CASSADY, Carolyn. Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal. Berkeley: Creative Arts Book Company, 1976.
Tall slim 8vo., maroon cloth-backed cream paper boards, lettered in pink to upper cover; with glassine wrapper; pp. [viii], 93, [iii]; exceptionally fine, with just some faint scratches to glassine.
First, Limited edition of 150 copies, this being no. 45 signed by Carolyn Cassady.
Carolyn Cassady has been referred to by Jerry Cimino, director of the Beat Museum in San Francisco, as ‘the grande dame of the Beat Generation’. Married to Neal Cassady, the pair were immortalised in Jack Kerouac’s infamous novel, On the Road, which represents a semi-fictionalised autobiography of their lives. Cassady herself was an accomplished writer, but it was only in the 1970s, years after the successes of her husband’s fame, that her own memoirs were published.
Though in many ways marginalised by the two male figures in her life – her husband Neal and lover Kerouac - Cassady strongly denied that the Beats were misogynistic, stating controversially in one interview “the men I knew of that generation… were all very respectful of women—something the feminists abhor. I loved having car doors opened for me and chairs pulled out.”
Because of these opinions, it is perhaps strange that Cassady’s work was so little known during the 50s and 60s. As opposed to a select few women such as Diane Di Prima, whose outspoken poetry and writings were promoted throughout the movement, Cassady’s remained surprisingly non-existent until the end of the 20th century.
Heart Beat brings a refreshingly female perspective, in which she describes her life ‘Off the Road’ (a second memoir, with this very title, was published in 1990). The volume also contains a series of previously unpublished letters between Kerouac, the Cassadys and Allen Ginsberg. Her work has the characteristic disjointed feel of the time, with no linear storyline – something which aligns her with the writings of other counterparts. However if she is to have a focus at all, Carolyn’s triangular relationship with Neal and Jack is what dominates throughout, though her writings are shrouded in a much more sentimental haze – something a female perspective alone could truly achieve. As one reviewer puts it, she was “a member of the clan… she becomes a part of their world and observes its workings. From her portrait of the beat generation, Cassady reveals characteristics not found in the self-confident hipsters of Kerouac’s writings”.
It is this very perspective which makes her voice so important.