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'Sincerely, Jerry Salinger'

Posted by Mark Feeney  March 25, 2010 11:09 AM

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When Ernest Hemingway was a war correspondent in Europe during World War II, he was sought out by an aspiring writer and Army enlisted man named Jerome Salinger -- "Jerry," to Hemingway, and "J.D." to the rest of us. The future author of the "The Catcher in Rye" struck up a friendship with Hemingway, an author he greatly admired. That admiration, and a sense of the joshing nature of their friendship, comes across in a letter Salinger sent to Hemingway in 1946. He talks about his writing, sings the praises of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and mentions Holden Caulfield (a name he'd used in a couple of short stories -- and would use again, of course, five years later, in "Catcher"). The full text follows after the jump.

The letter and its contents have long been known -- it's in Hemingway's papers, which are at the John F. Kennedy Library -- but it's never been publicly displayed before. That changes on Sunday, when the library will exhibit it as part of this year's PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award ceremony. Patrick Hemingway, the author's sole surviving son, will present the prize to Brigid Pasulka, for her novel, "A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True." The award honors a first book of published fiction by an American writer.

Dear Poppa,


I’m writing form a General Hospital in Nurnberg.  There’s a notable absence of Catherine Barclay’s is all I’ve got to say.  I expect to get out tomorrow or the next day.  Nothing was wrong with me except that I’ve been in an almost constant state of despondency and I thought it would be good to talk to somebody sane.  They asked me about my sex life (which couldn’t be normaler – gracious!) and about my childhood life (Normal.  My mother took me to school until I was twenty-four – but you know New York streets), and then they finally asked me how I liked the army.  I’ve always liked the Army.

I met Lester Hemingway before the 4th division went back to the States.  He drove by our house in Weissenburg and had a drink and a talk with me.  He’s a nice guy.

There are very few arrests left to be made in our section.  We’re now picking up children under ten if their attitudes are snotty.  Gotta get those ole arrest forms up to Army, gotta fatten up the Report.

Capt. Ollie Appleton, the former CO of the Detachment, got a Discharge through the Red Cross, and went back to the U.S. in a shower of Bronze Stars.  For old times’ sake he passed around the pictures of his property in Scarsdale before he left.  It was a damned poignant moment for most of us.

How is your novel coming?  I hope you’re working hard on it.  Don’t sell it to the movies.  You’re a rich guy.  As Chairman of your many fan clubs, I know I speak for all the members when I say Down with Gary Cooper.  You’re really working on a new novel, aren’t you?  I understand the cars in Cuba aren’t safe.

I’ve asked CIC to send me to Vienna, but so far no results.  I was there for a nearly a year in 1937 and I want to put some ice skates on some Viennese girl’s feet again.  That’s not much to ask of the Army.

I’ve written a couple more of my incestuous stories, and several poems, and part of a play.  If I ever get out of the Army I might finish the play and invite Margaret O’Brien to play with me in it.  With a crew-cut and a Max Factor dimple over my navel, I could play Holden Caulfield myself.  I once gave a very sensitive performance as Raleigh in “Journey’s End.”  Very sensitive.

I’d give my right arm to get out of the army, but not on a psychiatric this-man-is-not-fit-for-Army- life ticket.  I have a very sensitive novel in mind, and I won’t have the author called a jerk in 1950.  I am a jerk, but the wrong people must not know it.

I wish you’d drop me a line if you ever can manage it.  Removed from the scene, is it much easier to think clearly.  I mean with your work.

I hope next time you come to New York that I’ll be around and that if you have time I can see you.  The talks I had with you here were the only hopeful minutes of the whole business.


Jerry Salinger

P.S.  If there is anything I can do for you here, any messages I can bring anybody, I’d be very glad to do it.

My book of stories project collapsed.  Which is really a good thing, and no sour grapes.  I’m still tied up with lies and affections, and to see my name on a dust jacket would postpone any real improvement several more years.

Edmund Wilson published a kind of scrapbook of F. Scott Fitzgerald (a dirty idea), calling it “Crack Up”.  Malcolm Cowley reviewed it for the New Yorker, or reviewed Fitzgerald himself in the damn superior way critics review dead men.  It’s so easy to write a “good” review of Fitzgerald.  All his shortcomings stick out so obviously, and if a few don’t Fitzgerald himself points them out.  It seems dull or critics to lament Fitzgerald’s failure to “develop.”  It seems so apparent that anybody who would write a book like Gatsby could never possibly “develop.”  His craftsmanship, or his beauty, was only applicable to his weakness, don’t you think.  I don’t believe, as critics seems to, that “The Last Tycoon” would have been his best book.  He was getting ready to mess it up.  He was getting ready to give it a Gatsby twist.  It’s just as well he didn’t finish it, I think.

Best to you.


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