In 1877, after her mother died when she was six years old, Charmian's father sent her to Berkeley, California. She was raised by her aunt, Ninetta "Netta" Wiley Eames and husband Roscoe Eames, who had no children of their own and were editors of the journal, Overland Monthly.[2] Charmian studied music, becoming an accomplished pianist and developed a good singing voice. She enjoyed horseback riding through the hills at a time when few women rode. Socially and intellectually ambitious, she strived to improve herself, and earned money for a trip through Europe.[3] Her education at Mills College concentrated on literature, the arts, and philosophy. She took lessons in stenography and typing from her Uncle Roscoe Eames, which served her through her working life. At Mills, she earned her way as secretary to its co-founder and later President, Mrs. Susan L. Mills.[4]

Marriage and writing career[edit]

Jack London met Charmian in March 1900 on a visit to the Eames' about publishing his writings. Four years later, he divorced his first wife Bess Maddern who had two children by him, Joan and Bess. The new couple married in Chicago on November 19, 1905. Biographer Russ Kingman called Charmian "Jack's soul-mate, always at his side, and a perfect match."[1]

Jack died in 1916, bequeathing nearly his entire estate to Charmian and leaving token amounts to his first wife and their children.[5] Charmian and Jack had no children who survived them. A daughter, Joy, died soon after birth and another pregnancy ended in miscarriage. Following Jack's death, Charmian committed herself to saving their home at Beauty Ranch by selling publication rights to London's works and contracting screenplay rights with filmmakers.[4]

Jack and Charmian London on the beach in Hawaii, 1915

Charmian London wrote three major autobiographical works about her life with Jack London: The Log of the Snark (1915),[6] Our Hawaii (1917),[7] and The Book of Jack London (two volumes) (1921).[8] She also wrote prefaces to his writings that were published posthumously, including Dutch Courage and Other Stories (1922).[9]

Her writings about London are considered by scholars to be an important but sometimes flawed source of biographical information. Clarice Stasz, author of a recent book about their relationship, calls it "an uneven account that omits Jack's illegitimacy, yet has surprisingly frank information nonetheless concerning his personality."[10]

Later life[edit]

Shortly after her husband's death, Charmian had an affair with Harry Houdini. A PBS source cites a Houdini biographer, saying:

Most of the evidence of their affair, convincingly reconstructed by Houdini biographer Kenneth Silverman, comes from brief entries in Charmian's diaries. They saw each other over several weeks early in 1918 while Charmian was living in New York, where Houdini was starring in the patriotic World War I extravaganza, "Cheer Up." Charmian wrote that after they saw each other a few times, Houdini made a "declaration" that "rather shakes me up." They became intimate a short time later. She wrote that one visit by Houdini had "stirred me to the deep," and that he apparently felt the same, declaring, "I'm mad about you," and "I give all of myself to you." Throughout, she refers to him alternately as "Magic," her "Magic Man," or "Magic Lover."

As intense as it apparently was, their attachment did not last long. Charmian, the "New Woman" whose marriage to London had included open sexual experimentation, never stopped seeing other men.[11]

Charmian London died in 1955, at the age of 83. Her ashes rest beside her husband Jack's under the rock that marks their grave near Glen Ellen, California at Jack London State Historic Park.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Charmian Kittredge London". Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-03-05. 
  2. ^ Kingman, Russ, A Pictorial Life of Jack London, Crown: 1979.
  3. ^ Stone, Irving, Jack London, Sailor on Horseback, New York: Doubleday, 1938
  4. ^ a b Clarice Stasz (2006). "Charmian Kittredge London". 
  5. ^ Jack London's Final Will
  6. ^ London, Charmian Kittredge (1915). The Log of the Snark. New York: The Macmillan Company. 
  7. ^ London, Charmian Kittredge (1917). Our Hawaii. New York: The Macmillan Co. 
  8. ^ London, Charmian (1921). The Book of Jack London. (in 2 volumes). New York: The Century Co. 
  9. ^ London, Jack (1922), Dutch Courage and Other Stories, preface by Charmian London, New York: The MacMillan Company. (link to preface)
  10. ^ Clarice Stasz (2002-12-09). "Biographies of Jack London". The Jack London Collection: Jean and Charles Schulz Information Center, Sonoma State University. Retrieved 2008-02-04. 
  11. ^ "Houdini: Jack and Charmian London". The American Experience: Public Broadcasting System. 1999. Retrieved 2008-02-04. 
  12. ^ Charmian London at Find a Grave

External links[edit]