New Arrival

"I have always wanted to write epics and sagas of great beauty and mystic meaning"

Typed letter, with later holograph annotations in margins, one of them initialed ("JK"), to his Lowell comrade Bill Ryan.

Ozone Park, L.I: January 10, 1943.

Unmailed. 1 1/4 pp. 4to. "I have always wanted to write epics and sagas of great beauty and mystic meaning" Single sheet of blank stationery, typed recto and verso. Old folding creases and wrinkles, small splits along folds. Item #312847

An early Kerouac letter to Bill Ryan, his close friend from Lowell, Massachussets. Both were members of the "The Young Prometheans," the small circle of aspiring writers and intellectuals in Lowell which played such a formative role in Kerouac's development. Kerouac comments favorably in the letter on a manuscript of Ryan's, and in comparing and contrasting Thomas Wolfe and Sinclair Lewis, articulates the vision he then had of himself as a writer. In part:

"You remind me, Bill, of a certain type, or genre, of writer I have always deeply envied. The 'lean, hardhitting writer' so well typified by a Sinclair Lewis or an Arthur Koestler or a John Dos Passos. These writers seem to me to hit at the hart [sic] of things with a terrific force. Wolfe came close to the heart of things, but he is not the incisive, precise dissector ... One of the truths you gleaned out of your college experience was a truth typical of your artistic makeup; you saw these engineering students and dissected them unmercifully ... Out of Columbia I only gleaned one truth: that formal education is not near enough an approach to Minerva. Wolfe, with his 'subjective gushings', found life on the whole in America not near enough to Apollo. Where the Lewis-school attacks problems one by one, with blistering satire, and leaves them smouldering in ashes, the Wolfe-school attacks no problems at all but writes over their heads, so to speak. [...] I have always wanted to write epics and sagas of great beauty and mystic meaning (and I believe I may grow out of that in time, as I seem to be doing now since pursuing psychology); you, I am certain, have always wanted to write satiric novels, on the majestic scale of a Tolstoi or a Dickens...."

Kerouac goes on to discuss his latest version of "The Sea is My Brother," his early novel which went unpublished in his lifetime, and sketches what he intended to be the final scene in order to "illustrate what I meant a while back by 'outgrowing' the adolescent side of Wolfeanism: the stone, leaf-door pattern, which has its place in any attitude toward history. A sort of melioration of dynamics with statics." He defends Wolfe from the critical disfavor he was then experiencing, and comments on the situation of contemporary writers:: "No one in America ... has ever said as much as Wolfe said. I am not going to discredit Wolfe, as so many fools are doing now ... Wolfe wrote about the essential and everlasting America, not the V-for-Victory America. Today's writers have to combine both Americas, if they choose of course to be in some sense timely. It is their choice; it is my choice for the time being---and I don't deny the reason: I would like, for a change, to have my stuff published. It has always seemed to me a great injustice that the artists of the world are expected to produce, along with their 'great' works, the commodities for consumption which all non-artists are expected to produce."

At some later date, point Kerouac penciled a note in a blank portion of the verso: "Unmailed Letter to Bill Ryan of Lowell who died in the South Pacific JK." A note in his hand in red ink, to the same effect, appears at the head of the letter.

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