J.D. Salinger — Yeah, He Lived In Westport Too

J.D. Salinger died today at 91.  Every obituary is sure to mention 2 things:  He wrote Catcher in the Rye, and he was a recluse.

J.D. Salinger circa 1950 -- when he wrote "Catcher in the Rye" in Westport.

Once upon a time, though, he was less secretive about his life.  On the jacket of Franny and Zooey, published in 1961, he said:  “My wife has asked me to add … in a single explosion of candor, that I live in Westport with my dog.”  (It was a rental house; the Schnauzer’s name was Benny.)

Some folks thought that was a feint, though.  Contemporary sources complained that at that point, he hadn’t lived in Westport in years.

And a 1999 Travel + Leisure story said:

In 1953, two years after The Catcher in the Rye was published … Salinger, like Holden (Caulfield), wanted to move to the country, from Westport, Connecticut.  He began looking around New England for property, and found a 90-acre tract of land high on a hill not in Vermont, but across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire.

A timeline on eNotes.com — hey, how else can you understand some of his references and allusions? — puts him here in 1949.  That’s around the time he was writing such classics as “The Laughing Man” and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”

According to James Lomuscio, writing in the New York Times, Salinger “holed up in a house on South Compo Road” in 1950 to write Catcher in the Rye.

Nine Stories — which, though nobody asked, I like a lot more than Catcher — teems with references to Westport and Fairfield County.  (Just check out “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut.”) It’s a wonder anyone moved here after Salinger got through describing some of what went on in those days.

Come to think of it, he didn’t stick around much after that either.

11 responses to “J.D. Salinger — Yeah, He Lived In Westport Too

  1. My grandmother gave me Nine Stories when I was eleven or twelve years old and it was the book that started it all for me. Its the one that made me want to write. A Perfect Day for Bananafish may be one of the most perfect short stories I know of.

  2. did anyone ever consider that if someone chose to be a recluse in life that they might want to remain as such when they are no longer living?

    (of course, maybe he and/or his family and/or friends did hire a pr person to market him posthumously)

    in so many cultures spotlighting someone who does not/did not want to be spotlighted is really, deeply disrespectful.

  3. Howard Zinn died today too. So, two authors of books I’ve read for school this year died on the same day. Weird…

  4. the Washington Post had a very interesting article today on an English Professor at George Mason University and his (brief) professional encounter with Salinger about 20 years ago.


    • THANKS, Nick. And in one more indication of what a recluse Salinger was, every obituary I’ve seen — on the web, in newspapers and on TV — has used the same photo from 1950.

  5. Dan, do you know if the house is still standing?

  6. I don’t even know which house it was!

  7. Wendy Crowther

    I’m about to admit two potentially embarrassing things. One – I read The Catcher in the Rye a million years ago and can’t remember anything about it. Two – I was told a half million years ago that Salinger was gay (or maybe he said bisexual) and that the title, The Catcher in the Rye, was making a coy reference to an, ahem, sexual act. Is my third embarrassment the fact that I believed him? Or, if it was true, does it explain some of Salinger’s reclusiveness? Can anyone save me out there?

    • I think Joyce Maynard — the 18-year-old Yale student Salinger moved in with when he was in his 50s — and his 3 other wives might disagree. His 1st wife apparently was no prize; her name was Sylvia, but according to the Washington Post he referred to her after their divorce as “Saliva.”

      As for not remembering any of “Catcher in the Rye”: Check out The Onion (http://www.theonion.com/content/news/bunch_of_phonies_mourn_j_d) for their typically sardonic take on his life and most famous work.

  8. Wendy Crowther

    Call me gullable. Thanks for setting the record straight.

  9. I think this shows you how much he was loved and respected by his neighbors…seems the whole town conspired to keep his whearabouts a mystery and in return he was a very active citizen…very contrary to the idea that he was some sort of cranky recluse: