Jack London’s Country Cottage

Cottages have a timeless appeal because they are often charming and inviting and I find Jack London’s country cottage to be an especially delightful example.

It was author Virginia Woolf who insisted that women need a private space to write fiction and we often hear of artists seeking out a “room of one’s own” to nurture the creative process. Jack London fell in love with Sonoma County and purchased land in Glen Ellen that he named Beauty Ranch.

Jack London’s property came with a cottage and sleeping porch, and he added on a room to the cottage to use as a study for writing. The cottage became a temporary residence as London and his wife, Charmian, were building their dream home, called Wolf House, on the property. Tragically, the large home burned to the ground before London ever spent one night under its roof, and by necessity the cottage became a more permanent residence.

Jack London’s narrow single bed and nightstand in his sleeping porch exemplify modesty and practicality.

Jack London's country cottage sleeping porch
Jack London’s nightstand in his Sonoma County cottage sleeping porch

Charmian had her own adjacent office and sleeping porch and the light from the walls of windows facing the garden must have been both helpful and inspiring for both Londons.

Charmian London's sleeping porch in Jack London's country cottage
Charmian London’s Sonoma County cottage sleeping porch

A small clothesline is strung across the foot of Jack London’s bed for the notes that he would jot down and then hang on the line with clothespins – to remember the inspiration that sometimes strikes in the middle of the night.

Clothesline Notes in Jack London's Country Cottage
Jack London’s clothesline notes

The porch has a small paper clock with “Wake Me Up!” written at the top and a movable face so London could choose when he wanted to be woken by his assistant each morning. Nightstands contain the objects that people want near to them – and London’s nightstand had writing papers and pencils, books, cigarettes, and a flask. Pinned to the side of the stand is a sign reading “Now I get me up to work, I pray the Lord I may not shirk. If I should die before the night, I pray the Lord my work’s all right.”

I’m struck by the simplicity of Jack London’s sleeping porch but it seems fitting that he kept the space modest and let nature take center stage. The view from the porch looks out to a pond and beyond to rolling hills of vineyards and it must have been incredibly tempting to venture outside to explore and enjoy the land instead of staying indoors and writing. It is said that London had to write with his back to the windows to avoid distraction – and to be able to meet his goal of writing 1,000 words a day.

This is one of the views that could have distracted even the most disciplined writer:

View from Jack London's country cottage
View from Jack London’s Sonoma County cottage

Visiting London’s cottage (which is open to the public) leaves no doubt that it was a place of peace and tranquility. Cottages are physical structures but they also represent a state of mind – how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally when you inhabit such a place. Your breath is slower and deeper, you work with a renewed sense of purpose, and the lens through which you view the world seems that much more clear and focused.

London and his wife Charmian lived in the cottage while hoping to rebuild Wolf House and while writing classics such as “The Valley of the Moon” which is fitting because cottages are perfect for dreaming about the possibilities of what lies ahead.

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