J.D. Salinger Writes An intensely personal letter on Love
TLS - Typed Letter SignedSalinger, J.D. American author of The Catcher in the Rye. Typed letter signed “Jerry”. 2 pages. January 21, 1975. To Eileen Paddison, a close friend and aspiring writer who maintained a correspondence with Salinger for over 15 years. A fascinating and personal letter to the woman whom Salinger considered to be his true “sister” in a spiritual sense; the sort of ideal sibling relationship Salinger lacked in his own family, but wrote about in the characters of Holden and Phoebe, and again as Franny and Zooey.
An intensely personal letter from Salinger to Eileen Paddison, whom Salinger has referred to in multiple letters throughout their long correspondence as his “sister” or relation in an otherworldly sense. The notion of an idealized brother-sister relationship, marked by deep and intuitive understanding in an otherwise alienated world is one of the most important themes in Salinger’s writing. Biographers have long hypothesized as to how Salinger became so adept at fictionalizing sibling relationships, when he had nothing to base it on other than his tepid relationship with his only sister, Dolores, with whom he had little in common. Eileen appears to be the sister Salinger was waiting for, the Phoebe to his Holden and the Franny to his Zooey. He writes of their deepening connection, noting that in her last letter, “You might have been sending out unedited thoughts to a brother or a sister, or some kind of close blood relative anyway, and I found myself reading on as if that were a fact.”
In a very unusual stylistic move, Salinger has written this letter as a dialogue; both quoting Eileen’s last letter to him and offering his responses below. The result is a missive reading more like a fictional conversation between Salinger characters in one of his stories. The main topic is Eileen’s love life: in responding to Eileen’s explanation of her relationship with her husband, Salinger offers, “I think ‘just quietly and in accord’ is well ahead of the game. The ‘loudly and passionately’ business seems to me usually based on novelty and illusion anyway, and more often than not runs a short and peculiarly forgettable course.” In response to Eileen’s declaration that she and her husband are not the bickering types, Salinger writes, “I prefer to steer clear of types who pride themselves on loving a Good Scrap. Boors, bellicose baboons. If love between two people isn’t on the whole a peaceful haven, clear and free of violence, hustling, noise, competition, I think it’s a burden, an embarrassment.” To Eileen’s confession that she is sometimes cruel to her husband, Salinger cautions her, “There are certain quiet and peculiarly unarmed people, though, who suffer so seriously and lastingly under any concentrated bits of cruelty or cutting from people they love. Danny would be one of those, I gather. Better let old, conditioned small touches of cruelty be cut out of your married life absolutely. A simple but devout act of will court do it, I think.” Salinger’s advice, and his attitudes to interpersonal situations, sound remarkably like those of his major characters.
Reading the Salinger-Eileen exchange, one is drawn to wonder whether, when (and if) Salinger’s unpublished body of work, comes to light, it will include some of the very scenarios discussed in this letter. This was Salinger’s long, silent period, during which he reportedly continued to write, yet the products of which have never been published. Even in this letter, he hints at a growing body of work under wraps, “I’m working rather longish hours, and I like that.” Whether or not he realized it, Salinger’s very commentary reveals he is considering the stories of Eileen’s love life not only as a friend, but as a writer, selecting his favorite parts mainly as they relate to universal themes. “Pretty funny, Eileen, and oh, how par for that primordial course!” He praises her on “that whole little sequence” including her disarming description of sex difficulties, telling her it is “All tremendously real and funny and appealing, and God knows who hasn’t been there once or twice, if not more often.” On the author’s usual goldenrod paper. This long letter overflows onto a full second page, whereupon he affixes the signature generally reserved only for friends, “Jerry”. Original mailing envelope bearing his PO Box address in Windsor, Vermont, the usual mailing address he preferred while writing from his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. A rich and unusual letter, blending the writer’s craft with his personal views and correspondence. In very good condition.
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