KEROUAC, Jean Louis Lebris de ("Jack"), 1922-1969. Typescript scroll of On the Road (published 1957), comprising the first draft of the definitive Beat Generation novel, the working draft from which the published novel derives. Typed by Kerouac in New York City in a 20-day marathon between April 2 and 22, 1951.
A continuous scroll of semi-translucent paper, 119 feet long 8 inches long by 9 inches wide, created by Kerouac by pasting and taping together separate 12-foot long strips in order to feed the scroll without interruption through the typewriter platen, the text single-spaced and entirely without paragraphs and exhibiting occasional cross-outs (by repeated "x"s), scattered, but fairly numerous penciled deletions and word changes, in some cases substituting fictional for the real names of himself and his companions and friends (Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs), with occasional penciled deletions of phrases, entire lines and (in several places) whole blocks of text. Occasional interlinear and marginal notes in pencil by Kerouac. With Kerouac's name and address (at his mother's house) written in pencil on back of the scroll at the beginning: "John Kerouac, 94-21 134th Street, Richmond Hill, NY" (Kerouac and his mother's address from late 1952).
A TWENTIETH-CENTURY MASTERPIECE
The scroll typescript of On the Road arguably constitutes the most important manuscript of a late twentieth-century novel ever to be offered at auction. Certainly, it qualifies as the defining novel of the so-called Beat generation, a disparate group of poets, artists, filmmakers and musicians who shared certain broad philosophical affinities. The scroll of On the Road--which elicited much attention and comment at the time the book was published--also constitutes the most celebrated artifact of the Beat Generation. Nearly half a century after its writing, On the Road has attracted a wide and dedicated readership since its publication in 1957. And, unlike most novels with which it is contemporary, it continues to enjoy a sizeable readership in each successive generation. By far the most popular of Kerouac's works, On the Road strikingly portrays a mysterious, semi-nomadic subculture strikingly at variance with the conformist and materialistic American culture of the 1950s. To those courageous enough to reject the simplistic formulations of commercialized mass culture and embrace a new, unflinching truthfulness, the Beat movement held out a veiled but potent promise of heightened sensation, enhanced perception and a transforming sense of the potential of the individual. John Clellon Holmes, a member of Kerouac's circle, and author of the early beat novel Go, described the sense of excitement in the air in the early 1950s: "Everyone I knew felt it in one way or another--that bottled eagerness for talk, for joy, for excitement, for sensation, for new truths. Whatever the reason, everyone of my age had a look of impatience and expectation in his eyes that bespoke ungiven love, unreleased ecstasy and the presence of buried worlds within." In the legendary 20-day stint at the typewriter that has become part of Beat lore, Kerouac created a work so unique in its form and radical in its narrative that it was summarily rejected by a string of generally innovative editors and publishers. But Kerouac continued to write, voluminously. In the six years between the creation of the On the Road scroll and the book's publication, he completed at least eleven books and a large quantity of poetry and prose; refining the technique he later termed "spontaneous writing" or "sketching," which has been equated to the sinuous lines of modern jazz (which Kerouac loved) and to the drip technique of the painter Jackson Pollack, Kerouac's contemporary. As one critic has noted, Kerouac's "spontaneous bop prosody" (as Ginsberg termed it) "created an action painting of the word" (John Tytell, Naked Angels, p.209).
Kerouac's friend Allen Ginsberg recognized the unique importance of the On the Road scroll, calling it "an extraordinary project, sort of a flash of inspiration on a new approach to prose. An attempt to tell completely, all at once, everything on [Kerouac's] mind in relation to the hero Dean Moriarty, spill it out all at once and follow the convolutions of the active mind for direction as to the 'structure of the confession.' And discover the rhythm of the mind at work at high speed in prose by means of a highly scientific attack on new prose method." The result, Ginsberg writes, was "a magnificent single paragraph several blocks long, rolling, like the road itself, the length on an entire onionskin Teletype roll. The sadness that this was never published in its most exciting form--its original discovery--but hacked and punctuated and broken--the rhythms and swing of it broken--by presumptuous literary critics in publishing houses. The original mad version is greater than the published version, the manuscript still exists and someday when everybody's dead will be published as it is" (Review of Kerouac's Dharma Bums, in The Village Voice, 12 November 1958, reprinted in Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995, New York: Harper Collins 1990.
Margins at beginning and end frayed and chipped with some losses at edges, (mostly in the first 2 feet), affecting a few of the outermost words and letters of text in some 41 lines, occasional marginal tears or chips along the margins, but the remainder of the scroll in generally good condition, clear and readable throughout. Slight yellowing to the beginning, the extreme edges, and to seams where originally joined by Kerouac, minor yellowing from old tape repairs in a few places. Lacking final portion (last part of Mexico trip and Part Five epilogue, comprising approximately 25 pages in the 293-page Penguin edition. This missing segment was chewed and torn away by a dog belonging to Kerouac's friend Lucien Carr in April or May 1951. At the end is a partly effaced pencil note by Kerouac "-- DOG ATE (Potchky-a dog)" Conservation: Marginal tears and losses neatly mended from the back with Japanese tissue, blank leader of tissue added at end. Preserved on two modern Plexiglas spools.
SUMMARY CENSUS OF TYPESCRIPTS OF ON THE ROAD
1. Early, unfinished draft, featuring Ray Smith character, begun November 1948. Reportedly part of the Kerouac Archive.
2. The present typescript scroll, written April 2-20, 1951.
3. Typescript (codex-form) prepared from the preceding for submission to publishers. Reportedly part of the Kerouac Archive.
4. Typescript (codex-form) prepared for submission to publishers, with markings of Viking editors. Reportedly part of the Kerouac Archive.
(Excludes outlines, fragmentary drafts, and other preliminary material plus the related works Visions of Cody and the posthumously published Pic (1971), which essentially constitute new, though related, works. See Hunt, Crooked Road, pp.xxxvii, 77ff., and Brinkley for further details.)
"Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, N.Y. (9 November 1995--4 February 1996); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minn., (2 June--15 September 1996); M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, Cal., (5 October--29 December 1996). Note: the scroll was exhibited rolled.
1. Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)
2. Gabrielle Kerouac, mother of the above (d.1973) and Stella Sampas Kerouac, wife of the above
3. Stella Sampas Kerouac (d.1990)
4 Anthony G. Sampatacacus, brother of the above (d. 1999).