J. D. (Jerome David) Salinger spent the last fifty years of his life in seclusion at his home in the mountains of Cornish, New Hampshire. His biographer, Paul Alexander, once stated “He became famous for wanting not to be famous.” His death on January 27, 2010 gives rise to much speculation concerning his writings and whether his daughter Margaret might release the “reams of literature” she contends that he has written during his seclusive years.
His novel “Catcher in the Rye” was published in 1951, starting a furor which is legendary to this day. Partially autobiographical, the novel received criticism from parents, teachers and librarians for the language and lifestyle of its protagonist, Holden Caulfied. It is therefore somewhat of a surprise that the book became required reading in thousands of high schools across the nation. While remaining controversial, 250,000 copies of “Catcher in the Rye” are sold each year. Its total worldwide sales have reached 65 million.
Shortly after the success of “Catcher in the Rye,” Salinger became disillusioned with notoriety and left his home in Manhattan to reside for the rest of his life in the hills of New Hampshire. Despite what might be termed as agoraphobia, he married Claire Douglas, A Radcliffe student, in 1955. They had two children, Margaret and Matthew. However, the marriage did not last and they divorced in 1967.
Salinger continued to write after he moved to New Hampshire. A collection of short stories called “Nine Stories” was published in 1953. This was followed in 1961 by “Franny and Zooey,” a story of the Glass family who were featured in two more short stories. “Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters” was published first in The New Yorker Magazine in 1955 followed in the same magazine by “Seymour: An Introduction” in 1959. It is evident that Salinger preferred to write about young people; his followers consider Salinger’s characters to be his alter egos.
Salinger gradually became less accessible, declining to be either interviewed or photographed. He gave his last interview in 1980. It is widely believed that his war experiences may have been responsible for his eccentric behavior. After being drafted into the Army in the spring of 1942, he saw combat at Utah Beach on D-Day and in the Battle of the Bulge. At the war’s end, he was hospitalized for several weeks for combat stress reaction. He was quoted as saying, though, that his greatest experience in the war was meeting and talking with Ernest Hemingway in Paris. Hemingway described him at the time as a man of great talent.
Another celebrity with whom he was linked was Oona O’Neill, daughter of the playwright Eugene O’Neill. They started dating in 1941. He was serious about the affair and wrote to her every day, but the relationship ended when Oona began seeing Charlie Chaplin whom she eventually married.
Soon after Salinger died, it came to light that a documentary concerning him will soon be released. The movie consists in part of interviews of people who were close to Salinger, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton and Gore Vidal. All interviewees had to sign nondisclosure agreements to ward off any leaks about the documentary – in keeping, it would seem, with the reclusive nature of J. D. Salinger. It is expected that the documentary will have its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
For a man who disdained publicity and fame, he has acquired a distinction which is given to few writers. It is hoped that his daughter Margaret will release to the world the writings that he worked on during his reclusive years.
Entertainment Weekly Magazine