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Obituary: JD Salinger

J.D.Salinger
JD Salinger, a reclusive genius

The son of a well-to-do Jewish businessman and Scots-Irish mother, Jerome David Salinger was born in New York in 1919 and grew up in uptown Manhattan.

The relationship with his father was cold and his conflict about his being half-Jewish affected him deeply.

He began writing stories when he was thrust into the harsh world of a military academy at Valley Forge in rural Pennsylvania.

He had been sent there after dropping out of the exclusive McBurney School on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

JD Salinger enjoyed early success in the 1940s with the publication of numerous short stories in magazines, among them the New Yorker.

But when the United States entered World War II, Salinger, whose cynicism was a talking-point among his relatives, surprised them by his eagerness to join the Services.

'Catcher'

He worked in army counter-intelligence and the bloody fighting he witnessed at close quarters during the Normandy landing and in the Battle of the Bulge was to have a great impact on his life.

According to his daughter Peggy, he witnessed the horrors of the German concentration camps. He suffered something approaching a nervous breakdown and, while convalescing in France, he met and married a French doctor, but they were divorced after eight months.

When The Catcher In The Rye first appeared in 1951, chronicling 48 hours in the life of a teenage rebel, Holden Caulfield, as he wanders the streets of New York in a state of mental collapse, it enjoyed early, but modest success.

But within a few years, it had become a bible of teenage dissent in America and a staple of high school and freshman college English courses.

Copy of Catcher in the Rye
The novel has sold more than 60 million copies

A study of adolescence -- at once tender and harshly honest -- it spoke for millions of young people who didn't want to be "phoney" in a commercial, materialistic world.

Caulfield became a cult figure comparable with James Dean, but it seems the novel also had an undesirable influence on Mark David Chapman, who said he killed John Lennon to promote Salinger's work, and the man who shot and wounded Ronald Reagan, John Hinckley.

Almost immediately after Catcher In The Rye was published, Salinger became disillusioned with publishing.

He hated interviews and contact with the public and in 1953, increasingly fed up with publishing and the public, he bought a house at Cornish, New Hampshire, and retreated into a seclusion that was to last for the rest of his life.

Court ruling

His subsequent books - only three more were published - were all best-sellers. Perhaps the most interesting was Franny and Zooey, but critics felt they all lacked the freshness and drive of Catcher.

No new Salinger fiction has appeared since 1965 and Salinger has done everything possible to try to thwart the efforts of biographers.

In 1987, the US Supreme Court upheld a claim by Salinger that his copyright had been violated by a critic of the The Sunday Times who drew on unpublished letters from Salinger for an unauthorised biography he published of him.

Throughout his life, Salinger befriended women younger than himself. He married Claire Douglas, aged 19, when he was 35 in 1954. They had two children and then divorced in 1967.

For nearly 30 years he lived with a woman called Colleen O'Neill (who may or may not have been his wife).

He called himself "a failed Zen Buddhist", walked about in a mechanic's blue uniform, and when he went to local restaurants, ate in the kitchen to avoid people.

Although many years have passed since the publication of any work by Salinger, friends and visitors to his home have revealed that he has a large safe containing at least 15 completed manuscripts.

It is thought they all feature the Glass family, about whom Salinger wrote in Franny and Zooey. It was thought that at Salinger's death, they could be published posthumously, or destroyed.

Some critics feel Salinger's attitude was best expressed in the opening lines of The Catcher In The Rye.

"If you really want to hear about it the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born. What my lousy childhood was like. And how my parents were occupied and all before they had me. And all that David Copperfield kind of crap. But I don't feel like going into it, if you really want to know the truth".



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