J.D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye and a few short stories and novellas, died on Wednesday. The eulogizing of the author, who was more famous for his Bartleby-like retreat into seclusion and literary non-production in New Hampshire, illustrates a problem that we’ve discussed here before about the gendering of literary fiction.
Last night, All Things Considered did an extensive two-part obituary for Salinger, in which they interviewed American literature professor Andrew Delbanco to explain Salinger’s importance in American literary history. Then in a more personal story, “What Salinger Means to Me,” Allan L’Etoile (a teacher at the all-male Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C.), and writers Shalom Auslander, Rick Moody, and Adam Gopnik all praised the unique voice of Catcher protagonist Holden Caufield, and place him alongside Huck Finn and Nick Carraway as a memorable voice in the American literary pantheon. (Are you sensing a theme here? For example, Eliza Harris and Ellen Olenska aren’t on that list. Neither are Hester Prynne nor Daisy Miller, although they were imagined by male writers.)
I guess no women writers or scholars have any opinions whatsoever about Salinger’s work worth considering–not even the writer, Joyce Maynard, who was Salinger’s lover when she was eighteen years old and Salinger was in his 50s. (NPR mentions her in the service of describing Salinger’s life, and they play a snippet of her reading from her memoir At Home in the World, published in 1998, to emphasize the weird in Salinger’s very weird life, but they didn’t apparently solicit her literary judgment.)
Here’s my literary judgment: I liked the book when I read it at the age of 15, but I didn’t think Holden Caufield was a particularly interesting literary voice (although I found him entertaining.) He reminded me a lot of the privileged, very self-absorbed boys I went to school with, and I was frustrated by his nihilism and his inability to imagine his life beyond age 16. And the fact that Caufield’s creator carried on an affair with a teenager when he was 53 I’m sure has absolutely nothing to do with what I saw even at the age of 15 as Caufield’s arrested development. Nothing whatsoever! We should just revel in that “goddam” unique American literary voice! (But, of course, my literary judgment doesn’t count.)
Is this d00dly d00dness a common theme in the Salinger obituaries that you’ve seen, heard, or read? Or is it unique to NPR’s eulogies for Salinger? (H/t to Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar, for inspiring me to write this. I’ve been stewing on it since 5 p.m. last night.)