||Jerome David Salinger was infamously reclusive, and there are few known facts about
his life. He was born on January 1, 1919, to an upper-middle–class family in New
York City. His Jewish father, Sol, worked as an importer of ham. His mother, Miriam
(born Marie Jillich), was of Scotch-Irish descent. His one sister, Doris, was
years his senior. As a child, Salinger attended schools near his home in Manhattan.
In 1932 he was enrolled in the McBurney School, a private institution that he
attended for one year before being dismissed for poor grades. He was then enrolled
in Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania, from which he graduated
1936. He was social and active at Valley Forge, participating in clubs and school
organizations and serving as editor of the school’s yearbook. He began writing
stories during his years at Valley Forge, and expressed interest in one day selling
his work to Hollywood.
||The years immediately following Salinger’s graduation are not well documented. He
attended a summer session at New York University in 1937. He also lived briefly
Vienna and Poland to improve his German language skills and to learn about the
importing business, in preparation to join his father in the trade. In the fall
1938, Salinger enrolled in Ursinis College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, but
quit school mid-year and returned to New York City. In 1939, he attended Whit
Burnett’s short-story writing seminar at Columbia University. Salinger’s first
published story, "The Young Folks," appeared in
Burnett’s magazine, Story, in 1940 when Salinger was
just twenty-one years old.
||In 1942, Salinger was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War II. He participated
in five European campaigns during the war, including the D-Day invasion of Normandy,
before being discharged in 1945. While in Europe, he met and married a French
named Sylvia. They divorced in 1946.
||Salinger continued to write and publish stories during the war and in the two decades
following. On December 22, 1945, the first story to feature his most famous
character, Holden Caulfield, was published in Collier’s. Scenes from the story, called "I’m
Crazy," were later incorporated into Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye. In 1946, Salinger’s story "Slight Rebellion off Madison," another precursor to
Catcher, was published in The New Yorker, beginning a long relationship between the author and
the magazine. Between 1946 and 1965, thirteen of Salinger’s stories were published
in The New Yorker.
||Salinger’s early dream to have his work translated to film was realized in 1950 when
the Samuel Goldwyn studios released the motion picture My
Foolish Heart, based on Salinger’s story "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut." Despite Salinger’s interest in Hollywood,
he was disappointed by the studio’s treatment of the story and refused to sell
screen or television rights for any of his other works.
||Salinger’s most celebrated work, his novel The Catcher in the
Rye, was published in 1951 and quickly gained wide popular and critical
interest. The novel, which explores Holden Caulfield’s difficulty coming to terms
with the “phoniness” of the adult world, has been cherished by generations of
adolescents and celebrated critically as one of the great postwar coming-of-age
stories. The attention Salinger received from journalists and fans following the
novel’s success, however, soon became unwanted and overwhelming to the author,
prompting him to move from Westport, Connecticut, to a secluded home off a dirt
in the quiet town of Cornish, New Hampshire.
||Salinger followed Catcher with Nine Stories in 1953, collecting in one volume the early short stories
he wished to preserve. From 1955 forward, the remainder of Salinger’s published
works related to the fictional Glass family, whose central figure, Seymour, was
first introduced in 1948 in "A Perfect Day for
Bananafish," which later became the opening of Nine Stories. The final stories of the Glass saga were published first
in The New Yorker--"Franny" and "Raise High the Roof Beam,
Carpenters" in 1955, "Zooey" in 1957, and
"Seymour: An Introduction" in 1959. These
stories were later published in pairs in two books: Franny
and Zooey in 1961 and Raise High the Roof Beam,
Carpenters; and Seymour: An Introduction in 1963. The final segment of
the Glass story and the last of Salinger’s published works, "Hapworth 16, 1924," appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965.
||Few other details are known about Salinger’s life. In 1955, he married Claire
Douglas, a London-born, Radcliffe graduate who had settled in Cornish. They had
daughter, Margaret Ann, in 1955, and a son, Matthew, in 1960 before they divorced
1967. Although Salinger reportedly continued to write, he published no new material.
Salinger died on January 27, 2010.