This post is part of an ongoing series featuring material from the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.
Published in 1952, John Clellon Holmes’s lightly-fictionalized autobiographical novel Go was the first literary depiction of the Beat generation – Kerouac’s On the Road was extant, but only in typescript. On the Road was among the works that would later eclipse Go’s success, but Holmes’s novel establishes several of the themes that would occupy many of his contemporaries. Its characters, all versions of Holmes’s friends, are given over to drugs, petty crime, dissipation, free love, and general hedonistic indulgence; Holmes’s alter ego must navigate between this alluring demimonde and the stability of his marriage.
A New York Times review for Go, dated November 1952, makes clear that the cultural influence of the Beats has yet to manifest. The review’s author encloses in quotations the words “mainliners”, “kick” (in the sense of kicking a drug habit), and the phrase “beat generation”, in the course of explaining this little-understood slang to the reader. Though the characters in Go are glosses on the now-famous Beat writers with whom Holmes socialized at the time, Go slightly predates their literary celebrity. Thus the review refers to characters such as “Pasternak, who writes a presumably good novel, or at least one that gets sold”, “Stofsky, a homosexual and literary whirling dervish”, and “Hart, a frantic character from out of town”, without identifying them as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady. (Kerouac had published his first novel, The Town and the City, two years prior.) Later that month in the Times, Holmes would publish an article titled ‘This is the Beat Generation’, bringing the phrase (borrowed from Kerouac) into the public vocabulary.
This copy of the 1977 Appel edition of Go bears the autographs of several in this social circle: Holmes, Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke, and Peter Orlovsky. (Huncke also appears in Go as “Albert Ancke” – perhaps the most transparent dramatization of all.)
Go: PZ4.H753 G6 1977; HOLLIS number 1288278
New York Times review: M., G. (1952, Nov 09). The ‘kick’ that failed. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/112420774?accountid=11311
Holmes article: Holmes, Clellon. (1996, Apr 14). This is the beat generation. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/docview/109618274?accountid=11311
Thanks to rare book cataloger Ryan Wheeler for contributing this post.