Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger dies

Reclusive author J.D. Salinger, best known for his classic novel Catcher in the Rye, has died at 91 in New Hampshire.
J.D. Salinger, seen in this photo from 1951, lived a reclusive life in New Hampshire and shunned critical and media interest, giving his last interview in 1980. 'I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it,' he said in that interview. ((File/Associated Press))
American author J.D. Salinger, long acclaimed for his 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye, has died at 91 in New Hampshire.

Salinger, who celebrated his birthday on Jan. 1, died of natural causes at his home, according to a statement from his literary representative, the Harold Ober Agency, which cited the author's son.

The reclusive writer had not published a new work since 1965. But his coming-of-age fiction influenced generations of young men and women, and is now hailed as a classic of postwar American literature.

Jerome David Salinger was born in New York in 1919, and raised in an affluent Manhattan neighbourhood. He began writing short stories in high school and had several stories published before he served with the U.S. army in the Second World War.

Drafted into the infantry, he took part in the invasion of Normandy and was involved in one of the bloodiest episodes of the war, the Battle of Hurtgen Forest in Germany.

Salinger's first and only published novel, The Catcher in the Rye, was an immediate success upon publication in 1951. The story of 16-year-old Holden Caulfield, who runs away from his school to New York to find himself, gave voice to a generation of frustrated youth who longed to escape the strictures of postwar U.S. society.

His only other published books are a volume of short stories titled Nine Stories (1953), and two collections each containing two longer works that had previously been published in the New Yorker magazine and chronicle the lives of the eccentric Glass family: Franny and Zooey (1961) and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963).

The Glass stories follow characters first introduced in Salinger's 1948 short story A Perfect Day for Bananafish, included in Nine Stories, and carry forward his themes of loss of innocence and adolescents' disillusionment with the world they've inherited.

Classic of adolescence

The Catcher in the Rye is often compared to another American classic of adolescence, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

"Like Huck, Holden longs to be out of civilization and back in innocent nature," noted a 1961 article in Time magazine. "Like Huck, speaking the superbly authentic dialect of his age and his place, Holden is a runaway from respectability, the possessor of a fierce sense of justice, the arbiter of his own morality.…

Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was an immediate success upon publication in 1951 and still sells thousands of copies a year. ((Little, Brown and Company))
"For Holden — as presumably for his creator — the ultimate condemnation is summed up in the word 'phoney.' A whole, vague system of ethics centres around that word, and Holden Caulfield is its Kant."

The Catcher in the Rye was reprinted eight times within the first two months of its publication and spent 30 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. It still sells about 250,000 copies a year.

Because of its swearing, sexual themes and alleged antisocial message, The Catcher in the Rye was banned in several countries and by some North American school boards.

Like his characters, Salinger was sensitive, introspective and rejected what he considered phoney. In an age in which all relationships are public, he lived as a recluse. And after the controversy surrounding The Catcher in the Rye, he gradually withdrew from public view.

Known to walk away

He moved from New York to Cornish, N.H., where he lived quietly and in near-seclusion. He was known to walk away if approached by a stranger in town. He shunned the critical and media interest in his work and gave his last interview in 1980.

Salinger guarded his copyright and the integrity of his artistic output as fiercely as he guarded his privacy. He rejected numerous offers to adapt The Catcher in the Rye for the screen. And his lawyers blocked a screening of the film Pari, by Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui and loosely adapted from Franny and Zooey, at the Lincoln Center in 1998.

Secret cache of writing?

In 1999, Salinger's New Hampshire neighbour Jerry Burt said the author had told him years earlier that he had written at least 15 unpublished books kept locked in a safe at his home.

"I love to write, and I assure you, I write regularly," Salinger said in a brief interview with the Baton Rouge Advocate in 1980.

"But, I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it." (Associated Press)

He sued to stop publication of British writer Ian Hamilton's biography In Search of J.D. Salinger. The book was published in 1988, and a court ruled that Hamilton's use of letters Salinger had written to other authors and friends went beyond the limits of fair use. But as a result of the legal action, many details of Salinger's private life became public in the form of court transcripts.

Salinger's love affair with Joyce Maynard in the early 1970s became the subject of her 1999 memoir At Home in the World: A Memoir, describing their relationship at length. That year, Maynard also put letters Salinger had written to her up for auction. They brought her $156,000 US.

In 2000, Salinger's daughter, Margaret Salinger, by his second wife Clare Douglas, published Dream Catcher: A Memoir. The book attempted to dispel many Salinger myths that had developed over the years and discussed the writer's involvement with alternative medicines and Eastern philosophies.

In July 2009, a federal U.S. judge in New York banned publication in the U.S. of a novel by a Swedish writer based on The Catcher in the Rye. Fredrik Colting's 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, written under the pseudonym John David California, continues the story of Holden Caulfield as an elderly man of 75. Salinger maintained the book infringed on his copyright.

Colting's book had previously been published in Britain.

Salinger is survived by his daughter, Margaret, his son, Matthew, and his third wife, Colleen O'Neill.