On the roadJack Kerouac’s stream-of-consciousness travelogue chronicles the adventures of two friends—narrator Sal Paradise and his wild copilot Dean Moriarty—as they journey across the United States on a road trip to also find a deeper meaning in their country. as himself. Here’s what you need to know about the book. (And for more fascinating facts about your favorite classic novels and their authors, pick up Mental Floss’s book, The curious reader: A literary mix of novels and novelists).
1. The often told role story: On the road is a bit misleading.
According to literary legend, Kerouac . wrote On the road, his second novel, spontaneously for three weeks in April 1951. It is a story that Kerouac made up himself, but in fact he prepared extensively, kept diaries and bought step-by-step plans for studying. “I have another novel in mind – ‘On the Road’ – that I keep thinking about: two boys hitchhiking to California in search of something they don’t really find, and then lose themselves on the road, and come back hopeful all the way of something else,” he wrote in an August 1948 journal. He produced a draft of the novel not long after—one of many.
2. The first designs of On the road were very different from the final product.
Kerouac often used his own life and his friends as inspiration for his fictional works, and On the road was no exception. The novel was based on several road trips Kerouac had taken, and protagonist Sal Paradise was based on Kerouac himself; Dean Moriarty is a replacement for Neal Cassady. However, in the first drafts of the novel, the main character was called Ray Smith, and then Smitty. Early designs also had a more conventional structure than the final result. Kerouac also played with other titles including Beat Generation and Shades of the Prison House.
3. Jack Kerouac was inspired by a letter from Neal Cassady.
Kerouac’s breakthrough came in December 1950 thanks to a letter he received from Cassady, who had written the 13,000-word, 40-page message on a three-day Benzedrine high. It was, Kerouac would later say, “All first person, quick, crazy, confessional, completely serious, all detailed.” He called the style ‘spontaneous prose’. In April 1951, Kerouac sat down at his typewriter and in 20 days wrote more than 120,000 words on a roll of tracing paper that he glued together.
4. The scroll version of On the road was extensively edited.
The role was not the final version of On the road; it would take a few more revisions and many, many rejections before the novel was finally published. As author Joyce Johnson, who dated Kerouac for two years, would later recall, “every paragraph had to be a ‘poem’.” A story Kerouac told about the scroll—that a friend’s dog chewed off some paragraphs at the end—may actually have been a cover for wanting to adapt the ending.
5. On the road was rejected several times.
A denial sent to Kerouac’s agent, Sterling Lord, read: “Kerouac has a tremendous talent of a very special kind. But this is not a well-made novel, neither a marketable one, nor even, I think, a good one. His frenetic and clambering prose perfectly captures the Beat Generation’s frenetic travels, geographically and mentally. But is that enough? I don’t think so.” Another commented: “Our response to Kerouac’s work was almost unique to a man, in that there was genuine admiration for his powerful prose, his ability to create a living sense of America, of life in this country. , and the strength and originality of its conception. But there were serious objections to the people and situations he writes about, as to whether they would be of compelling interest to many readers. … [A]I could suggest that he should strive for a clearer picture of the novel itself.’ On the road was eventually published by Viking Press.
6. Created a single review On the road a success.
When On the road was finally published in September 1957, it quickly became a bestseller, thanks to a review by critic Gilbert Millstein [PDF], who wrote in The New York Times that the novel was “the most beautifully executed, the clearest and most important utterance hitherto by the generation that Kerouac referred to as ‘Beat’ years ago, and whose main avatar he is.”
7. Neal Cassady’s letter was missing for decades.
Neal Cassady’s “Joan Anderson letter”, the inspiration for On the roadThe “spontaneous prose” was lost after Kerouac gave the letter to Allen Ginsberg. (Ginsberg said poet Gerd Stern had thrown it into San Francisco Bay, which Stern denied.) Then, in 2012, the letter was rediscovered: It had sat in the pile of “reading” mail that belonged to owner Richard Emerson of Golden Goose Pers. When the company went bankrupt, he sent his records to his colleague, Jack Spinosa, where his daughter found it after Spinosa’s death. The letter was sold at auction for $200,000.
8. The scroll version of On the road was reissued in 2007.
In 1962 Kerouac wrote that his books, including: On the road, the Dharma Bums, and Visions of Cody, were “a huge book like Proust’s” [Remembrance of Things Past] … chapters in all the work I mention The Duluoz Legend.” The author noted, “Due to the objections of my early publishers, I wasn’t allowed to use the same personae names in every work,” so instead he created new names for the people in his stories. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of On the road in 2007 Penguin Classics re-released Kerouac’s scrolling version of the novel, featuring scenes cut out before publication, swapping the characters’ names for the names of the people who actually inspired them.