The Editor Who Wanted to Change Jack London's Name to 'John'

More

london3.jpgAnswers

When Jack London sent his first submission to The Atlantic in 1899, editor Bliss Perry found his writing to be "vigorous" and "essentially healthy." The magazine agreed to publish the short story, "An Odyssey of the North," in the January 1900 issue, and London wrote to a friend that he was pleased with the arrangement: "[The editors] seem nice ... and I understand that they pay well."

But Parker soon took issue with London's byline. "We venture to suggest the use of the more frequent form of the Christian name," Parker wrote a few months later, "John seeming to us better suited than Jack to literary purposes."

Jack refused to become John, and during the year that followed, Perry and his young assistant, William B. Parker, rejected three of his stories. One of them, "The Law of Life," went on to become one of the author's best-known tales—the  story of an elderly man devoured by wolves. The Atlantic editors found it too depressing for publication, but the competing magazine McClure's was only too happy to accept it and offered London a generous advance on his next book. (Houghton Mifflin, then the publishers of The Atlantic, had already agreed to print The Son of the Wolf, London's first collection of short stories.)

London kept sending manuscripts to The Atlantic, but by now, his fiction was earning him better rates at other magazines. His Atlantic submissions were non-fiction articles defending labor unions and advocating an overthrow of the United States government. In a 1905 letter, Perry explained that London's radical writings were not suitable for The Atlantic's audience:

Forgive me for saying that many passages of the paper read precisely like editorials in one of the Hearst papers. These editorials are very ably and brilliantly adapted to the kind of people who read Hearst papers, but it is not the style of address which we can profitably adopt in The Atlantic. I know that you will forgive this unasked criticism, for I do not wish to take refuge behind the conventional editorial formula in your case.

London wrote a response, making it clear that he saw the rejection as class-based. But appreciated Perry's respectful tone. "Now this is not sarcastic at all," wrote London, "and I am thanking you for the best and most genuine rejection I ever received in all my life."

Read "An Odyssey of the North" and "The Scab" in The Atlantic's archives.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Wine Is Healthy—Isn't It? It Is—No?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Is Trading Stocks for Suckers?

If you think you’re smarter than the stock market, you’re probably either cheating or wrong

Video

I Spent Half My Life Making a Video Game

How a childhood hobby became a labor of love

Video

The Roughest, Toughest Race in the World

"Sixty hours. No sleep. Constant climbing and descending. You're out there by yourself. All day and night."

Video

The Gem of the Pacific Northwest

A short film explores the relationship between the Oregon coast and the people who call it home.

Video

Single-Tasking Is the New Multitasking

Trying to do too many internet things at once makes it hard to get anything done at all.

 

Video

New Zealand in HD

The country's diverse landscapes, seen in dreamy time-lapse footage

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

Just In