The Dharma Bums

First page of The Dharma Bums manuscript, by Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)

On December 9, we were excited to receive the 1957 typescript of Jack Kerouac’s novel, The Dharma Bums.  Previously on display at the Orange County Regional History Center, the heavily marked manuscript contains pencilled comments, the blue markings of a Viking Press editor, and Kerouac’s remarks in red–the first of which reads, “Dharma Bums MS with Viking Press changes I rejected.” (This comment appears twice:  both on the first page of the text and on the cover sheet below.)

Philip Deaver, Writer in Residence and Professor of English, has viewed the manuscript and describes it as a “somehow almost living thing, a work of art from way back when we had authors, editors, publishers, and even a reading public pulling in the same direction.”  Here “we could see how Jack sometimes took but mostly didn’t take an editor’s advice.  Still it was a later pre-publication draft of the work, and every one of them was stormed over very carefully by Jack himself.”

When he wrote this novel over a period of 11 days in 1957, Kerouac was living in College Park, in an apartment author Bob Kealing described as “a converted back porch” of a small house (Kerouac in Florida, Arbiter Press, 2004).  Kerouac and his mother moved in during the summer of 1957, just a short time before On the Road, the novel that made him famous, was published, and they stayed until April 1958. (The house is now home to The Kerouac Project and its Writers in Residence Program.)

Like On the Road, The Dharma Bums was first typed on a continuous roll of teletype paper.   Photographer Fred DeWitt, on assignment for Time magazine, took several pictures of Kerouac in January 1958, while he was transferring the text from the original scroll to a standard form.

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Regional History Center, www.thehistorycenter.org

Many years later, Mr. DeWitt told Bob Kealing, “I remember a lone light bulb, the roll of teletype paper, and a manual typewriter.”

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Regional History Center, www.thehistorycenter.org

The whereabouts of the original scroll are unknown.  It was sold by Christie’s auction house in April 2003 to an anonymous buyer.

The Dharma Bums scroll (Image from Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/7354209@N08/2043484952)

When The Dharma Bums was published in October 1958, The New York Times declared, “Mr. Kerouac has done it again,” noting that the book “should arouse jubilance among the Beejees [Beat Generation] as well as the generally more rewarding fury of those who by urging others not to read a book do so much to complicate an author’s income tax problems” (The New York Times, Oct. 2, 1958).  The Dharma Bums, a sequel to On the Road, would turn out to be one of Kerouac’s best known and most significant works–a tale of two friends exploring nature and Buddhism in search of truth and enlightenment.

Though Kerouac was living only a few miles away when On the Road made him a celebrity, there’s no evidence of his having had any contact with Rollins–either then or in 1961-62, when he and his mother lived in the Kingswood Manor area of Orlando, near his sister Caroline and her family.   There he became the neighbor of future Rollins student Audrey J. Redding ’81 ’92MLS, whose story is recounted in Kerouac in Florida.  Mrs. Redding, a friend of Caroline and her mother, remembered that the Kerouacs preferred to keep Jack’s presence “kind of low-key hush hush,” during the time he lived across the street from her.  Shortly before the Kerouacs left Orlando, in December 1962, she was surprised by a visit from Jack, who stopped by to say, “I just wanted to thank you for being such a good friend to my mother.”

Another Rollins student, Mark Burrell ’89, never met Kerouac, but wrote of meeting his friend, the poet Allen Ginsberg, in Gainesville and driving him to St. Petersburg to see Kerouac’s widow, Stella (The Sandspur, 1/30/1989).  Ginsberg played his harmonium and sang and chanted on the drive.

Mr. Burrell wrote that although the visit began on a friendly note, it took a different turn when “the discussion of old times dissolved into Jack’s last days in St. Pete.”  Mrs. Kerouac’s grief was clear, as was her frustration with her husband’s old friends, including Ginsberg:  “All he wanted was someone to agree with him.  That’s all!  Just agree with him, and nobody, not even you, Allen, not even you would agree with him.”  She apologized after her outburst, and then Ginsberg held her hand “as they sat silently sharing the loss of their dear friend.”

Kerouac’s life was troubled, but he left behind a rich literary legacy.   We are happy to have such an important part of that legacy to share with scholars and researchers.  In the words of Prof. Deaver, “It’s a treasure, a rare look into the blood and sweat that must flow to make a good book.  I can’t get over how the manuscript had an actual presence.”

To see Jack Kerouac’s 1959 television appearance with Steve Allen, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QzCF6hgEfto&feature=results_video&playnext=1&list=PL40BA5E127F5919D8

For more information about The Kerouac Project, visit http://kerouacproject.org/ .

Bob Kealing’s book, Kerouac in Florida:  Where the Road Ends, is available at the Olin Library.

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

Update:  The Dharma Bums typescript was on loan to Olin Library and is no longer in our holdings.

7 thoughts on “The Dharma Bums

    1. Thank you! And thank you for sharing your site with me–I’m looking forward to reading through it. ~ Darla

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.