Now On Sale: JD Salinger’s “Catcher In The Rye” Westport Connection

Everyone knows F. Scott Fitzgerald spent the summer of 1920 in Westport.

Much less known is that another author — equally important — came here 30 years later.

And finished one of the most famous books in American literature right here in town.

JD Salinger

The man was J.D. Salinger. The book was Catcher in the Rye.

Now a small piece of that big event is up for sale.

Amazingly alert “06880” reader Seth Schachter spotted a letter and envelope for sale on eBay.

Neatly typed by Salinger in his rented home — postmarked May 30, 1950, “Conn.,” with the return address “Box 365, Westport, CT” — it’s sent to Joyce Miller, a staffer on the New Yorker.

It’s described this way on eBay:

A phenomenal letter in which Salinger alludes repeatedly to the piece he is working on and his deadline. Little did he know at the time he was completing what was to become his landmark title, “Catcher In The Rye”, which he finished in 1950 while living in Westport and was published in mid-1951. From referencing his typewriter ribbon, to his self-inflicted deadlines he elates in a Holden Caulfieldesque persona: “Sharing my brand-new silk typewriter ribbon with you. The Supreme sacrifice. Some men covet Cadillacs, home in the country, etc. With me, its typewriter ribbons” “Another forty hours and I’ll probably be done. I doubt if I have the whole things ready by Saturday, though. There’s no special hurry, actually, but I’m forever imposing mysterious little deadlines on myself” “My mind’s hopelessly single tracked, and I’m quite a little bore when I’m working on a script” “… I can finish typing up the book at my parents’ apartment gracefully enough” JD continues to write a jubilant, playful and suggestive letter to Joyce Miller who was on the staff of “The New Yorker” in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when J. D. Salinger was publishing stories in the magazine and working on his novel, “The Catcher in the Rye”.

In the spring of 1950, when Salinger was living in Westport, Connecticut, and Miller in White Plains, the two developed a close relationship whose clarity is not completely understood. These were complex years for Salinger, post the trauma of World War II, in the throes of writing his infamous novel “Catcher In The Rye”, while serial dating extremely young women. Salinger’s MO would often find him platonically romancing woman for years but upon the introduction of physical intimacy, would become disinterested and end the relationship. It was during this period, circa 1949, that at least one of this known relationships later came to light, that of Jean Miller, age 14 in 1949 whom he had a 5 year platonic relationship up until the very end which resulted both in intimacy and the end of the relationship. We know through a recent series of letters that this may have been the case with yet another, including that of Joyce Miller.

His letter to Miller dated within a year of the publication of “Catcher In The Rye”: “I finished your book before I went to bed last night. I’ve been training Benny to tear people apart ever since. I keep giving him a secret word, but it doesn’t sink in. The word’s “forsythia”, if you are interested … Don’t forget our 11:30 lunch date at the Biltmore Thursday. I’ll be sitting in the lobby. I’ll flirt with you, over my fan” Whether it was Jean Miller in 1949, Joyce Miller in the 1940s and early 50s or later in Salinger’s life, Maynard in 1972, it is believed that Salinger “was having these women replicate a pre-war innocence for him, and used very young girls as time travel machines back to before various wounds. So there’s something immensely heartbreaking about this rather problematic pursuit.” That pursuit, admitted Miller, “raises havoc in the muse’s life … That short story ‘The Girl With No Waist at All’ really represents [Salinger’s interest in] the moment before a girl becomes a woman.”

The mystery of where J. D. Salinger lived in Westport while he put his finishing touches on “The Catcher in the Rye” in 1949 is now closer to being solved, thanks to the release of the first new biography of the celebrated writer in a decade. We now know that Salinger rented a home on Old Road, off the Post Road. “Westport, CT is the birthplace of The Catcher in the Rye”. And the paper and ink, but more important the sentiment, return to Westport until it finds a new home. An incredibly important letter from 1950 pulling together a confluence of relevant points. On this one single page, written just months before “Catcher In The Rye” was published, Salinger’s TLS pulls together life themes from the birthplace of his famed novel. Those of his pursuit of innocence, complexities of his relationships with the opposite sex, while in the background woven through the body of the letter (which interestingly mirrors the writing style of “Catcher”), Salinger demonstrates the dry humor and sense of distaste and boredom of the norm as his protagonist “Holden Caulfield”.

Salinger writes: “Dinner with the Devries last night, over at some Japanese restaurant near the beach. A very nice dinner, but too much shop talk afterwards. Writers, writers, writers. If only we could do our work and then shut up when we’re finished. We talk so goddam much, and we’re such hopeless megalomaniacs. The wives aren’t much help. In fact, they’re worse than the writers. More dogmatic in their opinions. We should all just stay away from each other.” While reading the TLS, one cannot be sure whether “Catcher’s” protagonist Holden Caulfield, or J.D. Salinger himself, wrote this letter.

Bidding begins at $3,500. To join the action — or just see the listing — click here.

16 responses to “Now On Sale: JD Salinger’s “Catcher In The Rye” Westport Connection

  1. Midge Deverin

    Fascinating! Dan, do you know where he lived in Westport?

  2. Hi Midge…it said on Old Road…

  3. There were other famous authors who wrote books while living in Westport. Jack Warner Schaefer, reportedly wrote “Shane” while living in a house my husband and I owned on Sturges Highway (long before we owned the house). This was told to me by the people from whom we bought the house. And Peter DeVries, who wrote many humorous books, was a long-time resident of a house on Cross Highway. I’m sure there were others — the Famous Writers School was based in Westport.

  4. I have a very different opinion with respect to the statement: “was having these women replicate a pre-war innocence for him, and used very young girls as time travel machines back to before various wounds. So there’s something immensely heartbreaking about this rather problematic pursuit.”

    Having read the poignant memoir written by Joyce Maynard, who was a college classmate and who I got to know many years after she dropped out at the end of freshman year–to go live with Salinger, who was 53 at the time–there was nothing heartbreaking in the least (with respect to Salinger) in the way he preyed upon and ultimately treated Joyce. His conduct was exploitative and shameful, period.

    • Good that Fred spoke up. It’s surprising how many people otherwise appaled by such Woody Allen kind of behaviors excuse it/see it differently so long as it’s a celeb or any kind of VIP who is the predator-assaulter-harasser. Even more so if the predator/assaulter/harasser is from their home town, alma mata, church/synagogue/mosque. Susan Farley

  5. Rondi Charleston

    Dan – this is absolutely fascinating. I had no idea Salinger rented in Westport – much less finished Catcher here. I’m going to try and get Steve to bid on the letter!!!

    Happy Summer!! Rondi


  6. Mark Bachmann (@BachmannMark)

    Dan, Westport is full of fascinating history of which even long-time residents like myself are only dimly aware. And as with all history, every day that passes lets more of it recede to where everybody loses touch with it, at which point it’s gone forever. Your blog is valuable to us locals for a lot of reasons and not the least of them is giving stories like this one renewed life.

  7. Hi Fred – I also read the book by Joyce Maynard and I totally agree with you on Salinger. I remember that when I finished this book I felt slightly sickened.

  8. Hanne Jeppesen

    Without commenting on the author and his behavior, Catcher in Rye, was one of the few books I brought with me (in Danish) when I came to Westport as an au pair in early 1967, it also became the first book I read in English. Still one of my favorite books. Was very disappointed when my daughter had to read it in high school and did not like it that much, and liked the “The Great Gatsby” even less, another book with a Westport connection, I believe.

    • Mark Bachmann (@BachmannMark)

      I’m not sure Catcher has aged all that well. I tried to re-read it myself a few years ago and had trouble getting back into it, although maybe I’m the one not aging well!

  9. Kevin McCaul

    There was a Japanese restaurant near the beach?

  10. pity…brilliant men often wonky in bed….

  11. Jeff Mitchell

    It doesn’t seem too hard to me to solve the mystery of where JD Salinger lived while in Westport if we put our minds to it. Per a prior story by Dan, here is a clue from “Oatmeal” in the comments section about a girl from Westport he dated while a 17 year old Staples student: “When she was a little girl she used to play in her back yard. Next door was a man who sometimes sat at his picnic table and typed… I have been telling people I dated Holden Caulfield’s little sister in high school.” This puts Oatmeal and his date in Staples in the late 50s/early 60s.

    There is also the recollection of Westporter E Michael Mitchell (no relation), summarized on Wikipedia as follows: “Salinger often visited the Mitchells’ home, sometimes staying in their guest house to write, and often reading portions of the manuscript to Mitchell and his wife Esther.” Mitchell lived on Teregram Place.