Jerome David Salinger (born January 1, 1919) (pronounced [ˈsæ.lən.dʒɚ]) is an American author best known for The Catcher in the Rye, a classic novel that has enjoyed enduring popularity since its publication in 1951. A major theme in Salinger's work is the strong yet delicate mind of "disturbed" adolescents, and the redemptive capacity of children in the lives of such young men. Salinger is also known for his reclusive nature; he has not given an interview since 1980, and has not made a public appearance, nor published any new work (at least under his own name), since 1965.
In the mid 1990s, there was a flurry of excitement when a small publisher announced a deal with Salinger to bring out the first book version of his final published story, "Hapworth 16, 1924," but amid the ensuing publicity, Salinger quickly withdrew from the arrangement.
Jerome David Salinger was born in Manhattan, New York, to Sol Salinger, a Jewish father of Polish origin who worked for a meat importer, and Marie Jillich, a half-Scottish, half-Irish mother.When they married, Salinger's mother changed her name to Miriam and passed as Jewish; J. D. did not find out that his mother was not Jewish until just after his bar mitzvah. Jerome David was the couple's second child; his only sibling, Doris, was born in 1911.
The young Salinger attended public schools on the West Side, the private McBurney School in ninth and tenth grades, and then was happy to get away from the over-protectiveness of his mother by entering the Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania.Though he had written for the school newspaper at McBurney, it was at Valley Forge that Salinger began writing stories, "under the covers [at night], with the aid of a flashlight." He started his freshman year at New York University (NYU), but dropped out the next spring to work on a cruise ship. The next fall, he was prevailed upon to learn the meat-importing business and was sent to work at the company in Vienna, Austria, where he could also perfect his French and German skills.
He left Austria only a month or so before the country fell to Hitler, on March 12, 1938. That fall, he attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, but for only one semester. Salinger attended Columbia University evening writing class in 1939. The teacher was Whit Burnett, longtime editor of Story Magazine. During the second semester of the class, Burnett saw some degree of talent in the young author. In the March-April 1940 issue of Story, Burnett published Salinger's debut short story, a vignette of several aimless youths, entitled "The Young Folks." Burnett and Salinger would correspond for several years thereafter, although a mix-up involving the proposed publication of a short story collection, also entitled The Young Folks, would leave them estranged.
World War II
In 1941, Salinger started dating Oona O'Neill, daughter of Eugene O'Neill, writing long letters to her daily. This ended when Oona began a relationship with Charlie Chaplin. Salinger was drafted into the Army in 1942, where he saw combat with the U.S. 12th Infantry Regiment in some of the fiercest fighting of World War II, including action on Utah Beach on D-Day and in the Battle of the Bulge. During the campaign from Normandy into Germany, he met and corresponded with Ernest Hemingway, then a war correspondent, in Paris. After reading Salinger's writing, Hemingway remarked, "Jesus, he has a helluva talent."
Salinger was assigned to Counter-Intelligence, in which he interrogated prisoners of war, putting his foreign language skills to use. He was among the first soldiers to enter a liberated concentration camp. He told his daughter later, "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live." His experiences, perhaps, affected him emotionally (he was hospitalized for a few weeks for combat stress reaction after Germany was defeated), and it is likely that he drew upon his wartime experiences in several stories, such as "For Esmé with Love and Squalor," which is narrated by a traumatized soldier. He continued to publish stories in "slick" magazines, such as Collier's and the Saturday Evening Post, during and after his war experience.
After the defeat of Germany, he signed up for a six-month period of "de-Nazification" duty in Germany. Among those Nazis he arrested was a low-level official, Sylvia, whom he married in 1945 and brought back to the States. The marriage fell apart after eight months and Sylvia returned to Germany. (In 1972, his daughter Margaret was with her father when he received a letter from Sylvia. He looked at the envelope, tore it up, and discarded it, unread. He said that that was the first time he had heard from her since she left, but "when he was finished with a person, he was through with them.")
From The New Yorker to novels
In 1948, Salinger submitted a short story titled "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" to The New Yorker. The demanding magazine was so impressed with "the singular quality of the story" that its editors accepted it for publication immediately and signed Salinger to a contract that allowed them right of first refusal on any future stories.The critical acclaim accorded "Bananafish," coupled with problems Salinger had had with stories being altered by the "slicks," led the author to publish almost exclusively in The New Yorker. However, "Bananafish" was not his first experience with the magazine; in 1942, Salinger had received his first acceptance from The New Yorker for a story entitled "Slight Rebellion off Madison," which featured a semi-autobiographical character named Holden Caulfield. The story was held from publication until 1946 because of the war. "Slight Rebellion" was related to several other stories featuring the Caulfield family, but perspective shifted from older brother Vince to Holden.
Salinger had confided to several people that he felt Holden deserved a novel, and The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. It was an immediate success, although early critical reactions were mixed. In a 1953 interview with a high-school newspaper, Salinger admitted that the novel was "sort of" autobiographical, explaining that "My boyhood was very much the same as that of the boy in the book....it was a great relief telling people about it."A novel driven by the nuanced, intricate character of Holden, the plot is quite simple. The book became famous for Salinger's extensive and exceptional eye for subtle complexity, detail, description, ironic humor, and the depressing and desperate atmosphere of New York City. Yet because Salinger used profanity and discussed adolescent sex in an open and casual manner, many readers were offended, and the book's popularity began to falter. Many critics argued that the book was not serious literature, citing its casual and informal tone and diction. The novel was banned in some countries, and some U.S. schools, because of its bold and (to some) offensive use of language; 'goddamn' appears 255 times, and a handful of 'fuck's (which would-be censors seldom notice Holden was trying to erase from a museum bathroom stall), plus a few seamy incidents such as the encounter with a prostitute (even though it was a chaste encounter). The book is still widely read, particularly in the United States, where it is considered an especially skillful depiction of teenage angst. It is not unusual to see The Catcher in the Rye on a "required reading" list for American high school students. As of 2004, the novel sells about 250,000 copies per year, "with total worldwide sales over - probably way over - 10 million."
In July 1951, his friend and New Yorker editor William Maxwell in Book of the Month Club News asked Salinger about his literary influences. Salinger said, “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, Dostoyevsky, 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."
In 1953, Salinger published a collection of seven short stories in The New Yorker ("Bananafish" among them), as well as two that they 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 the most beloved stories). It was also very successful, although Salinger had already begun to tightly regulate publicity. He would not allow publishers to illustrate the dust jacket, so that his readers would have no preconceived notion of how the characters looked.
Later years and instances of exposure
Salinger tried to escape public exposure and attention as much as possible ("A writer's feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second most valuable property on loan to him," he wrote.) However, he continued to struggle with the unwanted attention he received as a popular-culture figure. Dozens of students and readers would drive to Cornish to get a glimpse of Salinger. Some writers would leave manuscripts. In the 1970s and 1980s, the reclusive writer Franz Douskey, who lived near Salinger on Dingleton Hill, would misdirect tourists down a series of dirt roads that led them away from Salinger's house into nearby towns.
Upon learning in 1986 of the intent of British writer Ian Hamilton to publish In Search of J. D. Salinger: A Writing Life (1935-65), a biography including letters Salinger had written to other authors and friends, Salinger sued to stop the book's publication. The book was finally published in 1988 with the letters' contents paraphrased. The court ruled that, though a person may own a letter physically, the language within it belongs to the author. 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,"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"
Salinger was romantically involved with television actress Elaine Joyce for several years in the eighties. The relationship ended when he met Colleen O'Neill (b. June 11, 1959), a nurse and quiltmaker, whom he married around 1988. O'Neill, who is forty years the author's junior, once told Margaret Salinger that she and Salinger were trying to have a child.
In a surprising move, in 1997 Salinger gave a small publisher, Orchises Press, permission to publish "Hapworth 16, 1924," the previously uncollected novella; it was to be published that year, and listings for it appeared on Amazon.com and other book-sellers. However, the publication date was pushed back several times, the last time to 2002. It was not published and no new date has been set.
In 1999, twenty-five years after the end of their relationship, Joyce Maynard put up for auction a series of letters Salinger had written to her. The sale helped to publicize a memoir of Maynard's, At Home in the World : A Memoir, published the same year. Among other indiscretions, the book described how Maynard's mother had consulted with her on how to appeal to the aging author, and described Maynard's relationship with the author 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 Beinecke Library. Software developer Peter Norton bought the letters for $156,500 and announced his intention to return them to Salinger.
A year later, Salinger's daughter Margaret Salinger, by his second wife, Claire Douglas, published Dream Catcher: A Memoir. In her "tell-all" book, Ms. Salinger described the harrowing control 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. Ms. Salinger, however painted a picture of J. D. as a man immensely proud of his service record, maintaining his military haircut, service jacket, and moving about his compound (and town) in an old Jeep.
Ms. Salinger offered many insights into other Salinger myths, including her father's supposed long-time interest in macrobiotics and involvement with what is today known as "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."