World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

The Subterraneans

The Subterraneans
First edition
Author Jack Kerouac
Cover artist Roy Kuhlman
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Grove Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages Approx. 111 pp
OCLC 285385
Preceded by On the Road (1957)
Followed by The Dharma Bums (1958)

The Subterraneans is a 1958 novella by Beat Generation author Jack Kerouac. It is a semi-fictional account of his short romance with a black woman named Alene Lee (1931-1991) in San Francisco, 1953.[1] In the novel she is renamed "Mardou Fox," and described as a carefree spirit who frequents the jazz clubs and bars of the budding Beat scene of San Francisco. Other well-known personalities and friends from the author's life also appear thinly disguised in the novel. The character Frank Carmody is based on William S. Burroughs, and Adam Moorad on Allen Ginsberg. Even Gore Vidal appears as successful novelist Arial Lavalina. Kerouac's alter ego is named Leo Percepied, and his long-time friend Neal Cassady is mentioned only in passing as Leroy.


  • Character Key 1
  • Criticism and literary significance 2
  • Film version 3
    • Plot 3.1
    • Cast 3.2
    • Production 3.3
    • Box Office 3.4
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Character Key

Kerouac often based his fictional characters on friends and family.[2][3]

"Because of the objections of my early publishers I was not allowed to use the same personae names in each work."[4]
Real-life person Character name
Jack Kerouac Leo Percepied
Anton Rosenberg Julian Alexander
Iris Brodie Roxanne
William S. Burroughs Frank Carmody
Joan Vollmer Jane
Lucien Carr Sam Vedder
Neal Cassady Leroy
Gregory Corso Yuri Gligoric
Allen Eager Roger Beloit
William Gaddis Harold Sand
Allen Ginsberg Adam Moorad
Luanne Henderson Annie
John Clellon Holmes Balliol MacJones
Bill Keck Fritz Nicholas
Alene Lee Mardou Fox
Jerry Newman Larry O'Hara
Gore Vidal Arial Lavalina
David Diamond (composer) Sylvester Strauss

Criticism and literary significance

The novel, written as a first-person memoir, has been criticized for its portrayal of American minority groups, especially African Americans, in a superficial light, often portraying them in a humble and primitive manner without showing insight into their culture or social position at the time. The position of jazz and jazz culture is central to the novel, tying together the themes of Kerouac's writing here as elsewhere, and expressed in the "spontaneous prose" style in which he composed most of his works. The following quotation from Chapter 1 illustrates the spontaneous prose style of The Subterraneans:


Film version

The Subterraneans
Film poster
Directed by Ranald MacDougall
Produced by Arthur Freed
Written by Robert Thom
Based on novel by Jack Kerouac
Starring George Peppard
Leslie Caron
Roddy McDowall
Janice Rule
Music by Andre Previn
Cinematography Joseph Ruttenberg
Edited by Ben Lewis
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,407,000[5]
Box office $765,000[5]

A 1960 film adaptation changed the African American character Mardou Fox, Kerouac's love interest, to a young French girl (played by Leslie Caron) to better fit both contemporary social and Hollywood palates. While it was derided and vehemently criticized by Allen Ginsberg among others, for its two-dimensional characters, it illustrates the way the film industry attempted to exploit the emerging popularity of this culture as it grew in San Francisco and Greenwich Village, New York.

A Greenwich Village beatnik bar setting had been used in Richard Quine's film Bell, Book and Candle (1958), but Ranald MacDougall's adaptation of Kerouac's novel, scripted by Robert Thom, was less successful.

The Subterraneans was one of the final MGM films produced by Arthur Freed, and features a score by André Previn and brief appearances by jazz singer Carmen McRae singing "Coffee Time," and saxophonists Gerry Mulligan, as a street priest, and Art Pepper. Comedian Arte Johnson plays the Gore Vidal character, here named Arial Lavalerra.


Leo is a 28-year-old novelist who still lives at home with his mother. One night he stumbles upon some beatniks at a coffee house. He falls in love with the beautiful but unstable Mardou Fox.

Roxanne warns Mardou away from Leo, who says his love for her is causing him writers block. Mardou falls pregnant. She and Leo wind up together.



The novel was optioned by Arthur Freed of MGM as a possible follow up to Some Came Running. Like that, it was originally intended to star Dean Martin.[6] Nicole Maurey was announced to play the female lead.[7]

Eventually George Peppard and Leslie Caron were signed. Roddy McDowall also joined the cast, his first film in nine years.[8] Janice Rule was married to Robert Thom, who wrote the script.[9][10]

Box Office

According to MGM records the film earned only $340,000 in the US and Canada and $425,000 elsewhere resulting in a loss of $1,311,000.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Wills, David (ed.), Beatdom Vol 6, City of Recovery Press, 2010
  2. ^ Sandison, Daivd. Jeck Kerouac: An Illustrated Biography. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. 1999
  3. ^ "Who’s Who: A Guide to Kerouac’s Characters". 
  4. ^ Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Cody. London and New York: Penguin Books Ltd. 1993.
  5. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  6. ^ Martin Will Star in 'Subterraneans': Freed Plans Modern Jazz Tale; Martha Hyer Sought for 'Dolls' Scott, John L. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 08 Dec 1958: C15.
  7. ^ FILMLAND EVENTS: Nicole Maurey Will Confer With MGM Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 06 June 1959: C3.
  8. ^ McDowall Paged for 'Inherit' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Sep 1959: B8.
  9. ^ anice Rule Stars in Husband's Play: 'Earthly Paradise' Is Title; Jourdan One of Viertel Three Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 25 Sep 1959: A11.
  10. ^ McDowall Returns to Play Beatnik Alpert, Don. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Oct 1959: E2.
  • 1958. The Subterraneans, ISBN 0-8021-3186-7

Further reading

  • O'Sullivan, S., 'Alene Lee: Subterranean Muse', in Wills, D. (ed.) Beatdom Vol. 4 (Mauling Press: Dundee, 2009) p. 20

External links

  • The Subterraneans at IMDB
  • The Subterraneans at TCMDB
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.