In letters, J.D. Salinger bemoans trappings of fame

Sat Jan 18, 2014 8:11am EST
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By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - In a letter to his college friend, a young J.D. Salinger writes about yearning for fame. In ensuing correspondence to the same woman and her son over the next four decades, the American author describes how much he loathes his status as a celebrity.

In the letters from Salinger to Ruth Smith Maier, a woman he met while attending Ursinus College in Pennsylvania in 1938, the two share stories about parenthood, working as a writer and general banter about popular culture.

The letters, which experts say humanize the notoriously reclusive author as he experiences a range of life-changing events, were acquired by the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library at the University of Texas, and made available to researchers this week.

In the earliest correspondence from January 1941, a confident 22-year-old Jerry Salinger writes to Ruthie that he intends to leave his mark as an author.

"Oh, but I'm good," he says in the single-spaced, typewritten letter. "It will take time to convince the public, but (it) shall be done."

He reminisces about his time and the people at Ursinus, giving a hint of themes that would be a part of his later work.

"For every hundred phonies, there is one goodie, and that is a better ratio than I find here in savage hometown New York," he says.

The next letter is dated 17 years later in 1958. During the intervening years, Salinger has been published in the New Yorker magazine, served as a soldier in some of the most brutal World War Two fighting in Europe, released his most famous novel "The Catcher in the Rye" and the book "Nine Stories".   Continued...