Kérouac: Joual Royalty
|Image Source: http://www.jackkerouac.com/|
But alas, what many people do not know is that Kerouac had initially written On the Road (1957) in French - or quite specifically - the form of Canadian French often referred to as Joual. In fact, Sur le chemin was the title Kérouac gave to the initial and original version of the work which he penned in 1952 while in Mexico. It is Gabriel Anctil, a Canadian journalist, who made this unexpected discovery while gaining access to the author's manuscripts in 2007 (see article interview with Anctil in Le Monde "Sur le chemin" un inédit de Jack Kérouac écrit en français). Alongside this, there was also found another unpublished French novel, La nuit est ma femme.
Kérouac's Sur le chemin is apparently written in much the same style as its later English parallel version, being all at once innovatory, jazzy, catchy and filled with cool prose and with smoke you can almost smell in between the lines the huffs and puffs as the author pored over it...Sur le chemin (1952), although and oddly even if it remains unpublished, is a literary work which has the particular distinction of being the first literary work to have been written in Joual. In the province of Quebec, Joual literature would only emerge a little later, in the 1960s with authors such as Michel Tremblay.
Here's an extract that appeared in Le Monde (2008/09/08) of Sur le chemin (1952):
"Dans l'mois d'octobre 1935, y'arriva une machine du West, de Denver, sur le chemin pour New York. Dans la machine était Dean Pomeray, un soûlon ; Dean Pomeray Jr. son ti fils de 9 ans et Rolfe Glendiver, son step son, 24. C'était un vieille Model T Ford, toutes les trois avaient leux yeux attachez sur le chemin dans la nuit à travers la windshield."
Kérouac's language is clear, for he wrote in an unbridled language, unrestrained by any artificial language laws, orthographic constraints, or any other fakeries. In short, his was Joual as it was spoken as his native language in New England, not even Joual as it was spoken in Quebec. He had made the language his own by being loyal to the sounds and words of his childhood and his native tongue as he had learnt it.
Sadly though, when he had tried to reconnect with his French Canadian culture and roots by visiting the set of a popular Quebec TV show, Le sel de la semaine, when Kerouac was interviewed in French... Well, essentially at one point he is openly mocked by the Quebecois audience present there. (Watch the vid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ShxmZUdQDo)
This gives you an idea of his reception in French Canada. Kerouac was somewhat of a curiosity, albeit a sensational American one on the one hand, while on the other he spoke Joual... For many snotty francophones at the top of the social pecking order in French Canada, it just seemed too weird to hear a great American novelist come to Canada and speak in everyday French - and I imagine this is why "Sur le chemin" (1952) remains unpublished, except for some brief extracts that have appeared as a freakshow to this linguistic curiosity. No posthumous recognition in French Canada for Kerouac's literary contribution and innovation. We don't even get to read it. Sur le chemin (1952) will remain in the Kerouac vaults, in New York city, until some brave Francophone publisher goes and rescues these precious pages to make them known to all.