The Kempton-Wace Letters

The Kempton-Wace Letters was a 1903 epistolary novel by Jack London and Anna Strunsky. It was published anonymously.

It is a discussion of the philosophy of love and sex, written in the form of a series of letters between two men, "Herbert Wace," a young scientist, and "Dane Kempton," an elderly poet. Jack London wrote "Wace's" letters, Anna Strunsky wrote "Kempton's."

Kempton makes the case for feeling and emotion, while Wace proceeds "scientifically" and analyzes love in Darwinian terms:

I purpose to order my affairs in a rational manner....Wherefore I marry Hester Stebbins. I am not impelled by the archaic sex madness of the beast, nor by the obsolescent romance madness of later-day man. I contract a tie which reason tells me is based upon health and sanity and compatibility. My intellect shall delight in that tie.

Initially the public was piqued by the anonymity of the writers and the book was moderately successful. London biographer Russ Kingman praises the book and quotes the Buffalo Commercial as admiring the "sheer charm of its prose" and saying the book "holds firmly its place in the front rank of the best of the season's publications."

The New York Times was less charitable. It opened its review with the terse line "The sex problem again." It complained that "Nothing that the scientist says is new, nothing that the poet says is new. The thing has been thrashed out some millions of times... Nor does the unnamed author infuse into either Wace or Kempton anything to give human personality or appeal.... As a story falls flat; as a discussion of a topic as old as interesting, as overworked."

Joseph Noel says that George Sterling called Jack London's portion of the book, "a spiritual misprint, a typographical error half a volume long" and says "His vocabulary, in the letters of Herbert Wace, sounds as if taken that day from an encyclopedia by a conscientious sophomore."

Biographers have been intrigued by The Kempton-Wace Letters for the light it seems to shed on Jack London's life and ideas. Strunsky was named as the correspondent in Jack London's divorce from his first wife, Bessie, although biographers generally agree that his relation with Strunsky was platonic. In the book, Jack London puts forward his theories about the "Mother-Woman" and the "Mate-Woman," roles which seem to correspond to the roles played by his first wife and his second.

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