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Professor Dennis Hensley
Professor Dennis Hensley
Even people late in life want to have their dreams come true, and Dennis Hensley saw his greatest Christmas dream come true after 20 years. Hensley, 58, recently published Martin Eden: The Annotated Edition, an in-depth literary analysis of the classic novel by Jack London. A professor of English and director of the professional writing program at Taylor University Fort Wayne, and author of 50 books and more than 3,000 articles, Hensley has spent the past 20 years teaching and studying Martin Eden and its author.

First published in 1909, Martin Eden tells the story of Martin Eden, a sailor and laborer who sets out to educate himself so that he can become a writer and part of the bourgeoisie, who he believes to be the truly educated people in society. Eden eventually achieves enormous success as a writer, but in time becomes dissatisfied with fame and its shallow rewards. The book is semiautobiographical, and London wrote it as an attack on individualism and as criticism of ambition.

Hensley, who received his doctorate in English from Ball State University in English in 1982, said the roots of his latest book go back to his doctoral thesis, which looked at Jack London’s life and his writings. Besides Martin Eden, Jack London wrote several other novels, including The Call of the Wild, The Sea-Wolf, and White Fang.

“Part of my doctoral thesis was a study of Martin Eden, because it was semiautobiographical. The more I studied Martin Eden, the more I realized that Jack London really understood what goes on with a writer. Throughout the years, I accumulated notes about Martin Eden, because I had taught a seminar on Jack London, and my students were always incredibly moved by the main character in the book,” Hensley said.

Hensley became serious about writing an annotated edition of Martin Eden three and a half years ago. Through a project sponsored by San José State University, Hensley began his dream of writing the book.

“I found out that San José State was doing analytical studies of West Coast authors and their key books, so I contacted the project directors and told them that I had always wanted to do a fully annotated edition of Jack London’s book. They wrote back and said my proposal sounded exciting, so every summer when I wasn’t teaching, I spent time compiling my notes,” he said.

As Hensley worked on the book, he soon realized that he wanted the project to be bigger than his accumulated notes, so he contacted collectors and asked them for rare photographs of Jack London, London’s first and second wives, his yacht (“The Snark”) and photographs of London’s dream house (“Wolf House”), which burned to the ground August 21, 1913, one day before London planned to move in. Hensley said the rare photograph collectors responded to his requests, and he included the photographs in the book.

Hensley also decided to include a chronology in the book. “During the third summer when I started working on the project again, I realized that people might not know about Jack London’s life all that much, so I decided to include a historical chronology to the book. Each year, I kept adding more and more to the book, but every time I added items, I saw the additions as something that would enhance the entire book,” he said.

During Hensley’s final summer of working on Martin Eden, two Taylor University administrators talked with him about his project. “As I was pulling the book together this last summer, Taylor selected a new president and a new chancellor,” Hensley said. Both the new president and chancellor asked about projects professors at the university were working on, so I mentioned the book I was completing. Both the president and chancellor expressed interest in my book and said that instead of having San José State University publish the book, it would be a real honor for Taylor University to publish it, since I was one of Taylor’s own professors and because I had spent so many years teaching and reading the book.”

This past summer, Hensley’s 20-year dream came true. Taylor University Press published his book. “Of the 50 books I have written, this is my favorite one by far,” Hensley said. “Taylor University Press did a great job with the book, and after having read and studied Jack London for so many years, I am tremendously proud of my book and how it turned out. It’s the kind of book that will be in libraries for many years even after I am long gone. It will be my contribution to American literary studies.”

The Waynedale News Staff
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