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Jerome David Salinger

Jerome David Salinger
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Jerome David Salinger (1919-)

American novelist and short story writer. Salinger published one novel and several short story collections between 1948-59. His best-known work is THE CATCHER IN THE RYE ( 1951), a story about a rebellious teenage schoolboy and his quixotic experiences in New York.

"What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though." (Holden Caulfied in The Catcher in the Rye)

J.D. Salinger was born and grew up in the fashionable apartment district of Manhattan, New York. He was the son of a prosperous Jewish importer of Kosher cheese and his Scotch-Irish wife. In his childhood the young Jerome was called Sonny. The family had a beautiful apartment on Park Avenue. After restless studies in prep schools, he was sent to Valley Forge Military Academy (1934-36), which he attended briefly. His friends from this period remember his sarcastic wit. When he was eighteen and nineteen, Salinger spent five months in Europe in 1937. From 1937 to 1938 he studied at Ursinus College and New York University. He fell in love with Oona O'Neill, wrote her letters almost daily, and was later shocked when she married Charles Chaplin, who was much older than she.

In 1939 Salinger took a class in short story writing at Columbia University under Whit Burnett, founder-editor of the Story Magazine. During World War II he was drafted into the infantry and was involved in the invasion of Normandy. Salinger's comrades considered him very brave, a genuine hero. During the first months in Europe Salinger managed to write stories and meet in Paris Ernest Hemingway. He was also involved in one of the bloodiest episodes of the war in Hürtgenweald, an useless battle, where he witnessed the horrors of war.

In his celebrated story 'For Esmé - With Love and Squalor' Salinger depicted a fatigued American soldier. He starts correspondence with a thirteen-year-old British girl, which helps him to get a grip of life again. Salinger himself was hospitalized for stress according to his biographer Ian Hamilton. After serving in the Army Signal Corps and Counter-Intelligence Corps from 1942 to 1946, he devoted himself to writing. He played poker with other aspiring writers, but was considered sour and he won all the time. He considered Hemingway and Steinbeck second rate writers but praised Melville. In 1945 Salinger married a French woman named Sylvia - she was a doctor. They were divorced and in 1955 Salinger married Claire Douglas, the daughter of the British art critic Robert Langton Douglas. The marriage ended in divorce in 1967, when Salinger's retreat into his private world and Zen Buddhism only increased.

Salinger's early short stories appeared in such magazines as Story, where his first story was published in 1940, Saturday Evening Post and Esquire, and then in the New Yorker, which published almost all of his later texts. In 1948 appeared 'A Perfect Day for Bananafish', which introduced Seymour Glass, who commits suicide. It was the earliest reference to the Glass family, whose stories would go on to form the main corpus of his writing. The 'Glass cycle' continued in the collections FRANNY AND ZOOEY (1961), RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAM, CARPENTERS (1963) and SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION (1963). Several of the stories are narrated by Buddy Glass. 'Hapworth 16, 1924' is written in the form of a letter from summer camp, in which the seven-year-old Seymour draws a portrait of him and his younger brother Buddy.

"When I look back, listen back, over the half-dozen or slightly more original poets we've had in America, as well as the numerous talented eccentric poets and - in modern times, especially - the many gifted style deviates, I feel something close to a conviction that we have only three or four very nearly nonexpendable poets, and I think Seymour will eventually stand with those few." (from Seymour, An Introduction)

Twenty stories published in Collier's, Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and New Yorker between 1941 and 1948 appeared in a pirated edition in 1974, THE COMPLETE UNCOLLECTED STORIES OF J.D. SALINGER (2 vols.). Many of them reflect Salinger's own service in the army. Later Salinger adopted Hindu-Buddhist influences. He became an ardent devotee of The Gospels of Sri Ramakrishna, a study of Hindu mysticism, which was translated into English by Swami Nikhilananda and Joseph Campbell.

Salinger's first novel, The Catcher in the Rye, became immediately a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and gained a huge international success. It sells still some 250 000 copies annually. Salinger did not do much to help publicity, and asked that his photograph is not used in connection with the book.

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