Previously Unknown J.D. Salinger Letters Discovered

Image-64230-galleryV9-klhr Marc Pitzke in Speigel Online:

Until now, very few people knew about the existence of these letters, which SPIEGEL ONLINE has had the opportunity to read and analyze at length. They offer rare insights into Salinger's isolated world, fill in gaps in his life's story, uncover the private side of the myths surrounding his character — and reveal the astonishing warmth with which he kept up an old wartime friendship, even long after disappearing from public life.

This in itself is a surprise for a man who experts have always seen as a difficult misanthrope. “He was very much a loner,” the British critic Ian Hamilton wrote in his famous monograph “In Search of J.D. Salinger,” quoting a former fellow student of the author. “I don't think he gave himself to others, nor did he consider that others had much of value to offer him.” Hamilton's 1988 work, currently out of print and yet a standard work to this day, helped shape Salinger's image as a misfit. Another contemporary quoted by Hamilton describes Salinger in the following way: “Generally he had no friends or companions.”

The Kleeman letters contradict this impression. In them, Salinger sounds melancholy, almost gentle. He tells his friend about his new puppy, a husky. In 1961, he writes that he was “saddened” by Hemingway's suicide. He complains about his children growing up and describes himself as a “perennial sad sack.” “He was very humble,” Kleeman says about Salinger. “He was emotional and warm.”…

The letters, written with a typewriter and signed “Jerry,” “Yours, Jerry” or “Best always, Jerry,” span a period between 1945 and 1969. In the first letter, written during the war, Salinger simply identifies “Germany” as the return address. The return address on most of the other letters is “Windsor, Vt.,” where the post office for the nearby village of Cornish in New Hampshire, where Salinger lived beginning in 1953, was located.

Declan Kiely, the curator of the Morgan Library, a museum in New York that will exhibit some of Salinger's letters starting this week, has appraised Kleeman's letters and is convinced that they are genuine. He estimates that they are worth at least $60,000. “We would love to have those,” says Kiely. Kleeman, who lives on a veteran's pension, has locked away his treasure into a bank safe for the time being.

Salinger's written legacy is relatively small — and carefully protected. Any letters that have become known until now are kept in the archives of the Library of Congress, as well as a few US universities, including Harvard and Princeton. Salinger's private life was so important to him that he copyrighted the content of his letters, even beyond his death.