Rare Book Monthly

Articles - June - 2014 Issue

Unexpected Archive of Letters from Reclusive Author J. D. Salinger to be Sold at Christie's

8a7013b9-ac03-46f4-a3db-d3fa576f4ff9

The Salinger Archive.

In 1951, obscure short story writer J. D. Salinger burst upon the public consciousness with his tale of youth alienation, Catcher in the Rye. It struck a nerve. The book became a must read for every rebellious young person, at least of every such young person who read. Even many who did not read made it an exception. Some schools banned it, and its controversial reputation, of course, made it all the more interesting to young people. This was the 1950's. Bad language and sexual innuendo were a ticket straight to Hell back then, but the young recognized the journey was fun. Salinger was their favorite author.

 

However, as Salinger's fame spread, Salinger himself withdrew. No one can ever understand exactly what goes on in another's mind, but Salinger despised the attention. He became one of writing's greatest recluses. He authored only a few more books, and those were anthologies of various stories, not full novels like Catcher. Even that stopped in the early 1960's, though Salinger continued to write material. He just didn't publish it any more. He married, moved to New Hampshire, and divorced, both from his wife and society. He gave virtually no interviews from shortly after the publication of Catcher until the end of his life, almost 60 years later in 2010. The few he did, such as to a high school newspaper editor, ended badly for him.

 

It is into this background that a surprising collection of letters is coming up for sale at Christies in New York on June 19. It is a collection of 41 letters, 66 pages and over 2,000 words, written by Salinger to Christine Smith of Central Pennsylvania from 1966-1976. It turns out the reclusive Salinger did have some friends, and while most of his contact with them may have been through letters, there were in-person visits as well. Salinger was not an island after all. He just limited himself to a very small corner of the continent.

 

Ms. Smith was an avid reader and letter writer. She was also just 15 years old when she first wrote to “Jerry.” She wrote to writers, actors, even former Presidents. Salinger would seem the least likely to reply, but he did. Ms. Smith couldn't have known it, but her timing was likely ideal.

 

The year 1966, when she first wrote him, was also the year Salinger separated from his wife. We also know from a book about Salinger by author Joyce Maynard, who lived with Salinger for a year when she was 18 and he 53, that Salinger was attracted to much younger women, and those relationships began through exchanges of letters. Salinger, naturally enough, was not into barhopping or the dating scene. There aren't many ways for a recluse to meet girls.

 

We should note here that Ms. Smith has made it quite clear that she did not have a romantic relationship with Salinger, 32 years her senior. She did once spend 5 days with the writer in his New Hampshire home, but his children were present, and they spent the time talking books and movies, the latter being a love of Salinger. She was 19 then, and though they never met again, they corresponded for another 6 years. Ms. Smith kept her friendship with Salinger private, outside of family and a few close friends, until after the author died in 2010. In an article revealing her relationship, published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after his death, Ms. Smith states clearly, “Jerry and I were strictly friends, so if you are someone with 'gusto for the lurid' [a Salinger quote], you've come to the wrong place.”

 

What you will find, according to Christie's, is “the largest Salinger archive to appear at auction, rich in literary, biographical and psychological detail.” Considering his silence to the press, there are few other places where so many of his thoughts can be discerned. He reveals much of his literary taste to Ms. Smith. Emerson is his favorite American writer, and he has “love, love, love” for Chekhov. He has no such feelings for Nietzsche. “Nietsche [sic] is good for practically nobody, of course, except ambitious young Hitlers and emotional malcontents looking for extravagant Aryanism.”

 

Salinger spent much of his time cloistered in his home watching movies. He loved the Beatles' movie Let It Be, but despised Yellow Submarine. Ms. Smith sent him a Joni Mitchell album, which he liked.

 

His letters were filled with affectionate references to his children. He provides some advice on marriage, though it could be questioned whether he was the best source on this topic: “Marry up with no one whose collective and single parts don't give you peace, pleasure, and comfort like nothing else.” Salinger also had some advice on a particular boyfriend she had described: “[He] doesn't really sound like too much. ... It may be he'll improve with age, but I wouldn't bet on it.” Salinger has a comment that fits with his own public silence: “I don't lecture ... or talk anywhere, thank God. I despise talking writers.” In a more dramatic expression of his feelings, Salinger writes, “One of the Boston newspapers, evidently hard up for news, is poking into my life up here ... . How I hate it, and how it brings out every asocial and murderous instinct in my head ... it's all so hideous, embarrassing, interruptive, incursive and rotten.”

 

In a personal note, that may help explain the writer's psyche, he writes, “I'm sorry and a little ashamed to say I sometimes feel bitter towards my own parents, and have no deep affection for any part of my old family life.” While his relationship with Ms. Smith did not turn romantic, there is a certain amount of innuendo. He writes, “Imagine, madam, the possible fireworks in the sky if you'd been born twenty or thirty years earlier, or I twenty or thirty years later.” He also sounds enthusiastic about writing, at one point saying, “I'm excited about work. I think I have about fifteen years' more work to do, and it's the kind I've been waiting for.” Continue to write, he did. Publish, he did not.

 

Salinger and Ms. Smith continued their correspondence for ten years. She could not recall who wrote the last letter, but as she explains, “The relationship just ran its course.” Still, after all of these years, she remembers Salinger fondly, as a warm and caring man, not the cold, aloof individual his need for privacy made of his image.

 

The Salinger archive will be offered as part of Christie' New York, auction of Fine Printed Books and Manuscripts Including Americana on June 19, 2014. It is Lot 280 (click the lot number for details). It is estimated at $180,000-$240,000.

 

Ms. Smith's fascinating account of her relationship with Salinger can be seen here: old.post-gazette.com/pg/10059/1038697-44.stm?utm.


Posted On: 2014-06-16 12:05
User Name: calibanbooks

I helped Ms. Smith consign these to Christie's and spent a lot of time with these letters. They are incredibly rich in detail. Most of his letters to teenagers (and he was more inclined to respond to kids than to adults) are a little cutesy and short, but in these letters, which follow the recipient's progress into adulthood, he consistently treats her as an equal and holds nothing back when it comes to opinions of other writers, his family, his interests, his obsession with privacy, homeopathy, writing and old movies. A gorgeous archive that would have fleshed out some of the sketchy details in last year's (somewhat boring) biography & movie. -- John Schulman, Caliban Books


Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>The Tragedie of Julius Caesar.</i> London, 1623. 1st appearance in print, Complete from the First Folio. Sold for $175,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Zane Grey, Inscribed photograph album depicting Grey and party at Catalina, fishing, and in Arizona. $700 to $1,000
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Eric Taverner, Salmon Fishing...London: Seeley, Service & Co., 1931. $600 to $900
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> The Gentleman Angler. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Ken Robinson, Flyfishers' Progress. [London: The Flyfishers' Club, 2000. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> G. H. Lacy, North Punjab Fishing Club Angler's Handbook. Calcutta: Newman & Co., 1890. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> J. Harrington Keene, Fly-Fishing and Fly-Making for Trout, etc. New York, 1887. $200 to $300
    <b>Doyle, online only: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake" Johnson. July 13-24, 2018</b>
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Arthur Macrate, The History of The Tuna Club, Avalon, Santa Catalina Island, California, 1948. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Joseph D. Bates Jr. Streamer Fly Tying and Fishing. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Company, 1966. $800 to $1,200
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Paul Schmookler and Ingrid V. Sils. Rare and Unusual Fly Tying Materials: A Natural History. $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, online only Jul 13-24:</b> Herbert Hoover, Fishing For Fun - And To Wash Your Soul. New York: Random House, 1963. $400 to $600
  • <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 372: Martin Luther King Jr. March for Freedom Now! Placard. Chicago, 1960. 28 x 22”. $3,000 to $6,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 567: Warhol, Andy. Tate Gallery Exhibition Booklet, Signed on the Cover by Warhol. Tate Gallery, 1971. $700 to $900
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 72: Mitchell, Margaret. <i>Gone With the Wind.</i> New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936. First edition, first issue. $4,000 to $5,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 468: Photo Archive Documenting the 1930s—50s Chicago Jazz and Night Club Scene. A significant collection. $2,000 to $4,000
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 143: Dr. Seuss. <i>Oh Say Can You Say.</i> 1979, First Edition, Signed. $200 to $300
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 285: [Maps] Thomas G. Bradford. <i>A Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical & Commercial.</i> Boston: William D. Ticknor, 1835. First Edition. $1,600 to $1,800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 69: Herman Melville. <i>Moby Dick, or The Whale</i>. New York: Random House, 1930. First Kent Trade Edition. $400 to $600
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 295: John James Audoban. Group of 148 Lithographs from the Birds of America. Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, ca. 1840s. $600 to $800
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 54: Langston Hughes. <i>One-Way Ticket.</i> New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949. First edition. $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions: Fine Books & Manuscripts. July 28, 2018</b>
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 7: Ray Bradbury. <i>The Martian Chronicles.</i> With a Wine Label Signed by Bradbury. Garden City: Doubleday, 1950. First edition $300 to $500
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 121. Frank L Baum. <i>The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.</i> Chicago: George M. Hill Co., 1899, 1900. First Edition. $4,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Potter & Potter Auctions, July. 28:</b> Lot 369. [Declaration of Independence] Peter Force Engraving of the Declaration of Independence. One page; 29 x 26”. From the "American Archives" 1837-1853 series of books. $15,000 to $20,000
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions