On The Road - The Original Scroll

I’ve recently been reading “On The Road - The Original Scroll”. For Kerouac afficionados, its publication of in 2007 was an moment off some importance. For the first time, it was possible to read the uncorrected manuscript, as Kerouac first wrote it, on a single scroll, in those three mad weeks over half a century ago.

When you first open the book, the first thing that hits you is that the manuscript is a single paragraph, with very little conventional punctuation. More importantly from the perspective of the history of the novel, the characters are there with their real names. So, instead of Dean Moriarty, we have Neal Cassidy, and rather than Carlo Marx, there is Allen Ginsberg.

There are also significant differences in the text. Contrary to legend surrounding the non-editing of spontaneous prose poetry, Kerouac clearly made changes (such as adding paragraphs) to ensure publication. As an example of textual alterations, compare the first lines. In the traditionally published version, this reads:

“I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split up and my feeling that everything was dead”.

The original scroll, on the other hand, reads:

“I first met Neal not long after my father died…I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about except that it really had something to do with my father’s death and the awful feeling that everything was dead”.

I also love editor, Howard Cunnell’s, description, in the “Note On The Text“, of the opening line suggesting the “sound of a car misfiring before starting up for a long journey”.

I find “On The Road - The Original Scroll” to be fresher, more immediate and having a greater clarity than the traditional published version. As the New York Times put it (quoted in the blurb on the back cover) “the sparse and unassuming scroll is the living version for our time”. I cannot recommend it more highly. It is available in paperback at the usual places.

Note - wrote this a couple of years back and it appeared at various places on the web. Re-posted here in view of the release of the film of On The Road this year.

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