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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

JD Salinger and Jane Austen

[In Janeites and Austen L, Diane Reynolds wrote:

"From "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," in Nine Stories: "Well, wudja marry him for, then? ...
"He told me he loved Jane Austen. He told me her books meant a great deal to him. That's exactly what he said. I found out after we were married that he hadn't even read one of her books."

[I replied thusly]

Diane, thanks for that catch! I was a fan of Salinger long before I ever read a word of Jane Austen. It's well known to Salinger scholars that Salinger included Austen among his literary influences, and that influence is hardly surprising, as was pointed out by Kenneth Hamilton in 1967:

"But Jane Austen/ /also has a front place [in Salinger's list of favorites], presumably because she has the sharpest of eyes for phonies..."

They are indeed two of the greatest satirists of falseness in the history of our language. And that allusion you found is pitch perfect in that regard, and shows that Salinger understood Austen very well. The ultimate phony, from the point of view of a woman, would be a man who tells a clever lie like that, in order to make her think they were kindred spirits.

Which remind me of (and surely Salinger was slyly alluding to) the following passage from S&S:

"Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, she proceeded to question him on the subject of books; her favourite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight, that any young man of five-and-twenty must have been insensible indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Their taste was strikingly alike. THE SAME BOOKS, THE SAME PASSAGES WERE IDOLIZED BY EACH -- or, if any difference appeared, any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed."

But on an even deeper level, I see a strong influence of Salinger on JA in regard to subjectivity and strong central point of view. In my opinion, the following critic got it all wrong when he wrote:

"Like Twain before him, Salinger/ /chose a limited, and in some senses limiting, point of view, quite different, for example, from that common in Jane Austen//, Melville, or James."

I think that is not a contrast, but a striking similarity between JA and Salinger, i.e., the use of a limited point of view. Catcher in the Rye, very much like Emma, looks to Hamlet as an important touchstone and spiritual ancestor.

And finally, picking up on what I mentioned to Ellen last week in passing, while discussing the Barbery novel....there is a STRONG connection among Holden Caulfield, the young girl in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and JA's Juvenilia. A dark absurdist vision of mankind expressed through a child prodigy's voice.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article that brings together my two favorite writers! Salinger also expresses his appreciation for Austen in his last published story, "Hapworth 16, 1924," a letter from young Seymour Glass to his parents (full story can be found here:

Just look at the following passage: among other books, Seymour requests that his parents send him "Jane Austen, in entirety or in any shape or form, discounting 'Pride and Prejudice,' which is already in possession. I will not disturb this incomparable girl’s genius with dubious remarks; I have already hurt Miss Overman’s feelings inexcusably by refusing to discuss this girl, but I lack even the slight decency to regret it very much. Quite in a pinch, I would be willing to meet somebody at Rosings, but I cannot enter into a discussion of a womanly genius this humorous, magnificent, and personal to me; I have made some feeble, human attempts, but nothing at all meritorious."

Arnie Perlstein said...

Wow! For Salinger to ascribe love of Jane Austen to Seymour, his greatest sage, shows how much Salinger really did love Jane Austen--but I am surprised he mentioned P&P, and not Emma--I'd have guessed he'd have been that unusual Janeite who valued Emma more.