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The Hermit In His Cave

Salinger's obsession for privacy has led him to sue numerous fans

The Hermit In His Cave

Stories abound about how zealously Salinger guards his privacy. From the time that he had his photograph removed from the cover of Catcher in the Rye, to the furore over being "tricked" by the Claremont Daily Eagle, in November, 1953: Salinger gave an interview for the school page of the daily, which, however, front-paged the interview.

Not only did JDS go off the press but also the high school kids he had befriended to shut himself inside his house Life had described as "totally hidden behind a solid, impene-trable, mantall, woven wood fence". 

And then there is what Time called the "coy fraudulence" of the "throwaway self-interview" published only on the first edition jacket-flap of Franny & Zooey, which ends with

"My wife has asked me to add, however, in a single explosion of candour, that I live in Westport with my dog".

This had led Time to thunder: "The dark facts are that he has not lived in Westport or had a dog for years." Time was right on the Westport part but Salinger must have been amused when weeks later Life carried a photograph of, what it claimed was the Salinger family dog.

So here's a man who, as JDS' absolutely unauthorised biographer Ian Hamilton sums up, left "America's two wealthiest and most resourceful news-magazines unable to agree on the matter of whether or not he owned a dog". 

The most celebrated case, of course, is Hamilton's attempted book, J.D. Salinger: A Writing Life, that could not be published after Salinger took him to court. Hamilton is perhaps the only man to have pierced Salinger's veil of secrecy to any sizeable extent and his later book In Search of J.D. Salinger offers a fascinating glimpse of the enigma that is Salinger, despite heavy excisions.

Hamilton may have lost the case for quoting from the author's personal letters and "uncollected stories"— which appeared in various magazines, but which JDS refused to be ever reprinted— but ironically it brought Salinger more in the public eye than he probably would have been had the book been allowed to be published. For he did have to depose, which marked Salinger's first public appearance in over 30 years.

The irony is that the personal letters Hamilton had quoted from had to be copyrighted individually and duplicates of them may now be consulted at the copyright office in Washington DC for a small fee. Not only that, in the publicity given to the case by the media, the original letters were freely quoted from, far more freely, it appears, than Hamilton himself had ever intended. 

The rapid spread of the Internet has added to Salinger's perceived need for legal activism. Perhaps his fans have never had it so good; technology makes it possible to exchange even book-length material with ease.

Till as recently as 1996, almost half of the 22 uncollected stories were put up by an enthusiast on his web page for anyone to download, till Salinger's lawyers moved in. In the early '70s, an unauthorised paperbound Complete Uncollected Short Stories appeared in two volumes. Salinger got it suppressed. 

One of JDS' latest assaults has been on the Holden Server on the Web, where visitors were randomly rewarded with one of 169 quotes from Catcher. Site developer Luke Seemann was promptly warned by Salinger's agents that the site was a copyright violation. Seemann resisted: while reprinting 169 quotes from one book would obviously violate copyright, if each visitor only saw one, wouldn't that fall in the realm of "fair use"? 

But Seemann ultimately decided not to fight this battle, and killed the site. "No matter who won a legal battle, J.D. Salinger would lose," he wrote to Tribe magazine.

"He would become the hermit who came out of his cave to sue the pants off a poor, defenseless college kid. I didn't want that. His was an effort to protect his obscurity; mine was merely a gesture toward someone who changed my life." 

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