J.D. Salinger by Warren French

MLA Citation:

French, Warren. JDSalinger. New York: Twayne, 1963.

First Paragraph:

When the original edition of this book about J. D. Salinger appeared in 1963, I think no one could have foretold that that year marked the climax of the productivity of what George Steiner has called the “Salinger Industry.”  I raced to complete my study before scholarly competitors published theirs, for i had read announcements that at least a dozen other studies were being prepared. None of these has appeared within the twelve years that has passed, and this book remains the only study of much more than fifty pages that examines from a single viewpoint Salinger’s major work. However, five sizable collections of essays and an issue of Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature devoted to Salinger, did appear during 1962 and 1963.

from the Preface (non-paginated)

The Author:

Warren French is a very well-known Salinger scholar.  He professes to respect Salinger’s privacy, yet he moved to Salinger’s chosen town of seclusion, Cornish, New Hampshire, and had published a lot of Salinger criticism.  French has also done study on Joyce, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, and Wright.


The work we’re covering here is the second edition.  French explains in the preface that he felt a lot of pressure to finish the first edition, and he wanted the chance to make it right.

French makes a distinction between the first edition and the second – the first edition was created for “parents and teachers” in an attempt to explain the 1960’s youth’s preoccupation with Salinger from a literary perspective.  He says that the second edition is not intended for the same audience, even though the text changed very little.  The attitude towards Salinger had changed, so therefore did the intended audience of the book.

Essays Within The Book

“That David Copperfield Kind of Crap”

first paragraph

“Jerome David Salinger has been even less willing than his creation Holden Caulfield to share with an avidly curious public ‘that David Copperfield kind of crap’ about ‘his lousy childhood..and all that.’  Despite what might be termed Salinger’s ‘reverse exhibitionism,’ enough is known about his literary career and enough more has leaked out about his personal life to enable us to see that his story is the not unusual one of the lad who courted fame until, upon having the rare luck of winning her hand, he discovered that she brought with her a retinue of nuisances.”

Phony and Nice Worlds

first paragraph

“Just as one inspecting real estate must seek some promontory from which to get the lay of the land, the critic, trying to see an author’s work in perspective, seeks some central document that provides a focal point from which the others may be viewed.  Furthermore, since the work of any considerable writer is likely to exhibit a subtly varied surface that conceals a complex subsurface structure rather than to be marked by a single conspicuous feature, more than one of his works my prove a useful starting point for organizing observations.  So far comprehensive surveys of Salinger’s work have begun with (sic) analyses of two distinguished short stories; I propose to utilize a third.”

ed note:  French states that “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esme – With Love and Squalor” are the two stories most discussed critically, and that for a discussion about phoniness, Wasteland themes, etc, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” should be discussed as well.

The Old Story

first paragraph

“For seventeen years, through depression and war, Whit and Hallie Burnett provided through their magazine Story an outlet for works too unconventional for the slick magazines.  Although most of the young writers they discovered have lapsed into obscurity, Story carried the first published short stories of such later celebrated writers as Norman Mailer, William Saroyan, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and – perhaps the most important of all – J.D. Salinger.  Although Salinger began to break into the much more remunerative slicks like Collier’s the year after his debut in Story in 1940, he continued to send the Burnetts those works that were too discomfiting for the widely circulated journals that specialized in tales of consoling escape.”

Slick Stuff

first paragraph

“Hardly more than a year after his professional debut, Salinger made the big time. I n the ‘good old days’ before television, more than two dozen magazines offered generous rewards for ‘short, short stories’-usually less than a thousand words in length and building up to a surprise ending in the O. Henry manner.  Salinger moved directly from Story to Collier’s, one of the best paying publishers of ‘short, shorts.’  The two variations on the same ‘suppressed identity’ gimmick that Salinger sold to Collier’s deserve notice for three reasons.  They show:  first, that he could-if he wished-write ‘slick’ fiction employed hackneyed formulas; second, that he did not long ‘blush unseen’; and, third, that he has a knack for constructing ‘well-made’ stories.  As artless as some of his tales appear, he can carefully plan to achieve certain effects if he so desires.”

ed note:  the stories French refers to in this essay are “The Hang of It,” “Personal Notes of an Infantryman,” and “The Heart of a Broken Story,” among others.

You, T.S. Eliot

first paragraph

“The longest work published by  America’s most talked about contemporary author during the first decade of his literary career has been almost totally ignored.  Only Paul Levine has given ‘The Inverted Forest’ (Cosmopolitan, December, 1947) attention anything like proportionate to its bulk.  Critics like Gwynn and Blotner have mentioned it only to attack it.  They have been largely justified by the awkward form of the story and the obscurity of the purpose; but, like many unsung works, this novelette provides important evidence about some of the persistent assumptions underlying its author’s creations.”

The Desired Effect

first paragraph

“With ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ we emerge from the thicket of yellowing magazine leaves into the much frequented clearing on Nine Stories, where critics have often performed their rituals.  the first story to win Salinger a prominent place in the New Yorker (‘Slight Rebellion Off Madison,’ among the chic advertisements), ‘Bananafish was also one of the fifty-fives stories to be included in an anthology of those published in the magazine during the 1940’s.  It has since been the subject of more comment than possibly any other short story of its period, largely because it introduces to the reading public the fabulous Seymour Glass”

A Grand Bunch of Kids

first paragraph

“After having successfully dramatized a vision that had haunted him from the beginning of his career, an artist might be satisfied simply to sit back and work out variations on the successful story.  Salinger, however, has always been restless; and once he had succeeded, in ‘Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,’ in depicting the difference between in the ‘nice’ and ‘phony’ worlds as he discerned them, he became absorbed with what had been a subordinate consideration in ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ and ‘Uncle Wiggily’-the reaction of a child or adolescent to the disillusioning discovery of the phoniness of the adult world.  This absorption was to culminate in Holden Caulfield’s recognition, in the final version of The Catcher in the Rye, that children can’t be kept from grabbing for the gold ring.

The Artist as a Very Nervous Young Man

first paragraph

“So much has alredy been written about The Catcher in the Rye that it might appear unlikely that there is anthing left to say.  Although the novel was not accorded as immediate scholarly attention as James Gould Cozzens’ By Love Possessed, it has, since, 1954, been the subject of probably more critical pronouncements as any other postwar novel.

Feeling Around

first paragraph

“The very week that The Catcher in the Rye was published in July, 1951, the New Yorker carried Salinger’s most sophisticated story, ‘Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,’ his only attempt to deal exclusively with the problems of mature, professional people already deeply involved in the ‘ratrace.’  A feat of technical virtuosity, the story discloses, through the transcription of two telephone calls, the moral collapse of a man completely overwhelmed by the ‘phony’ world.”

ed note:  In this chapter, French also discusses “Teddy,” and “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.”

Search for the Seer

first paragraph

In January, 1955, I was employed to hold English classes by the University of Kentucky, where ‘contemporary literature’ usually meant the writings of the Nashville ‘Fugitives’ and their offspring, although some iconoclastic students read that upstart Faulkner.  I was surprised, therefore, upon returning for the spring semester to find that a story by J.D. Salinger in the previous week’s New Yorker had disturbed even the tranquility of this bluegrass fastness as it had rocked more pretentiously in-the-swim academies in the fabled East.”

ed note:  This chapter discusses “Franny” as the story French refers to in the first chapter, and Salinger’s “search for a seer” in terms of the other works that discuss Seymour – “Zooey,” “Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters,” and “Seymour, an Introduction.” French also puts these works in conversation with The Catcher in the Rye.

A Dora Copperfield Kind of Complex

first paragraph

“I have before me a pamphlet circulated by ‘The Committee to Oppose the Canonization of Karl Marx, Miami, Florida.’  Its title asks the frightening question, ‘Are Your Children Being Brainwashed in Dade County Public Schools?’  The Committee’s answer, of course, is ‘Yes.’  The inner four-pages carry an attack upon Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers for doing the brainwashing.  The back page is devoted to excerpts from The Catcher in the Rye.

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