J. D. Salinger 1919 - 2010

Author of The Cather in the Rye passes away
J. D. Salinger

American writer J. D. Salinger has died of natural causes, aged 91. He was best known for his novel, Catcher in the Rye.

The New York Times:
Mr. Salinger, who was born on Jan. 1, 1919 in Manhattan, has lived in seclusion in the small town of Cornish. N.H. for more than half a century. He has not been photographed in decades.

Mr. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" caused a sensation when it was published. With its very first sentence, the book, which came out in 1951, introduced a brand-new voice in American writing, and it quickly became a cult book, a rite of passage for the brainy and disaffected. "Nine Stories," published in 1953, made Mr. Salinger a darling of the critics as well, for the way it dismantled the traditional architecture of the short story and replaced it with one in which a story could turn on a tiny shift of mood or tone.

In the 1960s, though, when he was at the peak of his fame, Mr. Salinger went silent. "Franny and Zooey," a collection of two long stories about the fictional Glass family, came out in 1961; two more long stories about the Glasses, "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour: An Introduction," appeared together in book form in 1963. The last work of Mr. Salinger's to appear in print was "Hapworth 16, 1924," a short story that took up most of the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker. The story, which came out in book form in 1997, continued, and perhaps even completed, the saga of the strangely dysfunctional Glass family. In the '70s Mr. Salinger stopped giving interviews, and in the late '80s he went all the way to the Supreme Court to block the British critic Ian Hamilton from quoting his letters in a biography. [Read the article]

J. D. Salinger, who was thought at one time to be the most important American writer to emerge since World War II but who then turned his back on success and adulation, becoming the Garbo of letters, famous for not wanting to be famous, died Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., where he had lived in seclusion for more than 50 years. He was 91.

Mr. Salinger’s literary representative, Harold Ober Associates, announced the death, saying it was of natural causes. “Despite having broken his hip in May,” the agency said, “his health had been excellent until a rather sudden decline after the new year. He was not in any pain before or at the time of his death.”

Mr. Salinger’s literary reputation rests on a slender but enormously influential body of published work: the novel “The Catcher in the Rye,” the collection “Nine Stories” and two compilations, each with two long stories about the fictional Glass family: “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.”

“Catcher” was published in 1951, and its very first sentence, distantly echoing Mark Twain, struck a brash new note in American literature: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Though not everyone, teachers and librarians especially, was sure what to make of it, “Catcher” became an almost immediate best seller, and its narrator and main character, Holden Caulfield, a teenager newly expelled from prep school, became America’s best-known literary truant since Huckleberry Finn. [Read the article]

The Guardian:
Salinger had his own troubled history in various schools until he was dispatched to Valley Forge military academy at the age of 15. There he began writing at night using a torch under his bed covers and published his first story in a fiction magazine in 1940.

He submitted a number of stories to the New Yorker that were rejected, including one called I Went to School with Adolf Hitler. But the magazine did accept a later story about a disaffected teenager called Holden Caulfield, the first time the character appeared.

In 1942 Salinger was conscripted to fight in the second world war where he took part in the Normandy landings. He married a German woman while serving with the occupation forces after the defeat of Hitler. The couple moved to America but the marriage soon fell apart. Salinger took up Zen Buddhism.

He found fame disagreeable and the year after the publication of his most famous novel he left New York city for the town of Cornish, New Hampshire. There he remarried, to Claire Douglas, had two children, and then divorced in 1967. [Read the article]

Jerome David Salinger retreated from the limelight in 1953, living life as a virtual recluse at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. His last work was published in 1965. If a writer is defined by their writing (or at least the writing they allow the world to see), then Salinger has effectively been absent for over 40 years. He took himself away and he never came back. So far as the world is concerned, his actual death arrives almost as an afterthought.

The upside of all this, of course, is that we can only remember Salinger in his gilded heyday. His reputation remains enshrined, built on the great adolescent yawp of The Catcher in the Rye and the travails of the Glass family, and the gorgeous shimmer of his short fiction. If the later years saw a withering of his talent he never let us see it. In guarding his privacy he guarded his legacy too. [Read the article]

First edition of Catcher in the Rye

Los Angeles Times:
[...] Perhaps no other writer of so few works generated as much popular and critical interest as Salinger, who published one novel, three authorized collections of short stories and an additional 21 stories that only appeared in magazines in the 1940s. He abandoned publishing in 1965, when his last story -- "Hapworth 26, 1924" -- was published by the New Yorker. Rarely seen in public and aggressively averse to most publicity, he was often called the Howard Hughes of American letters.

His silence inspired a range of reactions from literary critics, some characterizing it as a form of cowardice and others as a cunning strategy that, despite its outward intentions, helped preserve his mythic status in American culture. Still others interpreted his withdrawal as the deliberate spiritual stance of a man who, shying from the glare of celebrity, immersed himself in Eastern religions, particularly Zen Buddhism and Hindu Vedantic philosophy.

His stories -- heavily autobiographical, humorous and cynical -- focused on highly idiosyncratic urban characters seeking meaning in a world transformed by the horrors of World War II, in which Salinger was a direct participant.

His stellar fictional creation was Holden Caulfield, the teenage anti-hero of "The Catcher in the Rye," who was, like Salinger, unsuccessful in school and inclined to retreat from a world he perceived as disingenuous and hostile to his needs. [Read the article]

"Don't ever tell anybody anything," J.D. Salinger wrote in the closing lines of "The Catcher in the Rye." "If you do, you start missing everybody."

For more than two decades now, I've thought about that ending as a piece of code. Not that Salinger, who died Wednesday at age 91 in Cornish, N.H., was an oracle, despite what his most dedicated followers -- those who hung around his driveway, hoping for a glimpse of the reclusive author, or parsed his sentences on a million websites -- might believe.

But Salinger was a writer who refracted his perspective into language, producing work that was personal and profound. Between 1951 and 1965, he produced four uncommonly sensitive books of fiction -- "Catcher," "Nine Stories," "Franny and Zooey" and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" -- before retreating to his home in Cornish and refusing to publish any more.

As he once wrote to biographer Ian Hamilton (in the course of suing Hamilton for quoting from his unpublished letters), "I think I've borne all the exploitation and loss of privacy I can possibly bear in a single lifetime."

For the last 45 years, this was the encoded story, Salinger's self-imposed silence, as readers debated whether he was still writing or off in some twilit oblivion of his own. For his part, Salinger's interactions with the public were infrequent and largely litigious. As recently as July, he won an injunction preventing the release of an unauthorized sequel to "The Catcher in the Rye."

And yet, our collective fascination with his life rather than his writing suggests another bit of code, or at least a set of clues. Wasn't this, after all, what Salinger was rejecting, a culture of celebrity in which the most important thing was appearance and no one cared about the level of the soul? [Read the article]

The Daily Telegraph:
The recluse's recluse, Salinger's refusal to engage with the outside world had long been abetted by a 1,600 strong community that did its best to be unhelpful to visiting reporters and fans.

That code of silence was clearly disintegrating when I visited, as many neighbours were more than happy to supply anecdotes and theories about the local celebrity known by all as "JD". Still somewhat cranky, he was - it was commonly agreed - respected rather than liked.
Sadly, nobody was able to offer a definitive answer on the burning question of whether he was still writing - a former girlfriend said she once saw shelves loaded with notebooks and two completed but unpublished novels.

What they could say was that he was an increasingly rare sight in Cornish, although he still ventured occasionally to the local supermarket, restaurant and café.
As for socialising, the only event he appeared still to patronise regularly was a monthly turkey dinner at the little Universalist Unitarian church - a multi-religion denomination that would have appealed to a man who tried out several faiths - 10 miles away in the town of Hartland.

"Nobody is supposed to acknowledge that he's there. You just treat him like he's just another normal person," said Kay Cavendish, a regular church and dinner goer. [Read the article]

J. D. Salinger on the cover of Time Magazine

Gish Jen:
[...] Where did this start? In a 1940 letter to a friend, a twenty-one- year- old Salinger describes his novel in progress as “autobiographical”; decades later, too, in an interview with a high school reporter—the only interview he’s ever given—Salinger says, “My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book.” Of course, there are differences. Unlike Holden, Salinger is, among other things, a half-Jewish, half-Catholic brotherless World War II vet who attended a military academy. He did, though, like Holden, flunk out of prep school, and he was also, like Holden, manager of his high school fencing team, in which capacity he really did, according to his daughter, Margaret, once lose the team gear en route to a meet.

More important, Salinger seems to have shared Holden’s disaffection. Numerous youthful acquaintances remember him as sardonic, rant-prone, a loner. Margaret Salinger likewise traces the alienation in the book to him, though it does not reflect for her either her father’s innate temperament or difficult adolescence so much as his experiences of anti-Semitism and, as an adult, war. Where Salinger fought in some of the bloodiest and most senseless campaigns of World War II and apparently suffered a nervous breakdown toward its end, shortly after which—while still in Europe—he is known to have been working on Catcher—it is hardly surprising that Holden’s reactions should evoke not only adolescent turmoil but also the awful seesaw of a vet’s return to civilian life. Holden may be a rebel without a cause, but he is not a rebel without an explanation: it is easy to read the death of his brother as a stand-in for unspeakable trauma. And witness the notable vehemence with which Holden talks about the war—declaring, for instance, “I’m sort of glad they’ve got the atomic bomb invented. If there’s ever another war, I’m going to sit right the hell on top of it. I’ll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will.” [Read the article]

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