Could Jack London have read Louis-Auguste Blanqui’s Eternity by the Stars?
London, a well-known socialist, wrote The Star Rover, published in 1915. It’s an early science fiction novel, the narrative delivered by a professor serving life in San Quentin for murder. Tortured by prison guards and squeezed into “the jacket,” Professor Standing “escapes” via trance that enables him to walk among the stars and visit his many previous lifetimes. So, star walking and reincarnation are themes in this novel.
Blanqui was a famous French revolutionary, a socialist who was imprisoned “for his role in the socialist movement that would lead to the Paris Commune of 1871,” according to a piece by Paul Halpern (a professor!) in Aeon called “Time after Time.” Eternity by the Stars was published in 1872.
As Blanqui looked up at the night sky [from his prison cell], he found comfort in the possibility of other worlds. While life on Earth is fleeting… we might take solace in the notion that myriad replicas of our planet are brimming with similar creatures – that all events, he said, ‘that have taken place or that are yet to take place on our globe, before it dies, take place in exactly the same way on its billions of duplicates’. Might certain souls be imprisoned on these faraway worlds, too? Perhaps. But Blanqui held out hope that, through chance mutations, those who are unjustly jailed down here on Earth might there walk free.
I don’t know if London read French or if he was familiar with Blanqui, but he did join the Socialist Party in 1896. London was born four years after Blanqui’s Stars was first published, but that doesn’t mean that London didn’t at some point see it or hear about it. And, perhaps tellingly, he was accused of plagiarism on a number of occasions.
I’m no London scholar, but just as London’s The Iron Heel influences Orwell’s 1984, the two socialists, Blanqui and London, might have had a intellectual connection. He is said to have been largely self-educated but, in Oakland, he met a librarian who seems to have acted as a mentor and literary guide. So who knows what he might have read as a kid or discussed with fellow travelers as adventured around the world.