Observations: Museum scrolls back the Kerouac years


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The Independent Culture

Fifty-five years after it was first published, Jack Kerouac's classic Beat novel On The Road has finally been adapted for the screen, directed by Walter Salles. To help judge its faithfulness, fans of the book and of the Beat poets can also consult the original manuscript, which is coming to the British Library in London.

And it is no ordinary manuscript. Though Kerouac kept copious notes of his travels with Neal Cassady and Co during 1947, he wrote the final version of On The Road at home in New York in just three weeks, on a 120ft scroll of tracing paper sheets he taped together to feed into his typewriter. This ensured that his creative flow would never be broken. The technique was referred to by Keroauc's friend, the poet Allen Ginsberg, as "spontaneous bop prosody".

On The Road aficionados will note that the scroll – single-spaced, and without paragraph breaks – contains certain sexually-themed sequences that were edited from the final book because of 1950s pornography laws. Cassady and Ginsberg also appear in the scroll under their own names, rather than the pseudonyms (Dean Moriarty and Carlo Marx, respectively) of the published version.

'On the Road': Jack Kerouac's manuscript scroll, the British Library (www.bl.uk) from 4 October. The film 'On The Road' opens on 12 October.