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Correction to This Article
The obituary for "Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger misstated the year in which a memoir by his daughter, Margaret Ann Salinger, was published. The book, "Dream Catcher," came out in 2000, not 2009.
J.D. Salinger 1919-2010

J.D. Salinger, 91; 'Catcher in the Rye' author became famous recluse

Celebrated author and enigmatic recluse's 1951 novel "The Catcher in the Rye" became an enduring anthem of adolescent angst and youthful rebellion and a classic of 20th-century American literature.

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By Bart Barnes
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, January 29, 2010

J.D. Salinger, 91, the celebrated author and enigmatic recluse whose 1951 novel "The Catcher in the Rye" became an enduring anthem of adolescent angst and youthful rebellion and a classic of 20th-century American literature, died Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H.

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In a statement issued by Mr. Salinger's literary representative, the author's son confirmed the death to the Associated Press. The cause of death was not reported, although the statement said Mr. Salinger broke his hip last year.

To generations of men and women in the years after World War II, "The Catcher in the Rye" was the singular, tell-it-like-it-is story about the mind-set of a sensitive youth: cynical yet romantic; disdainful of hypocrisy, social convention and conformity; self-conscious and uncomfortable in his own skin; confused and pathetic but also loveable.

The novel is about the adventures and misadventures of Holden Caulfield, a disillusioned 16-year-old who knows he is about to be expelled from his boarding school, Pencey Prep, and decides to run away. Over three days in New York City, he has a run of weird encounters with taxi drivers, nuns, an elevator man, three girls from Seattle, a prostitute and a former teacher. In his eyes, the world is controlled and dominated by "phonies," and he struggles with limited success to come to terms with love, sex and, ultimately, himself. In an encounter with his kid sister, Phoebe, he finds affection and salvation.

In the more than half-century since the novel's publication, Holden Caulfield has joined the ranks of such literary legends as F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn as a folk hero of American fiction. Reading the book was often described as a rite of passage for adolescents.

Detested the spotlight

Not long after "The Catcher in the Rye" appeared, Mr. Salinger withdrew to the hills of rural New Hampshire, where he lived in seclusion. He shunned the media and the public, and he filed lawsuits to block publication or quotes from his letters. He continued writing, but not since a short story appeared in the New Yorker in 1965 has any new writing of his been published. Earlier, the New Yorker had published J.D. Salinger short stories, but to most of the reading public, he was known only as the author of "The Catcher in the Rye."

Caulfield became a teenage Everyman whose wry and caustic observations seemed outrageous, clever and on the mark. From the beginning, in its cadence and language, his speech gave the youthful protagonist an air of authenticity and timelessness:

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them."

Sociologist David Riesman assigned the book at Harvard in his course on character and social structure in the United States, perhaps, said Time magazine in a 1961 cover story, "because every campus has its lonely crowd of imitation Holdens -- doomed wearers of raincoats-in-December, who rehearse faithfully their Caulfield hyperbole ('It was the last game of the year, and you were supposed to commit suicide or something if old Pencey didn't win')."

Mr. Salinger published no other full-length novel. His shorter fiction included "Nine Stories" (1953); "Franny and Zooey" (1961), which combined two stories; and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction" (1963), which essentially combined two novellas. Much of this work appeared initially in the New Yorker, as did his last published story, "Hapworth 16, 1924," which ran in 1965.

In 1953, Mr. Salinger settled in Cornish, where he lived in a hilltop cottage overlooking the Connecticut River. He attended no literary conferences, gave no lectures, and almost invariably spurned all human contact. If anyone approached him in a public street or building, he turned and fled. He was rarely photographed, and he directed his publisher to remove his photograph from the dust jacket of "The Catcher in the Rye." His attorneys and agents were instructed not to answer questions about him.

For nine months in 1972 and 1973, Mr. Salinger had an affair with Joyce Maynard, who dropped out of college during her freshman year at Yale to move in with him. Maynard had written an article for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, "An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Life," that had caught Mr. Salinger's attention. He wrote to her, and for several weeks, they corresponded before she left Yale to live with him in New Hampshire.


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