Four letters written by reclusive American author J.D. Salinger went on the market earlier this week at Westport-based universityarchives.com. Three of the letters were written in Westport, where Salinger lived when he wrote his classic novel The Catcher in the Rye.
All four letters were written to friend and confidante Joyce Miller, a staff writer at The New Yorker. The letters are witty, flirtatious, and often intimate.
Although biographers have been unable to establish a romantic relationship between the two, Kenneth Slawenski, author of the the biography J.D. Salinger: A Life, believes that in the three earlier letters dating from the late 1940s to the early 1950s, Salinger is clearly wooing Miller.
“He's straining to be witty,” said Slawenski. “And usually, especially with a female, if he's straining to be witty, he's trying to impress.”
Slawenski said that at the time of the letters, the young Salinger was between girlfriends, and may have considered Miller a potential paramour.
In one of the letters offered for sale, a three page, handwritten letter penned 19 years after the first three letters, Salinger is melancholy for his past relationship with Miller:
Years ago, I half-started to send you two drawings in ink I did, one of you, and, narcissistically, one of me, as we looked to each other, in turn outside your apartment building in White Plains. How many times I've remembered those particular appearances.
Of particular interest to Slawenski is a typewritten letter to Miller post dated May 30, 1950.
“He's just finishing up The Catcher in the Rye,” Slawenski said. “He's in Westport, he has the whole house to himself, and yet he writes that he is considering, perhaps, going to a hotel room to finish the novel. I knew he had a habit of checking into to a hotel to finish later works, I was surprised he also considered this for The Catcher in the Rye.”
The letters also bring out a little of Holden Caulfield, the the main character in The Catcher in the Rye in Salinger.
Just as Caulfield had little patience for what he considered “phonies,” Salinger, too, complains to Miller about awkward social situations.
In one of the letters, Salinger complains about having to talk about “cars, cigarette brands and TV shows” with "some advertising goon" at a dinner party.
In another, he bemoans having to talk shop with fellow literary types at a Japanese restaurant in Westport, declaring all writers to be “hopeless megalomaniacs.”
According to John Reznikoff, founder and president of University Archives, one of the Salinger letters sold for just under $7,000 by an anonymous foreign buyer just before auction on Tuesday.
Negotiations are underway with potential buyers for two of the letters, and one of the letters is for sale at universityarchives.com.