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.
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.