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On the Road: The Original Scrollby Jack Kerouac
Synopses & Reviews
The legendary 1951 scroll draft of On the Road, published word for word as Kerouac originally composed it.
Though Jack Kerouac began thinking about the novel that was to become On the Road as early as 1947, it was not until three weeks in April 1951, in an apartment on West Twentieth Street in Manhattan, that he wrote the first full draft that was satisfactory to him. Typed out as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper that he later taped together to form a 120 foot scroll, this document is among the most significant, celebrated, and provocative artifacts in contemporary American literary history. It represents the first full expression of Kerouac's revolutionary aesthetic, the identifiable point at which his thematic vision and narrative voice came together in a sustained burst of creative energy. It was also part of a wider vital experimentation in the American literary, musical, and visual arts in the post-World War II period.
It was not until more than six years later, and several new drafts, that Viking published, in 1957, the novel known to us today. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of On the Road, Viking will publish the 1951 scroll in a standard book format. The differences between the two versions are principally ones of significant detail and altered emphasis. The scroll is slightly longer and has a heightened linguistic virtuosity and a more sexually frenetic tone. It also uses the real names of Kerouac's friends instead of the fictional names he later invented for them. The transcription of the scroll was done by Howard Cunnell who, along with Joshua Kupetz, George Mouratidis, and Penny Vlagopoulos, provides a critical introduction that explains the fascinating compositional and publication history of On the Road and anchors the text in its historical, political, and social context.
"In introducing the fabled first draft of Kerouac's autobiographical novel-written on a single giant roll of paper, without breaks in the text, in an amphetamine-fueled marathon-editor Howard Cunnell refers to Allen Ginsberg's claim that 'the published novel is not at all like the wild book Kerouac typed in "51.' Characters are identified by their real names (rather than the 1957 version's apt pseudonyms) and their love affairs are more explicit, giving the book a juicy memoir-like feel, especially where Cassady and Ginsberg are concerned. The plot, however, is identical. Neal Cassady joins Kerouac and Ginsberg's bohemian circle in New York in the late 1940"s, and inspires and cons them into traveling around the country, 'searching for a lost inheritance, for fathers, for family, for home, even for America.' The death of Kerouac's father plays a larger role in the story than in the 1957 version; and Justin W. Brierly, a teacher who served as mentor to Cassady and has a cameo in the published book, makes a series of recurring appearances in the scroll. The lack of paragraphs or chapters emphasizes the breathless intensity of Kerouac's prose. The anniversary publicity will introduce this classic to a new generation of readers, and while the scroll probably won't displace the novel's more familiar, polished incarnation, it will be of keen interest to beat aficionados and scholars." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Few manuscripts have been so mythologized as the scroll, the legendary roll of paper fed into a manual typewriter to accommodate Jack Kerouac's torrential word flow, the three-week performance, fueled by coffee, that became 'On the Road.' In 2001, the scroll commanded the highest price at auction ever paid for a literary document, $2.43 million (more than Joyce's 'Ulysses'), when sold to James Irsay,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) owner of the Indianapolis Colts — a record that still stands. An aging superstar, yellowed and tattered, the scroll is now touring the United States in celebration of the 50th anniversary of 'On the Road's' publication, Sept. 5. Keyed to the occasion, the Kerouac industry has produced its own word flow: a critical study ('Why Kerouac Matters,' by John Leland); a biographical study of the Road years ('Jack Kerouac's American Journey,' by Paul Maher Jr.); a collection ('Road Novels 1957-1960'); and reissues (Dennis McNally's 1979 biography, 'Desolate Angel,' and an anniversary edition of the 1957 'On the Road'). The most exciting of these is the scroll text, in a handsome edition. As the story goes, Kerouac unrolled the 120-foot-long item for his editor, Robert Giroux, who pointed out the impracticality of printing it that way. The manuscript languished for seven years before Kerouac agreed to revise and normalize the text for a new editor, Malcolm Cowley. Because the resulting book, published in '57, violated Kerouac's dictum of 'first thought, best thought,' the scroll was long considered to hold sacred truths. The publication of this 'bible' provides scholars and beat junkies alike with access to the source, the novel as Kerouac meant it to be. In an introductory essay, Howard Cunnell teases out a history that shifts the scroll away from center stage. It is actually one of three extant early drafts. Placed alongside the 1957 book, however, the scroll delivers a surprise: Few changes were made. Even so, the scroll's language is raw, fast-paced and jazzy, an exuberant, organic word blast unembellished with the self-conscious literary asides of the published book. The characters have their real names (Neal, Allen, Bill, Carolyn), and they have sex (hetero- and homo-). Though much of this was cut before publication, sex in Kerouac is not as ribald as that in William S. Burroughs' 'Naked Lunch,' which appeared just two years later. Jack Kerouac, narrator and character in the scroll, remains, like Sal Paradise in the novel, a melancholy, prudish observer, obsessed with death, taken for a ride of kicks, joy and revelations in the company of those more antic than himself, especially huckster-hero Neal Cassidy, son of a Denver wino. 'I first met Neal not long after my father died,' the scroll text begins, differing from the published novel's 'I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.' Readers will debate the relative merits of the two sentences, but neither is clearly superior. The first goes well with 'the father we never found,' the ending of all versions. The second suits the novel's sad refrain, 'Everything is collapsing.' It also had a cultural impact in the Ozzie-and-Harriet America of the 1950s. Kerouac's novels published from 1957-60 — 'On the Road,' 'The Dharma Bums,' 'The Subterraneans,' 'Tristessa' and 'Lonesome Traveler' — have been gathered in a new volume of the Library of America, complete with (a nice touch) excerpts from Kerouac's journals, which parallel his road trips at a slower pace: 'My ferry plows the brown water to New Orleans; I look over the rail; and there is that Montana log passing by. ... Like me a wanderer in burrowed water-beds moving slowly with satisfaction and eternity.' Kerouac's road books evoke the American landscape with detours to Mexico, Morocco and European cities; the journals, poetic and laden with his transcendent vision, take the road that goes inward. In 'Jack Kerouac's American Journey,' Paul A. Maher, Jr., author of a recent Kerouac biography, provides a helpful, well-researched but prosaic companion to the novels, with special emphasis on the actual trips and their transformation into fiction. The fascination with Kerouac's true life, as opposed to what he called his 'true-life novels,' has produced a dozen or so biographies so far. As beat critic Seymour Krim liked to say, it is a credit to Kerouac that none duplicates any other. Dennis McNally's 1979 'Desolate Angel' remains a good read; as a 'psychic pioneer,' McNally's Kerouac is a rebel, paving new roads of consciousness. McNally asserts our need now, as much as ever, 'to travel in Whitman's and Jack's and Neal Cassady's footsteps.' An engaging, smart and fresh take from New York Times reporter John Leland, 'Why Kerouac Matters,' mixes serious discussions of Kerouac and his legacy with glib, colloquial sidebars. Leland riffs on Kerouac's alleged anti-Semitism ('he certainly quacked like one'); his facial hair ('America's ongoing goatee problem'); 'his use of weed, Benzedrine, morphine, alcohol'; comparative sex lives, with lists of Sal's fictional trysts vs. Kerouac's real ones; and what Kerouac's zeitgeist novel has meant for later generations. Leland calls it 'a slacker bible for the last half century.' Whither goest thou now, Kerouac?, to paraphrase a famous line from Carlo Marx aka Allen Ginsberg. He's already a brand, an icon, but where does his road now lead? In 1982, at the 25th-anniversary celebration of 'On The Road' in Boulder, his friend novelist John Clellon Holmes suggested that Jack himself, too shy to be comfortable with adoration, would have told his fans, 'Find your own truth.' He wanted to be known only as a writer in the mainstream of American letters, and now, with his appearance in the Library of America, he seems to have achieved that. Next for him may be the fate of his literary forebear, cosmic Walt: to have his name grace a shopping mall. Regina Weinreich, author of 'Kerouac's Spontaneous Poetics' and editor of 'Kerouac's Book of Haikus,' co-produced and directed the documentary 'Paul Bowles: The Complete Outsider.' " Reviewed by Regina Weinreich, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A] dazzling piece of writing for all of its rough edges...it seems much more immediate and even contemporary." Luc Sante, New York Times
"Solid fodder for scholars and a real treat for fans. A big thumbs up (get it?)." Library Journal
10 CDs, 121/2 hours
The legendary 1951 scroll draft of On the Road, published as Kerouac originally composed it
IN THREE WEEKS in April of 1951, Jack Kerouac wrote his first full draft of On the Road—typed as a single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper, which he later taped together to form a 120-foot scroll. A major literary event when it was published in Viking hardcover in 2007, this is the uncut version of an American classic—rougher, wilder, and more provocative than the official work that appeared, heavily edited, in 1957. This version, capturing a moment in creative history, represents the first full expression of Kerouac’s revolutionary aesthetic.
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About the Author
Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. He attended local Catholic and public schools and won a scholarship to Columbia University in New York, where he met Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. His first novel, The Town and the City, appeared in 1950, but it was On the Road, published by Viking in 1957, that made him one of the best known authors of his time. Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969, at the age of forty-seven.
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