J.D. Salinger

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collection, which also includes short stories, galley proofs, typescripts, and other writings — both published and unpublished. 

In November, an unknown source pirated two unpublished works from the Ransom Center and sold them for publication online.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.

Three previously unpublished short stories by author J.D. Salinger surfaced on the Internet Thanksgiving day after an unauthorized duplication of the works were uploaded to file-sharing sites including Imgur and MediaFire.

Someone — who has not yet been identified — duplicated Salinger’s short stories “Birthday Boy” and “Paula,” which were accessed from the Harry Ransom Center’s reading room, and “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls,” which resides at Princeton University. 

The mysterious uploader violated copyright laws, as well as the wishes of the now-deceased author when bounding the duplicated works together and selling them on eBay.

Links to file-sharing websites hosting the three unauthorized works appeared on numerous threads on Reddit, a social content gathering site. The files have since been removed. 

Salinger, the notoriously reclusive author of “The Catcher in the Rye,” had wished the short stories remain unpublished up until 2060.

Stephen Enniss, director of the Ransom Center, said it is important not to confuse privacy with copyright. 

“While we go to great lengths to protect the privacy of living figures, it is difficult to know the wishes of the dead,” Enniss said. “As a research institution, it is important that we be attentive as well to the needs of students and scholars engaged in academic study and in the production of new scholarship.”

Manuscripts of both “Birthday Boy” and “Paula,” remain available in the Ransom Center both to view and copy for research purposes.  

“Our research libraries are filled with unpublished materials that remain in copyright, and researchers visit our reading rooms daily to consult primary source materials that are not yet available in print,” Enniss said.

Law professor Oren Bracha said the center did not violate any laws regarding intellectual property because there was no outright encouragement to duplicate the works. 

“If you go to a public library and there’s a photocopier on the premises, and you photocopy a whole book, the library, specifically under the Copyright Act, is not liable for that,” Bracha said. “Now if they encourage people to make copies and help them specifically to engage in infringing activities, that’s something else. But just by virtue of not monitoring people who use their equipment on the site to make copies, even infringing copies, that doesn’t make the library liable.” 

Enniss said the Ransom Center has a responsibility to inform researchers of the copyright status of collections of authors’ work.  

“The Ransom Center’s responsibility is to inform researchers of the copyright status of works in the collection — as we do through our policies and through the database we maintain of writers, artists and their copyright holders — and to make sure we have assurances that any copies are being supplied for research only,” Enniss said. “We have done so.”

Melody Valadez, physics junior and author of young adult suspense novel, “Those Who Trespass,” said unpublished works being available for research purposes are helpful to other writers. 

“As another writer, you can go and see their entire process and how much work they’ve put into it before the final product that you [see],” Valadez said. “And that’s helpful.” 

Valadez said she can fathom Salinger’s hesitation toward allowing the public to view his earlier work. 

“I can understand not wanting anyone to ever see early drafts because they’re usually pretty terrible,” Valadez said. “I think authors are usually scared of being judged by their drafts when they’re very aware of the problems they already have.”

Valadez said she believes the manuscripts help the reader better understand the author.

“To me, it’s the same as being able to read letters of famous authors or famous mathematicians or famous historians because you get to look at the things going on around why they did what they did,” Valadez said. “You get a broader perspective on the final product.”

English professor Janine Barchas said she believes material an author may deem private has the potential to expand public knowledge about the author’s history, comparing the Salinger manuscripts to the hundreds of Jane Austen letters burned by her sister Cassandra.

“Thanks to Cassandra’s censorship, we will never know what Jane wrote that was so ‘scandalous’ that it deserved the flame,” Barchas said. “Times and opinions change. Together, scholars and caretakers should always try to take the long view. Content that may seem “inappropriate” or “too private” today may prove benign — or even central — with a little time.” 

Enniss said he was unaware of the Ransom Center dealing with similar incidents of copyright infringement in the past, but said the center follows standard professional practices of similar research libraries around the country.

“As the center’s materials use policy expresses it, the aim of these policies is to balance the needs of patrons, the exclusive right of the copyright holder and the center’s own rights and responsibilities toward its collections,” Enniss said.

Bracha said copyright infringement is a little more complicated in the case of companies such as Imgur or MediaFire. 

“The moment they either get a notice from the copyright owner or otherwise acquire specific knowledge that there’s some infringing activity going on and that they facilitated it, they have to do something about it or at which point they do risk legal liability,” Bracha said.

Enniss said the copyright infringement occurring in the Salinger case is currently a matter between the Salinger Estate and the individual responsible for uploading the unauthorized duplications to file-sharing sites.