On the Road: The Original Scroll

On the Road: The Original Scroll

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by Jack Kerouac
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Luc Sante
The biggest immediate difference between the first draft and the finished product…is that while we know On the Road as a novel—the great novel of the Beat Generation—the scroll is essentially nonfiction, a memoir that uses real names and is far less self-consciously literary. It is a dazzling piece of writing for all of its rough edges, and, stripped of affectations that in the novel can sometimes verge on bathos, as well as of gratuitous punctuation supplied by editors more devoted to rules than to music, it seems much more immediate and even contemporary&#The scroll clarifies the book's connection to the past—to Mark Twain and tramp narratives and Woody Guthrie and cowboy sagas—and underlines the features it shares with its nearest contemporaneous cultural relative, Robert Frank's great photographic road book The Americans. The novel that On the Road became was inarguably the book that young people needed in 1957, but the sparse and unassuming scroll is the living version for our time.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

Though On The Roadwouldn't be published until 1957, Keroauc wrote the book's initial draft in 1951 on a 120'-long sheet of paper without any paragraph breaks-a rolling boil of text. The early draft also uses the real names of those upon whom the characters are based (Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, etc.). The story went through several additional drafts, picking up fictitious names (Kerouac became Sal Paradise; Cassady, Dean Moriarty) and toning down the style a bit. The scroll looms large in the Kerouac legend, and this is the first time the original draft has been published as is (still no paragraph breaks). Solid fodder for scholars and a real treat for fans. A big thumbs up (get it?).


—Michael Rogers

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780241951538
Publisher:
Viking
Publication date:
04/28/2011

Meet the Author

Jack Kerouac(1922-1969), the central figure of the Beat Generation, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1922 and died in St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1969. Among his many novels are On the Road, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, and Visions of Cody.

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On the Road: The Original Scroll 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Liz24LM More than 1 year ago
The message is clear: Keep moving, because satisfaction is hell. In a postwar culture that was discovering the magic of adolescence, the novel wrestles with the issue of how to grow up - how to adolesce. From Sal's opening journey west, when he lives on a child's diet of ice cream and apple pie, he crosses "the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future," knowing that the experience will change him. Dean, on the other hand, arrives in the novel fully formed, "the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road." His travels can only bring him toward a more childlike state, innocent of the wreckage he cause - blameless, an angel. For Sal alone the road is a path of growth. As long as Dean remains a child, tempting Sal to do the same, Sal's maturation can be a free choice, not a concession to social expectations or simply a product of age.
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Golden1 More than 1 year ago
Jack Kerouac has created something here that few writers have the ability to do. With this original scroll, the reader is able to follow through the actual events of Kerouac's day. No revising or revisiting, just him sitting down and writing things as they happened. Some readers may be offended by his inability to put the effort forward that most writers do of revision, but I would argue that his greatest quality is his love for his life that is clearly written among the pages. This book is the living diary of his travels on the road and although some areas become confusing with the introduction of new characters, the book is an easy read. The simplicity yet descriptive portrayal of his adventure leave the reader with a desire for the same travel. A favorite read simply for the reason that, as Kerouac also respects, we all desire to get away, and to be on the road.
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4x5_Photography More than 1 year ago
I picked up "On the Road" because I planned on taking an extensive road trip from New York to San Francisco, and everywhere in between. It was really great to see a complete opposite of the journey that I was taking. Kerouac flies through all of the things and people that he experiences, from his initial mishap all the way through the end of his journey. He truly was on the road, and seeing quite a few of the things he saw, even decades later, caused me to feel a very real connection to such a prolific writer. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in the Beat generation or looking for the description of a long, crazy trip across the country.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved On the Road when i first read it.I could'nt help but wonder when they were going to settle. It wasn't until half way through that i found out anything about Jack Kerouac and his life. It is amazing to read the book knowing the truth of that generation. That Sal Paradise is Kerouac, Karl Marx is Allen Ginsberg, and most importantly, Dean Morarity is Neal Cassidy. In this day and age it is almost impossible for us to imagine a joyful nomadic existence that the characters called life. With no deadlines, commitments or consequences to hold them down, Sal and Dean roamed the country in the most carefree of ways. It is surprising that kerouac got a chance stay put long enough to write it all down and share it with us 50 years later, but we would be missing the alter-ego of a whole generation if he didn't ='
fattrucker More than 1 year ago
why has it taken so long to get this, the original manuscript, out to the general public? I've never believed it was written in one draft anyway. I found an old paperback copy of Dharma Bums in a thrift store in Modesto a while back, which I have never read. They wanted like a buck seventy five for it even though all the other paperbacks were about ten cents each. I was incensed and got into an argument with some Mexican ladies that ran the store and basically am still kicking myself for being so cheap. But it was the principle. I'm just old enough to have traveled coast to coast on old route 66 when I was a kid. You can't appreciate how this sort of a lifestyle could be possible unless you've made that journey, especially in a Studebaker like we did. I think the reason they've never released this scroll is because of repressed homosexuality. I've always felt that Kerouac and Cassidy were both at least bisexual, but that was clearly unacceptable in the fifties and frankly most of the rest of the latter half of the 20th century as well and only now can we even approach the truth.