J. D. Salinger

J. D. Salinger

Salinger in 1950 (photo by Lotte Jacobi)
Born Jerome David Salinger
(1919-01-01)January 1, 1919
New York City, New York
Died January 27, 2010(2010-01-27) (aged 91)
Cornish, New Hampshire
Occupation Short story writer, novelist
Education Ursinus College, New York University, Columbia University
Period 1940–1965
Notable works The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
Nine Stories (1953)
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963)
Franny and Zooey (1961)
Spouse Sylvia Welter (1945–1947; divorced)
Claire Douglas (1955–1967; divorced)
Colleen O'Neill (m. c. 1988)
Children Margaret


Jerome David "J.D." Salinger (/ˈsælnər/; January 1, 1919  January 27, 2010) was an American writer who won acclaim early in life. He led a very private life for more than a half-century. He published his final original work in 1965 and gave his last interview in 1980.

Salinger was raised in Manhattan and began writing short stories while in secondary school. Several were published in Story magazine[1] in the early 1940s before he began serving in World War II. In 1948, his critically acclaimed story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" appeared in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his later work. In 1951, his novel The Catcher in the Rye was an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers.[2] The novel remains widely read and controversial,[lower-alpha 1] selling around 250,000 copies a year.

The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny. Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently. He followed Catcher with a short story collection, Nine Stories (1953); a volume containing a novella and a short story, Franny and Zooey (1961); and a volume containing two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). His last published work, a novella entitled "Hapworth 16, 1924", appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965.

Afterward, Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter. In 1996, a small publisher announced a deal with Salinger to publish "Hapworth 16, 1924" in book form, but amid the ensuing publicity the release was indefinitely delayed.[3][4] He made headlines around the globe in June 2009 when he filed a lawsuit against another writer for copyright infringement resulting from that writer's use of one of the characters from The Catcher in the Rye.[5] Salinger died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire.[6][7][8] In November 2013, three unpublished stories by Salinger were briefly posted online. One of the stories, "The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls", is said to be a prequel to The Catcher in the Rye.

Early life and experiences

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York City, on New Year's Day, 1919. His father, Sol Salinger, sold kosher cheese, and was from a Jewish family of Lithuanian descent,[9] his father having been the rabbi for the Adath Jeshurun congregation in Louisville, Kentucky.[10] Salinger's mother, Marie (née Jillich), was born in Atlantic, Iowa, of Scottish, German, and Irish descent,[11][12][13] but changed her name to Miriam and considered herself Jewish after marrying Salinger's father.[14] Salinger did not learn that his mother was not of Jewish ancestry until just after he celebrated his bar mitzvah.[15] His only sibling was his older sister Doris (1911–2001).[16]

In youth, Salinger attended public schools on the West Side of Manhattan. Then in 1932, the family moved to Park Avenue, and Salinger was enrolled at the McBurney School, a nearby private school.[13] At McBurney, he managed the fencing team, wrote for the school newspaper and appeared in plays.[13] He "showed an innate talent for drama", though his father opposed the idea of J.D.'s becoming an actor.[17]

Apartment building at 1133 Park Avenue in Manhattan, where Salinger grew up

Salinger had trouble fitting in at his new school and took measures to conform, such as calling himself Jerry.[18] (His family called him Sonny.[19])

His parents then enrolled him at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania.[13] Salinger began writing stories "under the covers [at night], with the aid of a flashlight".[20] Salinger was the literary editor of the class yearbook, Crossed Sabres. He also participated in the Glee Club, Aviation Club, French Club, and the Non-Commissioned Officers Club.[18] Salinger's Valley Forge 201 file reveals that he was a "mediocre" student, and unlike the overachievement enjoyed by members of the Glass family he would go on to write about, his recorded IQ was far from that of a genius.[21] He graduated in 1936.

Salinger started his freshman year at New York University in 1936. He considered studying special education[22] but dropped out the following spring. That fall, his father urged him to learn about the meat-importing business, and he went to work at a company in Vienna, Austria.[23] He left Austria one month before it was annexed by Nazi Germany on March 12, 1938.

In the fall of 1938, Salinger attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, and wrote a column called "skipped diploma", which included movie reviews.[24] He dropped out after one semester.[13][19]

In 1939, Salinger attended the Columbia University School of General Studies, where he took a writing class taught by Whit Burnett, longtime editor of Story magazine. According to Burnett, Salinger did not distinguish himself until a few weeks before the end of the second semester, at which point "he suddenly came to life" and completed three stories.[25] Burnett told Salinger that his stories were skillful and accomplished, accepting "The Young Folks", a vignette about several aimless youths, for publication in Story.[25] Salinger's debut short story was published in the magazine's March–April 1940 issue. Burnett became Salinger's mentor, and they corresponded for several years.[18][26]

World War II

In 1942, Salinger started dating Oona O'Neill, daughter of the playwright Eugene O'Neill. Despite finding the debutante self-absorbed (he confided to a friend that "Little Oona's hopelessly in love with little Oona"), he called her often and wrote her long letters.[27] Their relationship ended when Oona began seeing Charlie Chaplin, whom she eventually married.[28] In late 1941, Salinger briefly worked on a Caribbean cruise ship, serving as an activity director and possibly as a performer.[29]

The same year, Salinger began submitting short stories to The New Yorker. Seven of Salinger's stories were rejected by the magazine that year, including "Lunch for Three", "Monologue for a Watery Highball", and "I Went to School with Adolf Hitler". In December 1941, however, the publication accepted "Slight Rebellion off Madison", a Manhattan-set story about a disaffected teenager named Holden Caulfield with "pre-war jitters".[30] When Japan carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor that month, the story was rendered "unpublishable"; it did not appear in the magazine until 1946.[30] In the spring of 1942, several months after the United States entered World War II, Salinger was drafted into the army, wherein he saw combat with the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.[29] He was present at Utah Beach on D-Day, in the Battle of the Bulge, and the Battle of Hürtgen Forest.[31][32]

During the campaign from Normandy into Germany, Salinger arranged to meet with Ernest Hemingway, a writer who had influenced him and was then working as a war correspondent in Paris.[33] Salinger was impressed with Hemingway's friendliness and modesty, finding him more "soft" than his gruff public persona.[34] Hemingway was impressed by Salinger's writing and remarked: "Jesus, he has a helluva talent."[2] The two writers began corresponding; Salinger wrote Hemingway in July 1946 that their talks were among his few positive memories of the war.[34] Salinger added that he was working on a play about Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of his story "Slight Rebellion off Madison", and hoped to play the part himself.[34]

Salinger was assigned to a counter-intelligence division, for which he used his proficiency in French and German to interrogate prisoners of war.[35] In April 1945 he entered a liberated concentration camp, probably one of Dachau's sub-camps.[35] Salinger earned the rank of Staff Sergeant[36] and served in five campaigns.[37] Salinger's experiences in the war affected him emotionally. He was hospitalized for a few weeks for combat stress reaction after Germany was defeated,[38][39] and he later told his daughter: "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live."[35] Both of his biographers speculate that Salinger drew upon his wartime experiences in several stories,[40] such as "For Esmé—with Love and Squalor", which is narrated by a traumatized soldier. Salinger continued to write while serving in the army, publishing several stories in slick magazines such as Collier's and The Saturday Evening Post. He also continued to submit stories to The New Yorker, but with little success; it rejected all of his submissions from 1944 to 1946, a group of 15 poems in 1945 alone.[30]

Post-war years

After Germany's defeat, Salinger signed up for a six-month period of "Denazification" duty in Germany[41] for the Counterintelligence Corps. He lived in Weissenburg and, soon after, married Sylvia Welter. He brought her to the United States in April 1946, but the marriage fell apart after eight months and Sylvia returned to Germany.[42] In 1972, Salinger's daughter Margaret was with him when he received a letter from Sylvia. He looked at the envelope, and without reading it, tore it apart. It was the first time he had heard from her since the breakup, but as Margaret put it, "when he was finished with a person, he was through with them."[43]

In 1946, Whit Burnett agreed to help Salinger publish a collection of his short stories through Story Press's Lippincott Imprint.[44] Titled The Young Folks, the collection was to consist of twenty stories—ten, like the title story and "Slight Rebellion off Madison", were already in print; ten were previously unpublished.[44] Though Burnett implied the book would be published and even negotiated Salinger a $1,000 advance on its sale, Lippincott overruled Burnett and rejected the book.[44] Salinger blamed Burnett for the book's failure to see print, and the two became estranged.[45]

By the late 1940s, Salinger had become an avid follower of Zen Buddhism, to the point that he "gave reading lists on the subject to his dates"[2] and arranged a meeting with Buddhist scholar D. T. Suzuki.

In 1947, the author submitted a short story titled simply "The Bananafish" to The New Yorker. William Maxwell, the magazine's fiction editor, was impressed enough with "the singular quality of the story" that the magazine asked Salinger to continue revising it. He spent a year reworking it with New Yorker editors and the magazine accepted the story, now titled "A Perfect Day for Bananafish", and published it in the January 31, 1948 issue. The magazine thereon offered Salinger a "first-look" contract that allowed them right of first refusal on any future stories.[46] The critical acclaim accorded "Bananafish", coupled with problems Salinger had with stories being altered by the "slicks", led him to publish almost exclusively in The New Yorker.[47] "Bananafish" was also the first of Salinger's published stories to feature the Glasses, a fictional family consisting of two retired vaudeville performers and their seven precocious children: Seymour, Buddy, Boo Boo, Walt, Waker, Zooey, and Franny.[48] Salinger eventually published seven stories about the Glasses, developing a detailed family history and focusing particularly on Seymour, the brilliant but troubled eldest child.[48]

In the early 1940s, Salinger had confided in a letter to Whit Burnett that he was eager to sell the film rights to some of his stories in order to achieve financial security.[49] According to Ian Hamilton, Salinger was disappointed when "rumblings from Hollywood" over his 1943 short story "The Varioni Brothers" came to nothing. Therefore, he immediately agreed when, in mid-1948, independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn offered to buy the film rights to his short story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut".[49] Though Salinger sold his story with the hope—in the words of his agent Dorothy Olding—that it "would make a good movie",[50] the film version of "Wiggily" was lambasted by critics upon its release in 1949.[51] Renamed My Foolish Heart and starring Dana Andrews and Susan Hayward, the melodramatic film departed to such an extent from Salinger's story that Goldwyn biographer A. Scott Berg referred to it as a "bastardization".[51] As a result of this experience, Salinger never again permitted film adaptations to be made from his work.[52] When Brigitte Bardot wanted to buy the rights to "A Perfect Day for Bananafish", Salinger refused the request, but told his friend, Lillian Ross, longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, "She's a cute, talented, lost enfante, and I'm tempted to accommodate her, pour le sport."[53]

The Catcher in the Rye

Cover of The Catcher in the Rye 1985 edition

In the 1940s, Salinger confided to several people that he was working on a novel featuring Holden Caulfield, the teenage protagonist of his short story "Slight Rebellion off Madison",[54] and The Catcher in the Rye was published on July 16, 1951, by Little, Brown and Company.[55] The novel's plot is simple,[56] detailing 16-year-old Holden's experiences in New York City following his expulsion and departure from an elite college preparatory school. Not only was he expelled from his current school, he had also been expelled from three previous schools.[57] The book is more notable for the persona and testimonial voice of its first-person narrator, Holden.[58] He serves as an insightful but unreliable narrator who expounds on the importance of loyalty, the "phoniness" of adulthood, and his own duplicity.[58] In a 1953 interview with a high school newspaper, Salinger admitted that the novel was "sort of" autobiographical, explaining, "My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book ... [I]t was a great relief telling people about it."[59]

Initial reactions to the book were mixed, ranging from The New York Times hailing Catcher as "an unusually brilliant first novel"[60] to denigrations of the book's monotonous language and the "immorality and perversion" of Holden,[61] who uses religious slurs and freely discusses casual sex and prostitution.[62] The novel was a popular success; within two months of its publication, The Catcher in the Rye had been reprinted eight times. It spent 30 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list.[56]

The book's initial success was followed by a brief lull in popularity, but by the late 1950s, according to Ian Hamilton, it had "become the book all brooding adolescents had to buy, the indispensable manual from which cool styles of disaffectation could be borrowed."[63] It has been compared to Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.[64] Newspapers began publishing articles about the "Catcher Cult",[63] and the novel was banned in several countries—as well as some U.S. schools—because of its subject matter and what Catholic World reviewer Riley Hughes called an "excessive use of amateur swearing and coarse language".[65] According to one angry parent's tabulation, 237 instances of "goddamn," 58 uses of the synonym for a person of illegitimate birth, 31 "Chrissakes,"and one incident of flatulence constituted what was wrong with Salinger's book.[65]

In the 1970s, several U.S. high school teachers who assigned the book were fired or forced to resign. A 1979 study of censorship noted that The Catcher in the Rye "had the dubious distinction of being at once the most frequently censored book across the nation and the second-most frequently taught novel in public high schools" (after John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men).[66] The book remains widely read; in 2004, the novel was selling about 250,000 copies per year, "with total worldwide sales over 10 million copies".[67]

In the wake of its 1950s success, Salinger received (and rejected) numerous offers to adapt The Catcher in the Rye for the screen, including one from Samuel Goldwyn.[51] Since its publication, there has been sustained interest in the novel among filmmakers, with Billy Wilder,[68] Harvey Weinstein, and Steven Spielberg[69] among those seeking to secure the rights. Salinger stated in the 1970s that "Jerry Lewis tried for years to get his hands on the part of Holden."[70] Salinger repeatedly refused, though, and in 1999, Joyce Maynard definitively concluded: "The only person who might ever have played Holden Caulfield would have been J. D. Salinger."[70]

Writing in the 1950s and move to Cornish

In a July 1951 profile in Book of the Month Club News, Salinger's friend and New Yorker editor William Maxwell asked Salinger about his literary influences. Salinger responded: "A writer, when he's asked to discuss his craft, ought to get up and call out in a loud voice just the names of the writers he loves. I love Kafka, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, Proust, O'Casey, Rilke, Lorca, Keats, Rimbaud, Burns, E. Brontë, Jane Austen, Henry James, Blake, Coleridge. I won't name any living writers. I don't think it's right" (although O'Casey was in fact living at the time).[71] In letters written in the 1940s, Salinger had expressed his admiration of three living, or recently deceased, writers: Sherwood Anderson, Ring Lardner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald;[72] Ian Hamilton wrote that Salinger even saw himself for some time as "Fitzgerald's successor".[73] Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" has an ending similar to that of Fitzgerald's earlier published short story "May Day".[74]

Salinger wrote friends of a momentous change in his life in 1952, after several years of practicing Zen Buddhism, while reading The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna about Hindu religious teacher Sri Ramakrishna.[75] He became an adherent of Ramakrishna's Advaita Vedanta Hinduism, which advocated celibacy for those seeking enlightenment, and detachment from human responsibilities such as family.[76][77] Salinger's religious studies were reflected in some of his writing. The story "Teddy" features a ten-year-old child who expresses Vedantic insights.[78] He also studied the writings of Ramakrishna's disciple Vivekananda; in the story "Hapworth 16, 1924", the character of Seymour Glass describes him as "one of the most exciting, original and best-equipped giants of this century."[76]

In 1953, Salinger published a collection of seven stories from The New Yorker ("Bananafish" among them), as well as two that the magazine had rejected. The collection was published as Nine Stories in the United States, and "For Esmé—with Love and Squalor" in the UK, after one of Salinger's best-known stories.[79] The book received grudgingly positive reviews, and was a financial success—"remarkably so for a volume of short stories", according to Hamilton.[80] Nine Stories spent three months on the New York Times Bestseller list.[80] Already tightening his grip on publicity, though, Salinger refused to allow publishers of the collection to depict his characters in dust jacket illustrations, lest readers form preconceived notions of them.

As the notoriety of The Catcher in the Rye grew, Salinger gradually withdrew from public view. In 1953, he moved from an apartment at 300 East 57th Street,[81] New York, to Cornish, New Hampshire. Early in his time at Cornish he was relatively sociable, particularly with students at Windsor High School. Salinger invited them to his house frequently to play records and talk about problems at school.[82] One such student, Shirley Blaney, persuaded Salinger to be interviewed for the high school page of The Daily Eagle, the city paper. Nonetheless, after Blaney's interview appeared prominently in the newspaper's editorial section, Salinger cut off all contact with the high schoolers without explanation.[82] He was also seen less frequently around town, meeting only one close friend—jurist Learned Hand—with any regularity.[83] He also began to publish with less frequency. After the 1953 publication of Nine Stories, he published only four stories through the rest of the decade; two in 1955 and one each in 1957 and 1959.

Marriage and family

In February 1955, at the age of 36, Salinger married Claire Douglas, a Radcliffe student (her father was the art critic Robert Langton Douglas). They had two children, Margaret (b. December 10, 1955) and Matthew (b. February 13, 1960). Margaret Salinger wrote in her memoir Dream Catcher that she believes her parents would not have married, nor would she have been born, had her father not read the teachings of Lahiri Mahasaya, a guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, which brought the possibility of enlightenment to those following the path of the "householder" (a married person with children).[84] After their marriage, J.D. and Claire were initiated into the path of Kriya yoga in a small store-front Hindu temple in Washington, D.C., during the summer of 1955.[85] They received a mantra and breathing exercises to practice for ten minutes twice a day.[85]

Salinger also insisted that Claire drop out of school and live with him, only four months shy of graduation, which she did. Certain elements of the story "Franny", published in January 1955, are based on his relationship with Claire, including her ownership of the book The Way of the Pilgrim.[86] Because of their isolated location and Salinger's proclivities, they hardly saw other people for long stretches of time. Claire was also frustrated by Salinger's ever-changing religious beliefs. Though she committed herself to Kriya yoga, she remembered that Salinger would chronically leave Cornish to work on a story "for several weeks only to return with the piece he was supposed to be finishing all undone or destroyed and some new 'ism' we had to follow."[87] Claire believed "it was to cover the fact that Jerry had just destroyed or junked or couldn't face the quality of, or couldn't face publishing, what he had created."[87]

After abandoning Kriya yoga, Salinger tried Dianetics (the forerunner of Scientology), even meeting its founder L. Ron Hubbard, but according to Claire he was quickly disenchanted with it.[87][88] This was followed by an adherence to a number of spiritual, medical, and nutritional belief systems including an interest in Christian Science, Edgar Cayce, homeopathy, acupuncture, and macrobiotics.[89]

Salinger's family life was further marked by discord after the first child was born; according to Margaret's book, Claire felt that her daughter had replaced her in Salinger's affections.[90] The infant Margaret was sick much of the time, but Salinger, having embraced the tenets of Christian Science, refused to take her to a doctor.[91] According to Margaret, her mother admitted to her years later that she went "over the edge" in the winter of 1957 and had made plans to murder her and then commit suicide. Claire had supposedly intended to do it during a trip to New York City with Salinger, but she instead acted on a sudden impulse to take Margaret from the hotel and run away. After a few months, Salinger persuaded her to return to Cornish.[91]

Last publications and Maynard relationship

Salinger published Franny and Zooey in 1961, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction in 1963. Each book contained two short stories or novellas, previously published in The New Yorker, about members of the Glass family. These four stories were originally published between 1955 and 1959, and were the only ones Salinger had published since Nine Stories. On the dust jacket of Franny and Zooey, Salinger wrote, in reference to his interest in privacy: "It is my rather subversive opinion that a writer's feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second most valuable property on loan to him during his working years."[92]

On September 15, 1961, Time magazine devoted its cover to Salinger. In an article that profiled his "life of recluse", the magazine reported that the Glass family series "is nowhere near completion ... Salinger intends to write a Glass trilogy."[2] Nonetheless, Salinger published only one other story after that: "Hapworth 16, 1924", a novella in the form of a long letter from seven-year-old Seymour Glass while at summer camp. His first new work in six years, the novella took up most of the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker, and was universally critically panned. Around this time, Salinger had isolated Claire from friends and relatives and made her—in the words of Margaret Salinger—"a virtual prisoner".[87] Claire separated from him in September 1966; their divorce was finalized on October 3, 1967.[93]

In 1972, at the age of 53, Salinger had a relationship with 18-year-old Joyce Maynard that lasted for nine months. Maynard, at this time, was already an experienced writer for Seventeen magazine. The New York Times had asked Maynard to write an article for them which, when published as "An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back On Life" on April 23, 1972,[94] made her a celebrity. Salinger wrote a letter to her warning about living with fame. After exchanging 25 letters, Maynard moved in with Salinger the summer after her freshman year at Yale University.[95] Maynard did not return to Yale that fall, and spent ten months as a guest in Salinger's Cornish home. The relationship ended, he told his daughter Margaret at a family outing, because Maynard wanted children, and he felt he was too old.[96] Nevertheless, in her own autobiography, Maynard paints a different picture, saying Salinger abruptly ended the relationship and refused to take her back. She had dropped out of Yale to be with him, even forgoing a scholarship. Maynard later writes in her own memoir how she came to find out that Salinger had begun relationships with young women by exchanging letters. One of those letter recipients included Salinger's last wife, a nurse who was already engaged to be married to someone else when she met the author.[97]

While he was living with Maynard, Salinger continued to write in a disciplined fashion, a few hours every morning. According to Maynard, by 1972 he had completed two new novels.[98][99] In a rare 1974 interview with The New York Times, he explained: "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing ... I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."[100] According to Maynard, he saw publication as "a damned interruption".[101] In her memoir, Margaret Salinger describes the detailed filing system her father had for his unpublished manuscripts: "A red mark meant, if I die before I finish my work, publish this 'as is,' blue meant publish but edit first, and so on."[102] A neighbor said that Salinger told him that he had written 15 unpublished novels.[103]

Salinger's final interview was in June 1980 with Betty Eppes of The Baton Rouge Advocate, which has been represented somewhat differently, depending on the secondary source. By one account, Eppes was an attractive young woman who misrepresented herself as an aspiring novelist, and managed to record audio of the interview as well as take several photographs of Salinger, both without his knowledge or consent.[104] In a separate account, emphasis is placed on her contact by letter writing from the local Post Office, and Salinger's personal initiative to cross the bridge to meet with the woman, who in the course of the interview made clear she was a reporter (and who did indeed, at the close, take pictures of Salinger as he departed).[105] According to the first account, the interview ended "disastrously" when a local passer-by from Cornish attempted to shake the famous author's hand, at which point Salinger became enraged.[106] A further account of the interview published later in The Paris Review, purportedly by Eppes as author, has been disowned by Eppes and separately ascribed as a derived work of Review Editor George Plimpton.[105][107][108][109]

Legal conflicts

Although Salinger tried to escape public exposure as much as possible, he continued to struggle with unwanted attention from both the media and the public.[110] Readers of his work and students from nearby Dartmouth College often came to Cornish in groups, hoping to catch a glimpse of him.[111] In May 1986 Salinger learned that the British writer Ian Hamilton intended to publish a biography that made extensive use of letters Salinger had written to other authors and friends. Salinger sued to stop the book's publication. The court in Salinger v. Random House ruled that Hamilton's extensive use of the letters, including quotation and paraphrasing, was not acceptable since the author's right to control publication overrode the right of fair use. The book was not published.[112] Later, Hamilton published In Search of J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life (1935–65), but this book was more about his experience in tracking down information and the copyright fights over the planned biography than about Salinger himself.[113]

An unintended consequence of the lawsuit was that many details of Salinger's private life, including that he had spent the last twenty years writing, in his words, "Just a work of fiction ... That's all",[52] became public in the form of court transcripts. Excerpts from his letters were also widely disseminated, most notably a bitter remark written in response to Oona O'Neill's marriage to Charlie Chaplin:

I can see them at home evenings. Chaplin squatting grey and nude, atop his chiffonier, swinging his thyroid around his head by his bamboo cane, like a dead rat. Oona in an aquamarine gown, applauding madly from the bathroom.[28][112]

Salinger was romantically involved with television actress Elaine Joyce for several years in the 1980s.[95] The relationship ended when he met Colleen O'Neill (b. June 11, 1959), a nurse and quiltmaker, whom he married around 1988.[114] O'Neill, forty years his junior, once told Margaret Salinger that she and Salinger were trying to have a child.[115]

In 1995, Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui released the film Pari, an unauthorized and loose adaptation of Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Though the film could be distributed legally in Iran since the country has no official copyright relations with the United States,[116] Salinger had his lawyers block a planned screening of the film at the Lincoln Center in 1998.[117] Mehrjui called Salinger's action "bewildering", explaining that he saw his film as "a kind of cultural exchange".[118]

In 1996, Salinger gave a small publisher, Orchises Press, permission to publish "Hapworth 16, 1924", the previously uncollected novella.[119] It was to be published that year, and listings for it appeared at Amazon.com and other book-sellers. After a flurry of articles and critical reviews of the story appeared in the press, the publication date was pushed back repeatedly before apparently being cancelled altogether. Amazon anticipated that Orchises would publish the story in January 2009,[120][121] but at the time of his death it was still listed as "currently unavailable".[122]

In June 2009, Salinger consulted lawyers about the upcoming publication in the US of an unauthorized sequel to The Catcher in the Rye written by Swedish book publisher Fredrik Colting under the pseudonym 'J. D. California'. California's book is called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, and appears to pick up the story of Salinger's protagonist Holden Caulfield. In Salinger's novel, Caulfield is 17 years old, wandering the streets of New York after being expelled from his private school; the California book features a 76-year-old man, "Mr. C", musing on having escaped his nursing home. Salinger's New York literary agent Phyllis Westberg told Britain's Sunday Telegraph: "The matter has been turned over to a lawyer". The fact that little was known about Colting and the book was set to be published by a new publishing imprint called 'Windupbird Publishing' gave rise to speculation in literary circles that the whole thing might be a stunt.[123] District court judge Deborah A. Batts issued an injunction which prevents the book from being published within the U.S.[124][125] The book's author filed an appeal on July 23, 2009; it was heard in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on September 3, 2009.[126][127] The case was settled in 2011 when Colting agreed not to publish or otherwise distribute the book, e-book, or any other editions of 60 Years Later in the U.S. or Canada until The Catcher in the Rye enters the public domain, while also refraining from using the title "Coming through the Rye", dedicating the book to Salinger or referring to the title "The Catcher in the Rye", while Colting remains free to sell the book in other international territories without fear of interference.[128]

Later publicity

On October 23, 1992, The New York Times reported, "Not even a fire that consumed at least half his home on Tuesday could smoke out the reclusive J. D. Salinger, author of the classic novel of adolescent rebellion, 'The Catcher in the Rye.' Mr. Salinger is almost equally famous for having elevated privacy to an art form." [129]

In 1999, 25 years after the end of their relationship, Joyce Maynard auctioned a series of letters Salinger had written her. Maynard's memoir of her life and her relationship with Salinger, At Home in the World: A Memoir, was published the same year. Among other topics, the book described how Maynard's mother had consulted with her on how to appeal to the aging author (who was dressing like a child), and described Joyce's relationship with him at length. In the ensuing controversy over both the memoir and the letters, Maynard claimed that she was forced to auction the letters for financial reasons; she would have preferred to donate them to the Beinecke Library. Software developer Peter Norton bought the letters for US$156,500 and announced his intention to return them to Salinger.[130]

Margaret Salinger's memoir Dream Catcher, its cover featuring a rare photograph of Salinger

A year later, Salinger's daughter Margaret, by his second wife Claire Douglas, published Dream Catcher: A Memoir. In her book, she described the harrowing control that Salinger had over her mother and dispelled many of the Salinger myths established by Ian Hamilton's book. One of Hamilton's arguments was that Salinger's experience with post-traumatic stress disorder left him psychologically scarred, and that he was unable to deal with the traumatic nature of his war service. Salinger allowed that "the few men who lived through Bloody Mortain, a battle in which her father fought, were left with much to sicken them, body and soul",[35] but she also painted a picture of her father as a man immensely proud of his service record, maintaining his military haircut and service jacket, and moving about his compound (and town) in an old Jeep.

Both Margaret Salinger and Maynard characterized the author as a devoted film buff. According to Margaret, his favorite movies include Gigi (1958), The Lady Vanishes (1938), The 39 Steps (1935; Phoebe's favorite movie in The Catcher in the Rye), and the comedies of W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and the Marx Bros..[131] Predating VCRs, Salinger had an extensive collection of classic movies from the 1940s in 16 mm prints. Maynard wrote that "he loves movies, not films",[132] and Salinger argued that her father's "worldview is, essentially, a product of the movies of his day. To my father, all Spanish speakers are Puerto Rican washerwomen, or the toothless, grinning-gypsy types in a Marx Brothers movie".[89] Lillian Ross, a staff writer for The New Yorker and longtime friend of Salinger's, wrote following his death, "Salinger loved movies, and he was more fun than anyone to discuss them with. He enjoyed watching actors work, and he enjoyed knowing them. (He loved Anne Bancroft, hated Audrey Hepburn, and said that he had seen Grand Illusion ten times.)"[53]

Margaret also offered many insights into other Salinger myths, including her father's supposed long-time interest in macrobiotics, and involvement with "alternative medicine" and Eastern philosophies. A few weeks after Dream Catcher was published, Margaret's brother Matt discredited the memoir in a letter to The New York Observer. He disparaged his sister's "gothic tales of our supposed childhood" and stated: "I can't say with any authority that she is consciously making anything up. I just know that I grew up in a very different house, with two very different parents from those my sister describes."[133]


Salinger died of natural causes at his home in New Hampshire on January 27, 2010. He was 91.[7] Salinger's literary representative told The New York Times that the writer had broken his hip in May 2009, but that "his health had been excellent until a rather sudden decline after the new year."[134] The representative believed that Salinger's death was not a painful one.[134] His third wife and widow, Colleen O'Neill Zakrzeski Salinger, and Salinger's son Matt became the executors of his estate.[134]

Literary style and themes

In a contributor's note Salinger gave to Harper's Magazine in 1946, he wrote: "I almost always write about very young people", a statement that has been referred to as his credo.[135] Adolescents are featured or appear in all of Salinger's work, from his first published short story, "The Young Folks" (1940), to The Catcher in the Rye and his Glass family stories. In 1961, the critic Alfred Kazin explained that Salinger's choice of teenagers as a subject matter was one reason for his appeal to young readers, but another was "a consciousness [among youths] that he speaks for them and virtually to them, in a language that is peculiarly honest and their own, with a vision of things that capture their most secret judgments of the world."[136] For this reason, Norman Mailer once remarked that Salinger was "the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school".[137] Salinger's language, especially his energetic, realistically sparse dialogue, was revolutionary at the time his first stories were published and was seen by several critics as "the most distinguishing thing" about his work.[138]

Salinger identified closely with his characters,[101] and used techniques such as interior monologue, letters, and extended telephone calls to display his gift for dialogue. Such style elements also "[gave] him the illusion of having, as it were, delivered his characters' destinies into their own keeping."[139] Recurring themes in Salinger's stories also connect to the ideas of innocence and adolescence, including the "corrupting influence of Hollywood and the world at large",[140] the disconnect between teenagers and "phony" adults,[140] and the perceptive, precocious intelligence of children.[40]

Contemporary critics discuss a clear progression over the course of Salinger's published work, as evidenced by the increasingly negative reviews received by each of his three post-Catcher story collections.[133][141] Ian Hamilton adheres to this view, arguing that while Salinger's early stories for the "slicks" boasted "tight, energetic" dialogue, they had also been formulaic and sentimental. It took the standards of The New Yorker editors, among them William Shawn, to refine his writing into the "spare, teasingly mysterious, withheld" qualities of "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (1948), The Catcher in the Rye, and his stories of the early 1950s.[142] By the late 1950s, as Salinger became more reclusive and involved in religious study, Hamilton notes that his stories became longer, less plot-driven, and increasingly filled with digression and parenthetical remarks.[143] Louis Menand agrees, writing in The New Yorker that Salinger "stopped writing stories, in the conventional sense ... He seemed to lose interest in fiction as an art form—perhaps he thought there was something manipulative or inauthentic about literary device and authorial control."[40] In recent years, some critics have defended certain post-Nine Stories works by Salinger; in 2001, Janet Malcolm wrote in The New York Review of Books that "Zooey" "is arguably Salinger's masterpiece ... Rereading it and its companion piece "Franny" is no less rewarding than rereading The Great Gatsby."[133]


Salinger's writing has influenced several prominent writers, prompting Harold Brodkey (himself an O. Henry Award-winning author) to state in 1991: "His is the most influential body of work in English prose by anyone since Hemingway."[144] Of the writers in Salinger's generation, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist John Updike attested that "the short stories of J. D. Salinger really opened my eyes as to how you can weave fiction out of a set of events that seem almost unconnected, or very lightly connected ... [Reading Salinger] stick[s] in my mind as really having moved me a step up, as it were, toward knowing how to handle my own material."[145] The critic Louis Menand has observed that the early stories of Pulitzer Prize-winner Philip Roth were affected by "Salinger's voice and comic timing".[40]

National Book Award finalist Richard Yates told The New York Times in 1977 that reading Salinger's stories for the first time was a landmark experience, and that "nothing quite like it has happened to me since".[146] Yates describes Salinger as "a man who used language as if it were pure energy beautifully controlled, and who knew exactly what he was doing in every silence as well as in every word." Gordon Lish's O. Henry Award-winning short story "For Jeromé—With Love and Kisses" (1977, collected in What I Know So Far, 1984), is a parody of Salinger's "For Esmé—with Love and Squalor".[147]

In 2001, Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker that "Catcher in the Rye rewrites" among each new generation had become "a literary genre all its own".[40] He classed among them Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar (1963), Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City (1984), and Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000). Writer Aimee Bender was struggling with her first short stories when a friend gave her a copy of Nine Stories; inspired, she later described Salinger's effect on writers, explaining: "[I]t feels like Salinger wrote The Catcher in the Rye in a day, and that incredible feeling of ease inspires writing. Inspires the pursuit of voice. Not his voice. My voice. Your voice."[148] Authors such as Stephen Chbosky,[149] Jonathan Safran Foer,[150] Carl Hiaasen, Susan Minot,[151] Haruki Murakami, Gwendoline Riley,[152] Tom Robbins, Louis Sachar,[153] Joel Stein[154] and John Green have cited Salinger as an influence. Musician Tomas Kalnoky of Streetlight Manifesto also cites Salinger as an influence, referencing him and Holden Caulfield, the main character of Catcher in the Rye, in the song "Here's To Life". Biographer Paul Alexander called Salinger "the Greta Garbo of literature".[155]

In the mid-1960s, J. D. Salinger was himself drawn to Sufi mysticism through the writer and thinker Idries Shah's seminal work The Sufis, as were others writers such as Doris Lessing and Geoffrey Grigson, and the poets Robert Graves and Ted Hughes.[156] As well as Idries Shah, Salinger also read the Taoist philosopher Lao Tse and the Hindu Swami Vivekananda who introduced the Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the Western world.[157]


In an oral biography titled Salinger, authors David Shields and Shane Salerno assert that the author had left specific instructions authorizing a timetable, to start between 2015 and 2020, for the release of several unpublished works. According to the authors and their sources, these include five new Glass-family stories; a novel based on Salinger's relationship with his first wife, Sylvia; a novella in the form of a World War II counterintelligence officer’s diary; a "manual" of stories about Vedanta; and other new or retooled stories that illuminate the life of Holden Caulfield.[158]

The Salinger biography is also described as a companion volume to a film documentary of the same title. The directorial debut of writer Shane Salerno, Salinger was made over nine years and received a limited theatrical release on September 6, 2013.[159][160]

List of works


Published and anthologized stories

Published and unanthologized stories

Unpublished stories

Media portrayals and references


  1. See Beidler's A Reader's Companion to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.


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  76. 1 2 Hamilton 1988, p. 129
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  159. Cieply, Michael; Julie Bosman (August 25, 2013). "Film on Salinger Claims More Books Are Coming". The New York Times. Retrieved August 27, 2013.
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