J D Salinger became world-famous for his novel, The Catcher in the Rye. [For an article of mine on the novel, you may click here.] Fame, however, was [is] the last thing that Salinger wanted. On the dust jacket of Franny and Zooey [a novella published in 1961], Salinger wrote: “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.”
The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. The story of the 16-year old Holden Caulfield caught the attention of the youth all over the world. The novel also drew the attention of critics some of whom did not appreciate the novel’s language replete with ‘vulgarity’. Some such critics even took the trouble counting the number of times words like ‘goddamn’ are used in the novel. Eventually Salinger withdrew into total anonymity. He even refused to be interviewed.
Every time the attention of the public was drawn to his life by some enterprising writer or film maker, Salinger sought the help of the law to suppress the book or the film. Recently the 90-year old Salinger went to the court against one such book, 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 The Catcher in the Rye, Caulfield is 16 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.
There are speculations that this controversial book is only a trick played by the publisher to ascertain whether Salinger is still alive or not. One sure way of knowing it is writing a book on Salinger – Salinger is sure to appear in the court, though only through his lawyer.
In 1988 British writer Ian Hamilton wrote a biography of Salinger. Salinger not only refused to cooperate with Hamilton but also took the latter to the court for creeping into his private life. Hamilton had done quite a lot of work collecting information from everyone who was closely associated with Salinger, particularly his family members. The letters written by Salinger to such persons were also included in the biography. Salinger’s legal battle could only get those letters expurgated from the book. The book, In Search of J D Salinger, was published in 1988 by Minerva.
In 1995, Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui released the film Pari, an unauthorized and loose adaptation of Salinger’s novella, Franny and Zooey. Though Salinger could do little about the screening of the film in Iran since the country has no official copyright relations with the United States, he had his lawyers block its planned screening at the Lincoln Center in 1998. Mehrjui could do nothing more than call Salinger’s action “bewildering”.
Salinger has not, however, succeeded totally in keeping his life in darkness. His daughter, Margaret, published a memoir titled Dream Catcher in the 1990s. Salinger’s son Matthew, however, said that the Salinger portrayed by his sister is unknown to him.
Joyce Maynard with whom Salinger had an affair for some time also wrote a book in the 1990s – without Salinger’s approval, no doubt.
“He was famous for not wanting to be famous,” wrote Ian Hamilton about Salinger. Very true.