Lost works of ‘Catcher in the Rye’ author revealed

‘I live to write’: A rare photo of JD Salinger in his early days of fame © Getty Images

For the last 45 years of his life, JD Salinger hid himself and his writings from public view. Now filmmakers have unearthed details about his mystery works. Was he wrong to keep them secret?

Between 1951 and 1965, the novelist JD Salinger created one of the most idolised characters in the history of literature. Delicate and disaffected Holden Caulfield, teenage hero of The Catcher in the Rye, has been adored as a kindred spirit by angst-ridden outsiders ever since.

Then, suddenly, silence fell. Salinger had not stopped writing: those who knew him reported that he continued to work on new stories nearly every day. But between 1965 and his death three years ago, every word was hidden from public view.

Now, a new documentary has peeled away the layers of secrecy and offered clues to many unsolved questions about this celebrated literary recluse. He did indeed continue to write, the filmmakers claim. And starting in 2015, these writings are set to be published one by one.

For Salinger’s fans, this is tantalising news. One book is said to feature Holden Caulfield himself; another weaves together tales of the Glass family, who feature in some of his most famous short stories. A third, equally intriguing, is based on his experiences as an interrogator in World War Two.

The film’s revelations are dramatic, but also controversial. Salinger’s best loved character famously expressed his unwillingness to go into ‘where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like… and all that David Copperfield kind of crap.’ The author himself was even more guarded about his private life. ‘I just want to be left alone,’ he said in one of his only interviews. ‘Why can’t I live my own life?’

It is a plea with which many famous artists sympathise; but Salinger had particular reasons for his hatred of the limelight. His characters struck such a powerful chord with many readers that strangers would regularly intrude on him convinced that they were his soulmates.

The unique power of Salinger’s writing had a darker side too: at least three serial killers claimed that Holden Caulfield and his contempt of ‘phonies’ had inspired their crimes.

A closed book

Under such circumstances, it is understandable that the tortured writer shunned personal publicity. But many of his fans have far less sympathy with his refusal to publish. JD Salinger was one of the most powerful writers in recent times, they say, and great works transcend their creators. His books belonged to the world: to withhold them was almost a theft.


Salinger disagreed: ‘Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy,’ he said. ‘I like to write. I live to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.’ With the glare of fame upon them, some say, writers worry constantly about their audience’s opinion. Alone, they create works that reflect only their own truest feelings – the only way great literature is made.

You Decide

  1. Do you want to find out what happened to Holden Caulfield in later life? Why or why not?
  2. Should writers pay attention to what their readers think?

Activities

  1. Which fictional figure do you most identify with? Write a brief analysis of their character and explain why you can relate to them.
  2. Write a short story about someone who could be considered an ‘outsider’.

Some People Say...

“The true poet has no choice of material. The material plainly chooses him, not he it. JD Salinger”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’ve never heard of this guy.
You should try reading him.The Catcher in the Rye is a 20th Century classic, and Salinger is also behind some of the greatest short stories ever. Try his collection For Esme, With Love and Squalor.
What about his lost books?
We’re not even sure that they’ll be published, and next to nothing is known about their contents. Some fans are even a little nervous to find out more about Holden Caulfield, fearing that another book could disrupt the perfectly self-contained world ofThe Catcher in the Rye. In any case, the documentary has been extremely well-reviewed so far – so consider watching that if nothing else.

Word Watch

The Catcher in the Rye
A short novel which tells the story of an adolescent’s wanderings immediately after he is expelled from his school. Its frequent swear words and frank discussion of sex (shocking when the book was published in 1951) have made it one of America’s most banned books.
Recluse
From the Latin for ‘shut off’, this word originally described a hermit who rejected company in the name of religious meditation. Today anybody who withdraws from public life can be called a recluse.
World War Two
Salinger had a traumatic war. His first experience of battle was on D-Day (the invasion of Nazi-occupied France), his last came on VJ-Day (when Japan finally surrendered), and he was also involved in the liberation of Dachau. Some critics think that the scars from these experiences are partly responsible for the depressive nature of Salinger’s books.
David Copperfield
The hero of Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name. Like many Victorian novels, David Copperfield is a comprehensive account of the main character’s life. Salinger’s stories, by contrast, tend to span only a very short space of time.

Subjects

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