Category Archives: Salinger’s Legal Issues

On Burning, Saving, and Stealing Letters

MLA Citation:

Jolly, Margaretta. “On Burning, Saving and Stealing Letters.”  New Formations.  London: Summer 2009., Iss. 67;  pg. 25, 11 pgs

First Paragraph:

forthcoming

Summary:

While dedicated primarily to feminist autobiography, Jolly’s article does not deal at length with Salinger’s letters, but does mention them in elucidating her larger points about the negotiation involved in the author/subject relationship.  In the section entitled, “Stealing Letters: The Ethics of Epistolary Research” Jolly writes,

“The key negotiation takes place over how and whether the private should be publicized, in which the balance of power becomes a central question. But there are special ethical challenges involved for letters, for here there is also the relationship between the correspondents (or their inheritors) themselves to be negotiated.”

And that, “biographers like Ian Hamilton and Diane Middlebrook, who tracked down unpublished letters of J.D.  Salinger and Ted Hughes in university libraries, find themselves up against the financial and psychological demands of immensely influential literary estates.”

She goes on to suggest,

“[r]ecent theory on the ethics of life writing pushes us to rethink privacy as the effect of relationships.  The question is not so much the protection of an absolute form of privacy but of understanding and respecting the kind of contract or sociability each form of address presupposes. But how do we apply this to the publication of letters, which themselves owe their existence to relationship?”

Thus, Jolly’s article contains on the barest mention of the Ian Hamilton/J. D. Salinger contreversy but does a good job in what it seeks to do, which is to discuss the status of literary letter writing and its appropriation, specifically within a feminist framework.

J.D. Salinger’s Lawsuits and Censorship

Written by Leslie Gleue, December 2009.

In 1974, in his last public comments, Salinger told The New York Times that there was, “marvelous peace in not publishing.” He added: “I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure . . . I’m known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I’m doing is trying to protect myself and my view.”

Lawsuit to Block Ian Hamilton’s Biography

In 1986 when Ian Hamilton was attempting to publish In Search of J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life, Salinger sued to prohibit the use of his letters in the biography.  A New York Times article written by Arnold Lubasch on January 30, 1987 included the following information about the suit in which Salinger prevailed:

The biography of J. D. Salinger was blocked yesterday by a Federal appeals court in Manhattan that said the book unfairly used Mr. Salinger’s unpublished letters. Reversing a lower court decision, the appeals court ruled in favor of Mr. Salinger, who filed suit to prohibit the biography from using all material from the letters, which he wrote many years ago.

In its 24-page decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the case focused on ”whether the biographer of a renowned author has made ‘fair use’ of his subject’s unpublished letters. Mr. Salinger wrote the letters to his friend and editor, Whit Burnett, and to several other people, including Ernest Hemingway.  “The biography,” the appeals court said, ”copies virtually all of the most interesting passages of the letters, including several highly expressive insights about writing and literary criticism.”

In a footnote, the appeal court’s decision cited a letter in which Mr. Salinger complained about an editor who praised one of his stories while rejecting it. ”Like saying,” he wrote, ”she’s a beautiful girl, except for her face.” Another letter criticized Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Presidential candidate, saying, ”He looks to me like a guy who makes his wife keep a scrapbook for him.”  The decision included another footnote referring to a 1943 letter in which ”Salinger, distressed that Oona O’Neill, whom he had dated, had married Charlie Chaplin, expressed his disapproval of the marriage in this satirical invention of his imagination: ”I can see them at home evenings. Chaplin squatting grey and nude, atop his chiffonier, swinging his thyroid around his head by his bamboo cane, like a dead rat. Oona in an aquamarine gown, applauding madly from the bathroom.” ”I’m facetious,” the letter added, ”but I’m sorry. Sorry for anyone with a profile as young and lovely as Oona’s.’

Mr. Hamilton, who wrote the biography despite Mr. Salinger’s refusal to cooperate with him, made use of the unpublished Salinger letters, which were written between 1939 and 1961. The recipients or their representatives donated the letters to university libraries, where they were discovered by Mr. Hamilton.

When Mr. Salinger learned that the letters were being used in the biography, he registered them for copyright protection and objected to the biography’s publication unless all of the material from the letters was deleted.  In response to Mr. Salinger’s objection, the appeals court observed, Mr. Hamilton and Random House revised the original galleys of the biography by paraphrasing much of the material that had previously been quoted from the letters.  The appeals court continued, however, that Mr. Salinger identified 59 instances where the revised biography contained ”passages that either quote from or closely paraphrase portions of the unpublished letters.”

Mr. Salinger then sued the biographer and publisher, charging that the use of his letters involved copyright infringement and unfair competition.  Judge Leval of the lower court rejected Mr. Salinger’s request for an injunction in the suit, ruling that the biography had made only minimal use of material that was entitled to copyright protection. But he temporarily held up publication to permit an appeal.  In the subsequent decision by the appeals court, Judge Newman noted that ”the author of letters is entitled to a copyright in the letters, as with any other work of literary authorship.”  The book was finally published in 1988 by Random House with the letters’ contents paraphrased. Continue reading

Terrific Liars: An Analysis of Fredrik Colting’s 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye as it Relates to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye

60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye

Photo from ABE Books website

Written by Elizabeth Downing Johnson – December 2009

J.D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher In The Rye has attracted a lot of attention in its 58 years of literary life.  Published in 1951, the novel received mixed critical reviews, garnering praise from The New Yorker, The Book-of-the-Month Club, Atlantic, Time, and Saturday Review (to name a few), but receiving criticism from publications like The New Republic, The Nation, New York Herald Tribune, Catholic World, and The Christian Science Monitor.  A decade later, schools and libraries would ban The Catcher in the Rye, stating that the language was inappropriate and that the themes were blasphemous and immoral.  Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon, testified that he was sure that “the large part of me is Holden Caulfield,” (Jones, 1), and John Hinckley Jr,’s attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life, as well as Robert John Bardo’s murder of a young television star, are also associated with the novel.

Obviously, not all press is good press, and despite Salinger’s notorious reclusive behavior, readers of The Catcher in the Rye can be sure that Salinger’s intention was not to encourage psychotic behavior.  Along with this assumption, one could also assume that Salinger’s intention was not to spawn a published “Unauthorized Fictional Examination of the Relationship Between J.D. Salinger and his Most Famous Character,” which is the claim printed on the back cover of a book titled 60 Years Later:  Coming Through the Rye.  This book, written by one Fredrik Colting (pen name J.D. California) was the topic of many news stories in the summer of 2009.  In fact, Salinger’s legal representation put a stop to the book’s American publication, stating that the book was a “rip off, pure and simple”  (Staff, Concord Monitor).  Since the book is still (as of December, 2009) unpublishable in the United States, so far no examination has been made to discern whether the book actually “works” as a sequel or as a “fictional examination” of Salinger and his relationship with Holden Caulfield.  In order to do this, one would have to read 60 Years Later and compare it to the themes and style of The Catcher in the Rye.  Luckily, (or unluckily), I have done so, and will attempt herein to give an objective analysis of the book and its relationship to Salinger’s masterpiece.  Despite any attempt at objectivity, the textual and thematic analysis will prove that Colting’s attempt falls short of its goal.

In any comparative analysis, the best place to start is the text itself.  Themes are debatable, but the text itself does not lie.  This will be the first step in our journey, only after an introduction to 60 Years Later:  Coming Through The Rye for those who have not had the chance (or the inclination) to buy it from another country.  The plot of the novel follows an elderly Mr. C., who wakes up in a nursing home thinking that he is still the young Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.  He is confused and thinks that his brother D.B. has been there the week before (while we find out later in the novel that D.B. died some time ago from a drug overdose), and he is shocked when he looks in the mirror and sees an old man looking back at him.  The narrative is interrupted intermittently by italicized text that is supposed to be Salinger himself pondering over the fact that Holden seems to have had a whole life in the years since Salinger wrote his original story.  The second chapter consists of only two sentences, “I’m bringing him back.  After all these years I’ve finally decided to bring him back” (Colting, 9).  The first four chapters are a slightly hallucinogenic account of Mr. C.’s description of his surroundings and his realization that he is now an old man.  The end of the forth chapter ends with another section of what is supposed to be Salinger’s internal narrative, wherein he decides that

The most important rule, the one you cannot break or go around, is that everyone here needs to have a past.  It’s really true everywhere but especially so here.  If you don’t have a past you don’t exist.  So I have to give him something to hold on to;  I need to give him a life.  Right now he’s confused, the poor boy.  Who wouldn’t be?  But it will pass.  This very moment he is nothing but empty space.  He is like a piece of paper upon which you have once started a story,and then locked in a box and buried deep in the ground.  Now, 60 years later, you dig that same box up and continue the story from where the last sentence ended  (Colting, 36).

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