Jack Kerouac's MotherBy most accounts, Gabrielle Ange L'Evesque Kerouac was a deeply devout Catholic devoted to her family, especially her son, Jack Kerouac. Having grown up poor she had strong hopes that her son would attain a higher social standing than she had experienced. Just before he died in 1946, Jack's father, Leo, made his son promise to take care of Gabrielle. It was an oath Jack always kept.
In Chorus 149 of Mexico City Blues Kerouac writes:
I keep falling in love with my mother, I dont want to hurt her -- Of all people to hurt.Gabrielle exerted a very strong influence on her son. The testimony of Jack's friends, few of whom his mother liked, makes it clear that there was a special inviolate bond between them. LuAnne Henderson, who had met and liked Jack's mother, recognized that there was a downside to the relationship:
Jack couldn't get away from that hangup with his mother...and [as a result he was] not able to find a good stable relationship with [another] woman.
For most of her life, Gabrielle worked in shoe factories as a skiver cutting leather. After her husband's death she lived either with her daughter or with Jack. Much of Kerouac's work is informed by the tension and conflict between his mother and the outside world. His mother's deep religious convictions did much to instill a vapid guilt that Kerouac always carried with him.
In addition to the guilt she instilled in him, Jack also absorbed some of his mother's bigotry which one commentator called "obsessive." Gabrielle, always protective of her son, cared very little for the women in his life and even less for people like Allen Ginsberg who was not only Jewish but homosexual.
One night before Ginsberg was forbidden in her house, Jack, Allen and Memere had dinner together and then watched a movie about Adolf Hitler. Ridiculing Jewish sensitivities she complained that "Jews are still complaining. They can't ever forget it...Hitler should have finished off the job." (as quoted in Dennis McNally, Desolate Angel, page 293). She later wrote Ginsberg a letter threatening to turn him in to the FBI if he didn't leave her son alone.
Jack's friend, the writer John Clellon Holmes, had met and spent time with Gabrielle. He describes her as
the other side of Jack wrought to its uttermost. She was very precise and very fastidious and hated disorder, but was herself very irrational.
Wherever Jack lived he provided for his mother. One gets the sense that even though Jack bought the house, it was always his mother's home. Kerouac always needed a safe haven so that he could write about his life on the road. He needed the serenity provided by his mother to synthesize the experiences he wanted to write about.
When his mother had a stroke in 1966, Jack married his third wife, Stella Sampas, primarily so Stella, an old Lowell friend, could take care of his partially paralyzed mother.
Gabrielle outlived all three of her children. She died in Florida in 1972.
Gabrielle KerouacNo cosmic record available. Mrs. Kerouac has owned the Dharma Beats since 1994.
Tell me Honey what seems to be all the fuss out there [with the Navy]. At first I thought you were sick but now pop tells me you refuse to go through the training, or in other words refuse to serve your country. Oh honey lamb. That's not like you, don't you know it will be an awful mark against you. You have good education it seems to me you could have done something real good... whatever you do I won't criticize your judgements after all your life's your own. But be brave and write to me and tell me all about everything...-- so good luck Honey and all my Love. Your Mom XXXXX --Gabrielle Kerouac to Jack Kerouac May 3, 1943SOURCE: Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1940-1956. Edited by Ann Charters.
1997 Dharma Beats Roster
1997 Gabrielle Kerouac Cosmic Plate
Published: December 24, 1996
© 1996, 1997 by the Cosmic Baseball Association