The scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” will be displayed through June 1 in the Harry Ransom Center‘s exhibition “On the Road with the Beats” at The University of Texas at Austin.
Because of its great length, the entire 120-foot-long scroll cannot be displayed at one time. Exhibition curators chose to unroll the first 48 feet so viewers could see the important changes Kerouac made to the novel’s opening line.
Exhibition visitors, however, may not realize the end of the scroll is missing.
Kerouac noted on the document that it had been “eaten by dog,” namely, the cocker spaniel owned by his friend Lucien Carr. Nobody knows how many inches or feet longer the 120-foot-long artifact used to be.
“Fans of Kerouac’s writing bemoan the fact that Kerouac’s original ending is missing from the scroll,” said Molly Schwartzburg, curator of the exhibition. “However, visitors to the Ransom Center’s exhibition have special insight into the facts.”
Among the unique artifacts in a large section about Kerouac’s most famous novel is a letter written by Allen Ginsberg, describing Kerouac’s great act of spontaneous writing. Ginsberg was present when Kerouac composed the scroll in a New York City apartment and wrote a letter to Neal Cassady describing Kerouac’s feat.
Ginsberg addressed this letter to Cassady–the hero of “On the Road”–on May 7, 1951, less than two weeks after Kerouac completed the scroll on April 22. In it, he describes Kerouac’s writing of the scroll and concludes: “The writing is dewlike, everything happens as it really did, with the same juvenescent feel of spring: the hero is you, you are the hero, beginning with appearance on scene 1946. Jack needs however an ending.”
As this artifact implies, the end of the scroll might have been eaten by a dog, but the end of the novel was yet to be written by its creator.
“On the Road with the Beats” traces the travels of Kerouac, Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and their friends across America and the globe. Manuscripts, books, photographs and visual art from the Ransom Center’s collections tell the story of the Beat Generation and the literary and social revolution they inspired. The scroll manuscript is on view through June 1, and the exhibition runs through Aug. 3.
High-resolution press images of the scroll are available.