Friday, 28 January 2011

Salinger Letters

Donald Hartog and J.D. Salinger, right, pose together in London in 1989, when they met for the first time since 1938

J.D. Salinger letters show "warm," "affectionate" side

27 Jan 2011
Mike Collett-White

Previously unseen letters from "The Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger show the kind of "warmth" and "affection" not often associated with someone who is seen as an eccentric recluse, a university said on Thursday.

Salinger wrote the letters to Donald Hartog from London, between October 1986 and January 2002, and Hartog's daughter Frances and his other children have donated them to Britain's University of East Anglia (UEA) Archives.

The men met in 1937 when they were both 18 years-old and sent by their fathers to study German in Vienna. They stayed in touch after their return home in 1938 and continued to write to each other until the 1950s, although these early letters no longer survive.

After several decades with no contact, Hartog wrote to Salinger in 1986 when he learned of the possible publication of an unauthorized biography of the writer. Salinger replied and their correspondence resumed.

The UEA said it was unable to provide excerpts from the letters, because the copyright remains with Salinger's estate.

The author, who died a year ago, aged 91, was fiercely protective of his body of work, and in 2009 sued the writer and publisher of a book billed as a sequel to "The Catcher in the Rye," saying it infringed on his copyright.

Salinger's 1951 novel, a story of alienation and rebellion featuring teenage hero Holden Caulfield, is considered a classic of American literature.


Salinger addressed Hartog as Don and signed the letters as Jerry, and talked about everyday topics like politics, the weather, family and tennis, including who should win Wimbledon.

According to the UEA, he also referred to their increasing ages and associated health issues, and Salinger remembered fondly the time he spent with Hartog in Vienna before it was annexed by Nazi Germany.

Frances Hartog, who once met Salinger, said that despite the mundane subject matter, the letters were "very moving.

"There is tremendous warmth and affection towards my father and this is so different to the man Salinger is often portrayed as. The letters have been sitting in a drawer, but hopefully by being in the archive they will show people another side to him.

"I think there was this extra bond between my father and Salinger because they met before the war.

"This isn't the fighting Salinger of the 1960s, though he talks quite aggressively about publishing and publicity.

"He wanted to be published, but what he appears not to have liked was that it wasn't just about what you published, it was about you."

In 1989 Salinger travelled to London to attend Hartog's 70th birthday dinner, and it was then that Frances met him.

"I didn't really want to meet him because I liked his writing and was worried he might live up to his reputation and be rather unpleasant, but he ... was utterly charming."

In the manuscripts, Salinger was honest about his dislike of publishers but said he continued to work on his writing, and in 1997 was considering publishing a short story, "Hapworth 16, 1924," which appeared in The New Yorker in 1965, as a book.

The correspondence from Salinger stopped in 2002, but his wife continued writing to Hartog until his death in 2007.

(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)

JD Salinger's letters reveal admiration for Tim Henman
Catcher in the Rye author was fan of tennis, tenors and Burger King

Adam Gabbatt and agencies
The Guardian, Thursday 27 January 2011 Article history

JD Salinger was regarded as a recluse for much of the last 50 years of his life but previously unseen letters written by the author to a friend in Britain show that while he may have shunned the limelight, he enjoyed a simpler life of gardening, eating hamburgers and following the tennis career of Tim Henman.

50 letters and four postcards, written by Salinger to Donald Hartog a Londoner whom he met in 1938, reveal that at a time when the Catcher in the Rye author was widely believed to be a near-hermit he was actually enjoying group bus trips to Niagara Falls and regularly indulging a passion for the theatre.

The letters were donated to the University of East Anglia by Hartog's daughter, Frances, after her father died in 2007, and the university has made them publicly available on the first anniversary of Salinger's death.

"Salinger had this reputation as a recluse, that he kept himself to himself," said Chris Bigsby, professor of American studies. "This is another Salinger, this is an ordinary Salinger, not the reclusive, angry person people thought he was."

The letters reveal the author enjoyed listening to the Three Tenors – Jose Carreras was his favourite – and particularly liked watching tennis, with Salinger disclosing a particular fondness for "Tiger" Tim Henman.

Salinger also told Hartog that he thought Burger King hamburgers were better than those from other chains, while he described trips to the Niagra Falls and the Grand Canyon.

The letters are not the only surviving correspondence by Salinger, but they cover a period late in his life when he was at his most elusive.

Hartog and Salinger met as teenagers in Vienna, sent there by their families to learn German.

They kept up their correspondence through the second world war. Salinger travelled to Britain in 1989 for Hartog's 70th birthday.

Salinger: a burger-lover in the ryeAs JD Salinger would have recognised, his letters show that Great Writers are not great all the time

Kathryn Hughes
Thursday 27 January 2011 23.00

If you wanted to dream up a scenario to tickle a biographer's fancy, you couldn't do better than this week's announcement that a bundle of letters from JD Salinger has been deposited at the University of East Anglia. The American novelist, who died last year at the age of 91, was regularly described as "reclusive". This didn't mean that he lived in a log cabin, shot squirrels for lunch and shouted at anyone who came too close. "Reclusive" here means that he avoided literary parties, didn't give interviews and never popped up on television or in lecture halls rattling on about himself. Salinger was, then, what writers were once supposed to be: self-effacing, a bit mysterious, insistent that it was his work rather than his personality that mattered.

All of which explains why this batch of 50 letters, written to a British correspondent called Donald Hartog over a period of 20 years, is so tantalising. Salinger and Hartog had met before the war in Vienna. Some time in the 1950s they lost contact, as young men do, until 1986 when Hartog wrote to Salinger out of the blue, triggering a renewed correspondence that lasted until 2002.

There's one final piquant detail that rounds out what might be described as this biographical primal scene: these precious relics were left in a drawer until Hartog's children decided something Ought To Be Done with them. It's that "snatched from oblivion" tag that really gets professional literary snoops going.

So given the buildup it would be nice to report that concealed within these 50 typed letters and four hand-written postcards are the hidden wellsprings of Salinger's artistic genius, which included the 1951 classic The Catcher in the Rye. But in fact, what emerges from this little archive is the bathetic realisation that Great Writers are not really all that Great most of the time. Salinger's letters to "Don", signed "Jerry", are full of the kinds of things that you, I or anyone might write to an old friend: the vegetable garden, who's going to win Wimbledon, and which high street chain does the best hamburgers. Capping it all is the revelation that during a 1989 visit to Britain "Jerry" was especially keen to visit Whipsnade Zoo. Whether it was the prospect of seeing the penguins or sampling a Cornetto that got him in such a delicious tizz remains unclear.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that JD Salinger was a disappointingly dull or silly man. Far from it. The fault, if it can be called that, lies in our pervasive cultural myth that letters are somehow a "deep" form of communication, bulletins from the most profound reaches of the soul. It's a myth that started, appropriately enough, in the Romantic age at the end of the 18th century and has lasted through to the age of email.

What is so peculiar is that we simultaneously know perfectly well from our own experience that, far from representing the last word on what we are feeling and thinking, letters are a kind of first draft report of wherever we happen to find ourselves in the moment. Moreover, each letter is a kind of performance, designed to achieve a particular effect. In our letters to the gas board we are terse; to a lover sweet; and to a child kind. And when it comes to writing to an old friend with whom we have nothing in common save a few months half a century ago, we either hark back to shared happiness (Jerry was fond of remembering an ice rink in Vienna where he and Don had slipped and skidded as young men) or search for subjects that will bind us together in the present: tennis, veg, the physical taxes of old age.

It is quite possible – the evidence is not yet gathered in, nor will it ever be entirely – that at the same as he was writing to Don about domestic trivia Jerry was also writing completely different kinds of letters to other correspondents. Salinger was famously fierce in his opinions on matters including his privacy, religion, the general rottenness of the literary establishment, cinema and, indeed, the fact that letters belonged in perpetuity to the person who wrote them no matter where they physically came to rest.

On this last point Salinger famously went to court in 1986 to block the writer Ian Hamilton from quoting from his letters in Hamilton's proposed biography, JD Salinger: A Writing Life. Salinger knew, in a way that the rest of us have not yet quite absorbed, that far from being the full picture of someone's personality, letters provide an angled glance, as distorting as those funhouse mirrors that you used to find at the end of piers.

In the circumstances, then, we should not be surprised or disappointed by the quotidian ordinariness of the JD Salinger letters deposited at UEA. Nor should we assume that this cheery companionable "Jerry" must now replace the grouchy, reclusive "Salinger" in our cultural imagination. The point is – and Salinger would surely have been the first to recognise this – that a person's letters can only ever tell a fraction of a story.


  1. Wonderful post on J.D. Salinger's letters. He truly was a prolific writer.

  2. Hi Paul Kelly
    This is really very good post. Thanks for sharing!