J.D. Salinger his Own Escape from Home at Age 15, Like Holden and the Difficulty of Writing Authentically about Sex

TLS - Typed Letter Signed

Salinger, J.D. American author of The Catcher in the Rye.Typed letter signed “Love Jerry.” 1 page. Feb. 29, 3 PM [1972]. To Eileen Paddison, a close friend and aspiring writer who maintained a correspondence with Salinger for over 10 years. In this personal letter, Salinger opens up about why he escaped home at 15, the age of Holden. In the same letter, he describes seeking out training to perform acupuncture on himself and decries the inability of writers to capture sex that “rings true.”

J.D. Salinger rose to international fame as an author for his portrayal of Holden Caulfield, a sensitive and misunderstood adolescent, who rather than returning home after being kicked out of boarding school, instead wanders the streets of New York City on his own personal pilgrimage. While doing so, he reflects on life, his past, and his fear of being tainted by adult “phoniness” personified by his upper middle-class parents. Though Salinger was extremely tight-lipped about validating any comparisons between himself and Holden, in this letter, he expresses the revelation that “I got out of the house as soon as I could, to escape it, at fifteen, but I sometimes wonder if it was soon enough.” It is telling that “escape” as Salinger expresses it here, is not related to the need to protect himself from physical abuse (in which case he wouldn’t “wonder” if it were soon enough, he would know) but in the same amorphous idea of psychological-spiritual integrity that he grappled with through his teenage protagonist, Holden. Holden’s entire image of himself as a “Catcher” was envisioning a rye field by the side of an abyss where he would “catch” and protect little children who veered too close to the edge. The question to himself here is clearly; did I “catch” myself away from the dangerous sphere of influence of my parents in time to protect my own spiritual integrity?

Salinger explains in more detail why, as a teenager, he needed to escape home. As he recalls, his mother “imposed her point of view” on her children to such an extreme that he was not free even in his own thoughts.Years later, he rankles at the memory of her “soft but utterly gross self-assurance.” By contrast, Salinger describes an idealized and uncritical mother very different from his own who would show detachment even as she gave her children affection, a “live-and-let-live” mother, free from dogma.

Also of interest in this rich letter, is Salinger lambasting writers general for their “heavily-conditioned” descriptions of sex. These “gorey details” he finds to betray falsehood. Sex as through the lens of writers appears to him all “Performance, full of peaks and climaxes and gold stars” inevitably awarded “in someone else’s image.” In a tirade worthy of Holden against the “phonies,” Salinger comes down hard on writers, stating emphatically that writers don’t know “anything about sex.” Though over fifty at the time, Salinger continues to relate to young people more than adults as he bitterly complains that the content “available to adults” must be “so heavily conditioned.” As a writer focused on the lives of adolescents, he proffers that the only worthwhile descriptions of sex he ever sees in writing are those describing the “rainy-day” exploratory acts of young people.

Finally, this letter includes a nice description of Salinger’s latest foray into homeopathy, in which he sought out a leading acupuncturist to teach him how to perform the art upon himself, and also searching out whom he considers the only true homeopath in the US, an 86-year-old whom Salinger compares to Lao-Tse. On the author’s usual goldenrod paper with light mailing folds. Original mailing envelope in type bearing the author’s P.O. Box return address in Windsor, VT, and with handwritten annotation “Airmail.” A thrilling letter for the Salinger fan and scholar alike, with previously unknown comparators between Holden Caulfield and a 15-year-old “Jerry” Salinger.

Item #17193

Price: $14,500.00