Martin Eden, a strong man and talented worker, belongs to a working-class family. He meets Ruth Morse, a girl from a rich bourgeois family, and falls in love with her. He decides to become her equal in knowledge and culture. He must make a career for himself and become famous. He begins to read and study and Ruth helps him.
A week of heavy reading had passed since the evening he first met Ruth Morse, and still he did not dare to go and see her. He was afraid of making mistakes in speech and manners.
Martin tried to read books that required years of preparatory work. One day he read a book on philosophy, and the next day a book on art. He read poetry, he read books by Karl Marx. He did not understand what he was reading but he wanted to know. He had become interested in economy, industry and politics. He sat up in bed and tried to read, but the dictionary was in front of him more often than the book. He looked up so many new words that when he saw them again, he had forgotten their meaning and had to look them up again. He decided to write the words down in a note-book, and filled page after page with them. And still he could not understand what he was reading. Poetry was not so difficult. He loved poetry and beauty, and there he found beauty, as he found it in music.
At last Martin Eden had enough courage to go and see Ruth. She met him at the door herself and took him into the living-room. They talked first of the books he had borrowed from her, then of poets. He told her of his plans to educate himself.
«You should go back and finish grammar school, and then go through the high school and university,» Ruth said.
«But that takes money,» he said.
«Oh!» she cried. «I had not thought of that. But then you have relatives, somebody who could help you?»
He shook his head.
«My father and mother are dead. I’ve two sisters and some brothers,– I’m the youngest,– but they never helped anybody. The oldest died in India. Two are in South Africa now, and another is on a fishing-boat at sea. One is travelling with a circus. And I think I am just like them. I’ve taken care of myself since I was eleven – that’s when my mother died. I think I must study by myself, and what I want to know is where to begin.»
«I should say the first thing of all would be to get a grammar. Your grammar is not particularly
He got red. «I know I talk a lot of slang. I know words, picked them up from books, but I cannot say them correctly, so I don’t use them.»
«It isn’t what you say, so much as how you say it. You don’t mind my saying that, do you? I don’t want to hurt you.»
«No, no,» he cried. «Tell me everything. I must know, and I had better hear it from you than from anybody else.»
«Well, then, you say ‘You was’, it must be ‘You were’. You say ‘I seen’ for ‘I saw’.»
«That is clear,» said Martin. «I never thought of it before.»
«You’ll find it all in the grammar,» she said and went to the bookcase. She took one of the books from the shelf and gave it to Martin.
Several weeks went by, during which Martin Eden studied his grammar and read books. During those weeks he saw Ruth five or six times and each time he learned something. She helped him with his English, corrected his pronunciation and taught him arithmetic.
A few months after Martin had started to educate himself, he had to go to sea again as all his money was spent. He went as a sailor on a ship that was going to the South Sea.
The captain of the ship had a complete Shakespeare, which he never read. Martin had washed his clothes for him and in return was allowed to read the books. For a time all the world took the form of Shakespearean tragedy or comedy; even Martin’s thoughts were expressed in the language of Shakespeare. This trained his ear and gave him a feeling for good English.
The eight months were spent well; he learned to understand Shakespeare and speak correctly, and what was most important, he learned much about himself. Now he knew that he could do more than he had done. He wanted to show Ruth the beauty of the South Sea and decided to do it in his letters.
And then the great idea came to him. He would describe the beauty of the world not only for Ruth but for other people as well. He could do it. He would be one of the eyes through which the world saw, one of the ears through which the world heard, one of the hearts through which it felt. He would be a writer. He would write – everything – poetry and prose, novels and descriptions, and plays like Shakespeare. There was career and the way to win Ruth.
For the first time he saw the aim of his life, and saw it in the middle of the great sea. Martin decided to begin writing when he comes back. He would describe the voyage to the South Sea and sell it to some San Francisco newspaper. He would go on studying, and then, after some time, when he had learned and prepared himself, he would write great things.
When Martin Eden returned to San Francisco, he began to write. He sent his works to newspapers and magazines, but the editors sent his manuscripts back. Martin continued to write and study at the same time.
Martin lived in a small room where he slept, studied, wrote and cooked his meals. Before the window there was the kitchen table that served as desk and library. The bed occupied two-thirds of the room. Martin slept five hours; only a man in very good health could work for nineteen hours a day. He never lost a moment. On the looking-glass were lists of words: when he was shaving or combing his hair, he learned these words. Some lists were on the wall over the kitchen table, and he studied them while he was cooking or washing the dishes. New lists were always put there in place of the old ones. Every new word he met in his reading was marked and later put down on paper and pinned to the wall or looking-glass. He even carried them in his pockets and looked them through in the street or in the shop.
The weeks passed. All Martin’s money was spent and publishers continued to send his manuscripts back. Day by day he worked on and day by day the postman delivered to him his manuscripts. He had no money for stamps, so the manuscripts lay on the floor under the table. Martin pawned his overcoat, then his watch.
One morning the postman brought him a short thin envelope. There was no manuscript in that envelope, therefore, Martin thought, they had taken the story. It was «The Ring of Bells». In the letter the editor of a San Francisco magazine said that the story was good. They would pay the author five dollars f or it. And he would receive the check when the story was published.