Twenty one personal letters written by J.D. Salinger, author of “The Catcher in the Rye,” have been added to the Salinger collection at the Harry Ransom Center. In the letters, Salinger, who was known for keeping out of the public eye, directly addresses his reservations about the publishing process.
The letters, which were sent over a 40-year period, were nearly all addressed to Ruth Maier, a classmate of Salinger at Ursinus College in Pennsylvania until Salinger dropped out in 1938. After purchasing the letters from Maier’s family for $25,000, the Ransom Center added them to their already large Salinger collection, which also includes short stories, galley proofs, typescripts, and other writings — both published and unpublished.
In November, an unknown source pirated two unpublished works from the Ransom Center and sold them for publication online.
According to Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center, the letters will provide researchers with a candid insight into the life of the famous author.
“[The letters] will amplify what we know about Salinger and provide a fuller picture of his life. The correspondence is remarkable for its duration — 40 years — and for the open and unguarded way Salinger confided his thoughts to his friend,” Enniss said.
Enniss said the letters also reveal the rigor with which Salinger approached his work.
“I was most taken with what the correspondence reveals about Salinger’s high and exacting standards: He was unable to release new work into the world until he felt it was perfect in every way,” Enniss said.
Enniss said the new letters, and the Salinger collection overall, are important because they make famous authors accessible to today’s readers.
“This certainly opens up Salinger’s work to a new generation of students and scholars and [is] an important way the University fulfills its service to a research community,” Enniss said.
Salinger wrote candidly in many of the 40 letters, discussing Maier’s love life and marital status. In a letter from 1941, he wrote, “I hope you’re happy, Ruthie. You’re probably in love with the big handsome boy who kicks you in the stomach three times daily.”
In a 1978 letter to Maier, Salinger used a more jovial tone: “Ruth Smith Maier Pendergast Walker Snapperstein Combs (you do have a lot of names), Author of “Sheila’s Kid,” cabaret singer, mother of eighteen, Channel swimmer, etc.”
With the letters now available for viewing at the Ransom Center, psychology freshman Logan Hailey said she thinks the letters allow a rare look into Salinger’s personal life.
“Considering the profound literary influence of Salinger, releasing recently discovered letters, though personal, would be incredibly beneficial to both readers and scholars in understanding Salinger’s life and works,” Hailey said.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, the original version of this story incorrectly named J.D. Salinger's collection of work. Additionally, the story misstated the research restrictions placed upon the new letters. They are available through the Ransom Center's standard patron application.