AngryFrenchGuy

Jack Kerouac is a Québécois.

with 11 comments

Jack Kerouac Quebec

100% of AngryFrenchGuy.com’s angry Franco readers who took part in the Who is Nous poll consider American writer Jack Kerouac to be one of them: a Québécois. Two thirds of angry Anglos did not.

Jack Kerouak was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. His French-Canadian parents had been part of a massive wave of emigration to the factories of New England that followed the industrial revolution. In those days Lowell and many other northeastern American towns had thriving French-speaking communities known as “Little Canadas” and Kerouac himself did not start learning English until he went to school.

Recently discovered manuscripts of the Beat writer have revealed that Kerouac had attempted to write his classical On the Road novel in French several months before he finally decided to write it in English. In these archives were other previously unknown French writings by the author, including another manuscript entitled Les travaux de Michel Bretagne in which he writes: “I am French Canadian, brought to the world in New England. When I am angry I often swear in French. When I dream I often dream in French. When I cry I always cry in French.”

Kerouac Quebec graph

When Jack Kerouac was growing up in the 1920’s and 30’s, Lowell, Massachusetts and it’s 28 000 French-speakers could’ve been considered the fourth largest French-Canadian city after Montreal, Québec City and… Fall River, Masachusetts!

The once thriving Franco-American community that once had as many French-language newspapers as Québec has now all but disapeared. New immigrants stopped coming when the textile mills closed and half of the 900 000 French-Canadians returned home. The others eventually were assimilated into mainstream American society.

Click here or on the picture above for a link to a 1967 Radio-Canada interview of Jack Kerouac in French.

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Written by angryfrenchguy

February 23, 2008 at 11:48 am

11 Responses

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  1. i knew that! :-)

    i am quebecois, brought to the world in montreal. when i am angry I often swear in french. when I dream I often dream in colour. if i cry i always cry in unintelligible blubbering english.

    neal cassaday (aka dean moriarty) drove ken kesey’s bus back in 1964. kesey of the merry pranksters was an american writer (one flew over the cuckoo’s nest and sometimes a great notion) who hailed from oregon. if he had grown up in ville st. laurent he would be able to speak french today.

    i’m hoping half of the two hundred thousand who left quebec will return home.

    as chief dharma bum in waiting i declare your blog wonderful. thanks! on y va.

    johnnyonline

    February 23, 2008 at 5:34 pm

  2. Here’s some more trivia for ya,

    Before the family split to the US, the last name wasn’t Kerouac – it was Kirouac.

    Kerouac was actually a typo in the immigration papers.

    Cheers,
    J Kirouac

    Jeremy Kirouac

    February 23, 2008 at 9:44 pm

  3. georges,

    a new site for libertarians:

    http://www.liberteaucanada.com/
    http://www.libertyincanada.com/

    oh no – it’s bilingual!!!
    and not one law in place to say they must publish in french!

    thanks for the trivia jeremy.

    johnnyonline

    February 23, 2008 at 10:18 pm

  4. Okay, so he had the accent down.

    Other than that, his French wasn’t that much better than Ronald Reagan’s or Oscar Peterson’s. At least they memorized good grammer when they spoke their French…and they memorized ALL their French words. Jack had to get help from the host for some words.

    But, yes, he’s “pur laine” and that counts for alot with the Goose-steppers here.

    Some suggestions for future polls, AngryFrenchGuy: Angelina Jolie whose mother was French-Canadian and taught her French as she grew up.

    Or how about Jason Reitman, the director of “Juno” whose was born in Montreal and whose mother is a Quebecer.

    And, hey, how about that Air Canada flight attendant, Gaetan Dugas, from Quebec who is considered the first AIDS carrier (“ground zero”) in North America?

    Tony Kondaks

    February 24, 2008 at 1:52 am

  5. Napoleon Lajoie, Jack Fournier, and Clem Labine (well known baseball players). Labine is quoted as saying that he did not speak English until he went to school.

    littlerob

    March 10, 2008 at 4:33 pm

  6. Jack Kirouac ou Kerouac was proud of his french culture. He was proud of his celtic ancestors. He was proud of his Québec roots. He was proud of France. Breton, Québécois, Canadien-Français, Français. He was never a real american. He was a free man in love with France and his roots.

    He never believed in all that bullshit american culture. “The beat culture” has no nice words for the racist WASP culture promoted by this piece of fascist shitbag George W. Bush. If Kerouac was alive today, he would be disgusted by the Empire.
    Read his novels. They are filled with references to Québec and France. He also loved the spanish mexican culture. Kerouac was a great universalist, not a godamn anglo racist from Quebec or a moron WASP. Kerouac was no anglo or american culture lover. He saw the US and the anglos the way they are.

    Marc Authier

    April 11, 2008 at 7:44 am

  7. Yeah, he’s a real Quebecois all right. That’s why the audience just about laughed him off the stage in the ’67 interview.

    Randy Hunter

    September 12, 2008 at 5:07 pm

  8. “Montréal est mon paradis. Ils m’ont presque refusé l’entrée. Restaurant de gare de San Francisco combiné avec une taverne de paysans de Mexico + Lowell – O Thank’s Lord.”

    (Montreal is my paradise. They almost didn’t let me in. San Francisco train station restaurant combined with a Mexican cantina + Lowell – O Thank’s Lord.)

    -Jack Kerouak march 1953

    http://www.ledevoir.com/2008/09/04/203916.html

    angryfrenchguy

    September 12, 2008 at 5:49 pm

  9. OMG, I had NO idea he was a Québécois. Incroyable. His poetry is breathtaking. Wow!

    Touriste

    December 6, 2008 at 9:30 pm

  10. Tony and Randy, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Kerouac was Quebecois in the sense that he was born to a generation of parents whose origins were directly from Franco American communities in New Hampshire, and then Massachusetts. He was raised in an immigrant culture, and he only spoke french the first few years of his life. This French Canadian background is ingrained in him, and all you have to do is read his writings, especially books like Visions of Gerard, Doctor Sax , and a bit of Visions of Cody to see that. Yes, he was an American, and there was a gap between him and his roots, but that gap is part of the immigrant experience in America. I don’t remember him bieng “laughed off the stage” in the Sel de la Semaine interview, if that’s what you were referring to. True, there were snickers from Kerouac’s audience on Montreal television, but this was for two reasons. One he was drunk, as he was during many American television interviews, and two he grew up speaking a vastly different french than that of the middle class urban Montreal audience. It would be the same thing if an Italian American who grew up in the USA in the 70’s speaking dialetto went to Italy where now, things have changed and almost everyone speaks standard Italian. Would you be so judgmental and say that he had no connection with Italy just because of his non standard dialect? My grandmother sometimes forgets words in Italian just like Kerouac did in the interview; you can’t expect her to be a master at the language after years of living in the US, but would you look down on her and say she has no connection to Italy? Would you tell her that the tears she shed when visiting the town her mother was born in have no meaning? Now, you can certainly argue to what extant Kerouac was a Quebecois; that part of his heritage isn’t vital to all of his work. And you cannot deny that, perhaps above all, he is an American writer, in the tradition of Thoreaux and Whitman. Of course, the fact that he embraced the American tradition so much could come in part from his Quebecois roots, but as I said, you can debate about that as much as you like. Nonetheless, what is certain is that his Quebecois roots do inform his writing. To say that he is French only in his last name like Angelina Jolie, or to mock him in saying Ronald Reagen spoke better French is unfair.

    Anonymous

    January 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm

  11. If you probably wrote French-Canadian in the poll, the numbers would be more similar.

    Tito

    November 23, 2013 at 10:05 pm


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