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J(erome) D(avid) Salinger Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 1919. Education: McBurney School, New York, 1932-34; Valley Forge Military Academy, Pennsylvania (editor, Crossed Sabres), 1934-36; New York University, 1937; Ursinus College, Collegetown, Pennsylvania, 1938; Columbia University, New York, 1939. Military Service: Served in the 4th Infantry Division of the United States Army, 1942-45: Staff Sergeant. Agent: Dorothy Olding, Harold Ober Associates, 425 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10017, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novel

The Catcher in the Rye. Boston, Little Brown, and London, HamishHamilton, 1951.

Short Stories

Nine Stories. Boston, Little Brown, 1953; as For Esmé—With Love and Squalor and Other Stories, London, Hamish Hamilton, 1953.

Franny and Zooey. Boston, Little Brown, 1961; London, Heinemann, 1962.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Heinemann, 1963.

Uncollected Short Stories

"The Young Folks," in Story (New York), March-April 1940.

"The Hang of It," in Collier's (Springfield, Ohio), 12 July 1941.

"The Heart of a Broken Story," in Esquire (New York), September1941.

"Personal Notes on an Infantryman," in Collier's (Springfield, Ohio), 12 December 1942.

"The Varioni Brothers," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 17July 1943.

"Both Parties Concerned," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 26 February 1944.

"Soft-Boiled Sergeant," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 15April 1944.

"Last Day of the Last Furlough," in Saturday Evening Post (Philadelphia), 15 July 1944.

"Once a Week Won't Kill You," in Story (New York), November-December 1944.

"A Boy in France," in The Saturday Evening Post Stories 1942-45, edited by Ben Hibbs. New York, Random House, 1945.

"Elaine," in Story (New York), March-April 1945.

"The Stranger," in Collier's (Springfield, Ohio), 1 December 1945.

"I'm Crazy," in Collier's (Springfield, Ohio), 22 December 1945.

"Slight Rebellion Off Madison," in New Yorker, 21 December 1946.

"A Young Girl in 1941 with No Waist at All," in Mademoiselle(New York), May 1947.

"The Inverted Forest," in Cosmopolitan (New York), December1947.

"Blue Melody," in Cosmopolitan (New York), September 1948.

"The Long Debut of Lois Taggett," in Story: The Fiction of the Forties, edited by Whit and Hallie Burnett. New York, Dutton, 1949.

"A Girl I Knew," in The Best American Short Stories 1949, edited byMartha Foley. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1949.

"This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise," in The Armchair Esquire, edited by Arnold Gingrich and L. Rust Hills. New York, Putnam, 1958.

"Hapworth 16, 1924," in New Yorker, 19 June 1965.

"Go See Eddie," in Fiction: Form and Experience, edited byWilliam M. Jones. Lexington, Massachusetts, Heath, 1969.

*

Bibliography:

J.D. Salinger: A Thirty Year Bibliography 1938-1968 by Kenneth Starosciak, privately printed, 1971; J.D. Salinger: An Annotated Bibliography 1938-1981 by Jack R. Sublette, New York, Garland, 1984.

Critical Studies (selection):

The Fiction of J.D. Salinger by Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1958, London, Spearman, 1960; Salinger: A Critical and Personal Portrait edited by Henry Anatole Grunwald, New York, Harper, 1962, London, Owen, 1964; J.D. Salinger and the Critics edited by William F. Belcher and James W. Lee, Belmont, California, Wadsworth, 1962; J.D. Salinger by Warren French, New York, Twayne, 1963, revised edition, 1976, revised edition, as J.D. Salinger Revisited, 1988; Studies in J.D. Salinger edited by Marvin Laser and Norman Fruman, New York, Odyssey Press, 1963; J.D. Salinger by James E. Miller, Jr., Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1965; J.D. Salinger: A Critical Essay by Kenneth Hamilton, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1967; Zen in the Art of J.D. Salinger by Gerald Rosen, Berkeley, California, Creative Arts, 1977;J.D. Salinger by James Lundquist, New York, Ungar, 1979; Salinger's Glass Stories as a Composite Novel by Eberhard Alsen, Troy, New York, Whitston, 1984; Brodie's Notes on J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, by Catherine Madinaveitia, London, Pan, 1987; In Search of J.D. Salinger by Ian Hamilton, London, Heinemann, and New York, Random House, 1988; Critical Essays on Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye edited by Joel Salzberg, Boston, Hall, 1990; Holden Caulfield edited by Harold Bloom, New York, Chelsea House, 1990; Alienation in the Fiction of Carson McCullers, J.D. Salinger, and James Purdy by Anil Kumar, Amritsar, Guru Nanak Dev University Press, 1991; J.D. Salinger: A Study of the Short Fiction by John Wenke, Boston, Twayne, 1991; New Essays on The Catcher in the Rye by Jack Salzman, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991; The Catcher in the Rye: Innocence Under Pressure by Sanford Pinsker, New York, Twayne, 1993; J.D. Salinger, edited by Harold Bloom, Broomall, Pennsylvania, Chelsea House Publishers, 1999.

* * *

In terms of subject matter, the fiction of J.D. Salinger falls into two groups. His most celebrated work, The Catcher in the Rye, tells of several days in the life of a young man, Holden Caulfield, after he has left the school from which he has been expelled; he wanders around New York City in a late-adolescent pursuit of contacts that will have meaning for him. The novel itself is Holden's meditation on these days some months later when he is confined to a West Coast clinic. The rest of Salinger's work, with the exception of some of the stories in Nine Stories, has for its subject elements drawn from the experience of the Glass family who live in New York. The parents, Les and Bessie, are retired vaudeville dancers; Les is Jewish in origin, Bessie Catholic—a fact that announces the merging of religious traditions effected in the lives of their children. The children, begotten over a considerable period of time, are seven in number. They are Seymour, a gifted poet; Buddy, a writer; Walker and Wake, twins—one killed in war, the other finally a priest; Boo Boo, a happily married daughter; and two much younger children, Franny and Zooey.

The diverse subject matter of Salinger's fiction tends, in retrospect, to coalesce. Holden Caulfield's parents, less loving and concerned than the Glass couple, have also begotten several children. But in Holden's case, there is only one child—a ten-year-old girl—to whom Holden can turn in his desperation.

But it is not just the mirror-image of subject matter that binds the Caulfield narrative together with the tales of the Glass family. There is a unity of tone and a prevailing interest that inform all of Salinger's narratives and that have made them appeal deeply to readers for decades. The tone and interest combine to produce a sad, often ironic meditation on the plight of young persons who are coming to maturity in a society where precise and guiding values are absent. This recurrent meditation, concealed in wrappings that are usually grotesque and farcical, has drawn readers to Salinger. His characters move through a "world they never made;" they address questions to that world and receive, for the most part, only a "dusty answer." Casual social contacts so nauseate Holden Caulfield, for example, that he is frequently at the point of vomiting. His quest for love is harassed by the sexual basis of love, and he is repelled. The only good relation in his life rests on the affection he feels for his younger sister; she is the one light in a wilderness of adult hypocrisy, lust, and perversion. In contrast, affection takes in a larger area in the Glass family chronicles; mutual esteem and concern bind the family together and somewhat offset the dreary vision of human relations in The Catcher in the Rye.

Perhaps one reason for this contrast is that, in The Catcher in the Rye, the narrative is presented from the point of view of Holden, a malleable, only half-conscious person. He moves in many directions, but none leads him toward the goals he aspires to. His teachers are "phonies;" the one in whom he puts some trust turns out to be a homosexual. His encounter with a prostitute gives him nothing, and his relations with girls of his class do not offer him the gift of comprehension. His parents are as deceived as he is about the proper use of the gift of life. As indicated, only his younger sister can offer him the love he needs, and she is too immature to counterbalance the panorama of insincerity that unfolds before Holden's eyes. So for Holden, all is in suspense—an effect that appealed strongly to Salinger's readers.

But for members of the Glass family, all is not fully in suspense. That gifted group of young people has indeed been badly shaken by the suicide of Seymour, their most gifted sibling. Thus, the central "mystery" which they must come to terms with is not Holden's general panorama of hypocrisy; the death and even more the remembered life of Seymour contain a secret that they are haunted by. The actual death of Seymour is briefly narrated in the story, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," in Nine Stories. Later work, told from various points of view, relates the efforts of members of the Glass family to grasp and apply the eclectic religious truths that the memory of Seymour reminds them of. In none of these tales is there an effort to explain the suicide; this is a fact which the brothers and sisters accept rather than assess. What they do assess, in terms of their own later experience, is the teaching presence of Seymour as they recall it. In the two sections of Franny and Zooey, the two youngest members of the family reach out in directions that Seymour, in effect, has already pointed out. In "Franny" the heroine is obsessed by the "Jesus prayer" which she has come across in the memoirs of a Russian monk; she does not know how to pray the prayer and is only aware that, until she does, all her other relations will be without meaning. In "Zooey" her charming brother helps her and himself to come to a grasp of what Seymour's existence had announced: repetition of the Jesus prayer transforms life that is contemptible into a constant act of love and reveals that a "fat lady" is indeed Christ—the "fat lady" and every other human being one encounters. In "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters"—told from the point of view of Buddy, the writing brother—the ridiculous circumstances of Seymour's wedding day are related: Seymour and his fiancée finally elope rather than endure an elaborate and empty wedding ceremony. Finally, in "Seymour: An Introduction"—also told from the point of view of Buddy—all that can be recalled of Seymour is put down. Recalled are his mastery of the allusive oriental haiku and his even more important mastery of the process of extorting the greatest significance from trivial events (e.g., a game of marbles becomes a vehicle of Zen instruction).

It is undoubtedly the merging of Eastern and Western religious wisdom—the solution of the "mystery" of existence—that gives the work of Salinger its particular élan. In pursuit of what might be called the Seymour effect, the other Glasses consume innumerable packs of cigarettes and break out into perspiration when they find themselves in blind alleys. But the alleys occasionally open up, and fleeting vistas of human unity flash before the eyes. One can but hope that Holden Caulfield, in his later years, will meet one of the younger Glasses whose personal destinies swell to the proportions of regulative myth.

—Harold H. Watts

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