Seymour: An Introduction was also originally published in The New Yorker, four years after Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters.
As the title suggests, the story represents an attempt by Buddy Glass to introduce the reader to his brother Seymour, who had committed suicide in 1948. The story is told in a stream of consciousness narrative as Buddy reminisces from his secluded home. In the novella someone "seriously considers Mrs. Fedder's remark that Seymour is a "latent homosexual" [p.36), since he has never attempted to seduce Muriel, and that he is ""basically afraid of marriage" [p.36)."
This story, like others concerning the Glass family, touches upon Zen Buddhism, haiku, and the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta.
Raised in Manhattan, Salinger began writing short stories while in secondary school, and published several in Story magazine in the early 1940s before serving in World War II. In 1948 his critically acclaimed story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" appeared in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his later work. In 1951 his novel The Catcher in the Rye was an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers. The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 copies a year.
The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny: Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently. He followed Catcher with a short story collection, Nine Stories (1953), a volume containing a novella and a short story, Franny and Zooey (1961), and a volume containing two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). His last published work, a novella entitled "Hapworth 16, 1924", appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965.
Afterward, Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter. In 1996, a small publisher announced a deal with Salinger to publish "Hapworth 16, 1924" in book form, but amid the ensuing publicity, the release was indefinitely delayed. He made headlines around the globe in June 2009 when he filed a lawsuit against another writer for copyright infringement resulting from that writer's use of one of the characters from The Catcher in the Rye.
In June 1955, at the age of 36, Salinger married Claire Douglas, a Radcliffe student. They had two children, Margaret (b. December 10, 1955) and Matthew (b. February 13, 1960). Margaret Salinger wrote in her memoir Dream Catcher that she believes her parents would not have married, nor would she have been born, had her father not read the teachings of Lahiri Mahasaya, a guru of Paramahansa Yogananda, which brought the possibility of enlightenment to those following the path of the "householder" (a married person with children). After their marriage, J.D. and Claire were initiated into the path of Kriya yoga in a small store-front Hindu temple in Washington, D.C., during the summer of 1955. They received a mantra and breathing exercises to practice for ten minutes twice a day.
Salinger also insisted that Claire drop out of school and live with him, only four months shy of graduation, which she did. Certain elements of the story "Franny", published in January 1955, are based on his relationship with Claire, including her ownership of the book The Way of the Pilgrim. Because of their isolated location and Salinger's proclivities, they hardly saw other people for long stretches of time. Claire was also frustrated by Salinger's ever-changing religious beliefs. Though she committed herself to Kriya yoga, she remembered that Salinger would chronically leave Cornish to work on a story "for several weeks only to return with the piece he was supposed to be finishing all undone or destroyed and some new 'ism' we had to follow." Claire believed "it was to cover the fact that Jerry had just destroyed or junked or couldn't face the quality of, or couldn't face publishing, what he had created."
After abandoning Kriya yoga, Salinger tried Dianetics (the forerunner of Scientology), even meeting its founder L. Ron Hubbard, but according to Claire he was quickly disenchanted with it. This was followed by an adherence to a number of spiritual, medical, and nutritional belief systems including an interest in Christian Science, Edgar Cayce, homeopathy, acupuncture, and macrobiotics.
Salinger's family life was further marked by discord after the first child was born; according to Margaret, Claire felt that her daughter had replaced her in Salinger's affections. The infant Margaret was sick much of the time, but Salinger, having embraced the tenets of Christian Science, refused to take her to a doctor. According to Margaret, her mother admitted to her years later that she went "over the edge" in the winter of 1957 and had made plans to murder her 13-month-old infant and then commit suicide. Claire had intended to do it during a trip to New York City with Salinger, but she instead acted on a sudden impulse to take Margaret from the hotel and run away. After a few months, Salinger persuaded her to return to Cornish.
Salinger published Franny and Zooey in 1961, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction in 1963. Each book contained two short stories or novellas, previously published in The New Yorker, about members of the Glass family. These four stories were originally published between 1955 and 1959, and were the only ones Salinger had published since Nine Stories. On the dust jacket of Franny and Zooey, Salinger wrote, in reference to his interest in privacy: "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."
On September 15, 1961, Time magazine devoted its cover to Salinger. In an article that profiled his "life of recluse", the magazine reported that the Glass family series "is nowhere near completion ... Salinger intends to write a Glass trilogy." However, Salinger published only one other story after that: "Hapworth 16, 1924", a novella in the form of a long letter from seven-year-old Seymour Glass while at summer camp. His first new work in six years, the novella took up most of the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker, and was universally critically panned. Around this time, Salinger had isolated Claire from friends and relatives and made her—in the words of Margaret Salinger—"a virtual prisoner." Claire separated from him in September 1966; their divorce was finalized on October 3, 1967.
In 1972, at the age of 53, Salinger had a relationship with 18-year-old Joyce Maynard that lasted for nine months. Maynard, at this time, was already an experienced writer for Seventeen magazine. The New York Times had asked Maynard to write an article for them which, when published as "An Eighteen-Year-Old Looks Back On Life" on April 23, 1972, made her a celebrity. Salinger wrote a letter to her warning about living with fame. After exchanging 25 letters, Maynard moved in with Salinger the summer after her freshman year at Yale University. Maynard did not return to Yale that fall, and spent ten months as a guest in Salinger's Cornish home. The relationship ended, he told his daughter Margaret at a family outing, because Maynard wanted children, and he felt he was too old. However, in her own autobiography, Maynard paints a different picture, saying Salinger abruptly ended the relationship and refused to take her back. She had dropped out of Yale to be with him, even forgoing a scholarship. Maynard later writes in her own memoir how she came to find out that Salinger had begun relationships with young women by exchanging letters. One of those letter recipients included Salinger's last wife, a nurse who was already engaged to be married to someone else when she met the author.
While he was living with Maynard, Salinger continued to write in a disciplined fashion, a few hours every morning. According to Maynard, by 1972 he had completed two new novels. In a rare 1974 interview with The New York Times, he explained: "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing ... I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure." According to Maynard, he saw publication as "a damned interruption." In her memoir, Margaret Salinger describes the detailed filing system her father had for his unpublished manuscripts: "A red mark meant, if I die before I finish my work, publish this 'as is,' blue meant publish but edit first, and so on." A neighbor said that Salinger told him that he had written 15 unpublished novels.
Salinger's final interview was in June, 1980, with Betty Eppes of The Baton Rouge Advocate. Eppes was an attractive young woman who misrepresented herself as an aspiring novelist, and managed to record audio of the interview as well as take several photographs of Salinger, both without his knowledge or consent. The interview ended "disastrously" when a local passer-by from Cornish attempted to shake the famous author's hand, at which point Salinger became enraged. A sordid account of the interview was later published by Eppes in The Paris Review.
In 1999, 25 years after the end of their relationship, Joyce Maynard put up for auction a series of letters Salinger had written to her. Maynard's memoir of her life and her relationship with Salinger, At Home in the World: A Memoir, was published the same year. Among other topics, the book described how Maynard's mother had consulted with her on how to appeal to the aging author (dressing like a child), and described Maynard's relationship with him at length. In the ensuing controversy over both the memoir and the letters, Maynard claimed that she was forced to auction the letters for financial reasons; she would have preferred to donate them to Beinecke Library. Software developer Peter Norton bought the letters for $156,500 and announced his intention to return them to Salinger.
A year later, Salinger's daughter Margaret by his second wife Claire Douglas, published Dream Catcher: A Memoir. In her book, she described the harrowing control Salinger had over her mother and dispelled many of the Salinger myths established by Ian Hamilton's book. One of Hamilton's arguments was that Salinger's experience with post-traumatic stress disorder left him psychologically scarred, and that he was unable to deal with the traumatic nature of his war service. Though Ms. Salinger allowed that "the few men who lived through 'Bloody Mortain,' a battle in which her father fought, were left with much to sicken them, body and soul," she also painted a picture of her father as a man immensely proud of his service record, maintaining his military haircut and service jacket, and moving about his compound (and town) in an old Jeep.
Both Margaret Salinger and Maynard characterized the author as a devoted film buff. According to Margaret, his favorite movies include Gigi, The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps (Phoebe's favorite movie in The Catcher in the Rye), and the comedies of W.C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, and the Marx Brothers. Predating VCRs, Salinger had an extensive collection of classic movies from the 1940s in 16 mm prints. Maynard wrote that "he loves movies, not films," and his daughter argued that her father's "worldview is, essentially, a product of the movies of his day. To my father, all Spanish speakers are Puerto Rican washerwomen, or the toothless, grinning-gypsy types in a Marx Brothers movie." Lillian Ross, a staff writer for The New Yorker and longtime friend of Salinger, wrote following his death, "Salinger loved movies, and he was more fun than anyone to discuss them with. He enjoyed watching actors work, and he enjoyed knowing them. (He loved Anne Bancroft, hated Audrey Hepburn, and said that he had seen Grand Illusion ten times.)"
Margaret also offered many insights into other Salinger myths, including her father's supposed long-time interest in macrobiotics and involvement with "alternative medicine" and Eastern philosophies. A few weeks after Dream Catcher was published, Margaret's brother Matt discredited the memoir in a letter to The New York Observer. He disparaged his sister's "gothic tales of our supposed childhood" and stated: "I can't say with any authority that she is consciously making anything up. I just know that I grew up in a very different house, with two very different parents from those my sister describes."
Salinger died of natural causes at his home in New Hampshire on January 27, 2010. He was 91. Salinger's literary representative commented to The New York Times that the writer had broken his hip in May 2009, but that "his health had been excellent until a rather sudden decline after the new year." The representative believed that Salinger's death was not a painful one.
J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (January 3, 2012)
Amazon: J. D. Salinger: A Life
One of the most popular and mysterious figures in American literary history, the author of the classic Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger eluded fans and journalists for most of his life. Now he is the subject of this definitive biography, which is filled with new information and revelations garnered from countless interviews, letters, and public records. Kenneth Slawenski explores Salinger’s privileged youth, long obscured by misrepresentation and rumor, revealing the brilliant, sarcastic, vulnerable son of a disapproving father and doting mother. Here too are accounts of Salinger’s first broken heart—after Eugene O’Neill’s daughter, Oona, left him—and the devastating World War II service that haunted him forever. J. D. Salinger features all the dazzle of this author’s early writing successes, his dramatic encounters with luminaries from Ernest Hemingway to Elia Kazan, his office intrigues with famous New Yorker editors and writers, and the stunning triumph of The Catcher in the Rye, which would both make him world-famous and hasten his retreat into the hills of New Hampshire. J. D. Salinger is this unique author’s unforgettable story in full—one that no lover of literature can afford to miss.
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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