The Sea-Wolf is a 1904 psychological adventure novel by American novelist Jack London about a literary critic, survivor of an ocean collision, who comes under the dominance of Wolf Larsen, the powerful and amoral sea captain who rescues him. Its first printing of forty thousand copies was immediately sold out before publication on the strength of London’s previous The Call of the Wild. Ambrose Bierce wrote, ”The great thing—and it is among the greatest of things—is that tremendous creation, Wolf Larsen... the hewing out and setting up of such a figure is enough for a man to do in one lifetime... The love element, with its absurd suppressions, and impossible proprieties, is awful.” Like The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf tells the story of a soft, domesticated protagonist, in this novel’s case an intellectual man named Humphrey van Weyden, forced to become tough and self-reliant by exposure to cruelty and brutality. The story starts with him aboard a San Francisco ferry, called Martinez, which collides with another ship in the fog and sinks. He is set adrift in the Bay, eventually being picked up by Wolf Larsen. Larsen is the captain of a seal-hunting schooner, the Ghost. Brutal and cynical, yet also highly intelligent and intellectual (though highly biased in his opinions, as he was self-taught), he rules over his ship and terrorizes the crew with the aid of his exceptionally great physical strength. Van Weyden adequately describes him as an individualist, hedonist, and materialist. Larsen does not believe in the immortality of the soul, he finds no meaning in his life save for survival and pleasure and has come to despise all human life and deny its value. Being interested in someone capable of intellectual disputes, he somewhat takes care of Van Weyden, whom he calls ‘Hump’, while forcing him to become a cabin boy, do menial work, and learn to fight to protect himself from a brutal crew.
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