The People of the Abyss is a narrative about life in the East End of London in 1902. Jack London wrote this first-hand account by living in the East End (including the Whitechapel District) for several months, sometimes staying in workhouses or sleeping on the streets. The conditions he experienced and wrote about were the same as those endured by an estimated 500,000 of the contemporary London poor.
Author: Jack London was born on January 12, 1876 in San Francisco. After his birth, his mother turned him over to an ex-slave, who raised him through his infancy. She remained a major maternal figure throughout his life. London was passionate about socialism and workers’ rights. He wrote several powerful works. He was one of the first writers to earn worldwide celebrity and a large fortune from his writing alone. London died young, at the age of 40.
My thoughts: I came across this masterpiece in 2008 while watching a TV documentary about the Victorian era. I immediately wanted to read London’s non-fiction novel. I nevertheless had to wait over a month, as no bookstore in Geneva had it in stock. I enjoyed reading it and was impressed by London’s courage to disguise himself as a tramp for three months roaming the slums of London. He writes about the economic degradation of the poor and homeless on the streets of London, people who have been exploited by imperialism and capitalism. Jack London felt motivated to write about those men and women in order to give a voice to the ignored masses, because the stories of the rich, powerful and fashionable filled the pages of newspapers and novels. In these pages, we take an in depth look into the lives of those unfortunate families. Let me tell you that I adored this book but that I wouldn’t read it twice. I still have in mind their chaotic and hard lives and I found them particularly brave.
This is a kind of report and, despite the very harsh conditions of the life of its protagonists, there is always a bit of hope and light. This is perhaps why these people are doing their best to have a better life, even if, in the end, only a few of them succeed.