Friday, 4 July 2014

4th July: American Summer Camp with JD Salinger

the story: Hapworth 16, 1924 from the uncollected short stories of JD Salinger


First published in the New Yorker 1965, and in an unofficial collection 1974




[Seymour Glass is writing home to his parents from summer camp]

I was quietly swimming in the lake during Aquatics Period, quite without a thought in my head, merely re-calling sympathetically to myself the pleasant passion of Miss Constable, at the main library, for the great Goethe’s works in full. At this quiet moment, a thought occurred to me which raised my eyebrows unmercifully! It was suddenly borne in upon me, utterly beyond dispute, that I love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but do not love the great Goethe! As I darted idly through the water, it became crystal clear that it is far from an established fact that I am even demonstrably fond of the great Goethe, in my heart, while my love for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, via his contributions, is an absolute certainty! I have rarely ever had a more revealing incident in any body of water.



observations: This story came up in discussing Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year a few days ago. It’s a long story which was published in the New Yorker in 1965, and is available to subscribers in their archives but not – officially – anywhere else. In fact you can find it on the internet if you try hard enough, and some of us have a pirated two-volume collection of Salinger stories – this appeared briefly in the 1970s before the Salinger litigation machine put a stop to it.

Some of the uncollected stories are good, some of them are wonderful, and several of them are fascinating for showing the early versions of Catcher in the Rye.

Hapworth 16 is terrible: pretentious, unbelievable, annoying. Seymour Glass, aged 7, is writing home from summer camp. He is droning on in his clever way about the family, and about which classic books – Tolstoy, but not the Kreutzer Sonata because he has already read it; de Maupassant in French - he wants sent to him. It is true that he comes over as hateable, but more to the point it is completely unconvincing, even for a genius like the oldest Glass child, and it is cringe-making. If you ever thought that that line from Salinger’s Zooey: ‘the Great Gatsby… was my Tom Sawyer when I was twelve’ was off-putting and pretentious, then don’t go near Hapworth 16.

As far as we can tell, the reclusive Salinger was very proud of it, but it’s hard to find anyone else who likes it. I feel the paragraph above (written in the voice of a 7-year-old, remember) will give you a fair idea of whether you would enjoy it. 

But still, Salinger is one of America's finest writers, so a good choice for Independence Day, 4th July.

The picture is from the Centre for Jewish History, and shows a summer camp a few years later.

16 comments:

  1. When I was quite a bit younger, I enjoyed a few of Salinger's books.

    But in recent years, as I've learned about his mistreatment of women, I lost all interest in his writing and any respect for him as a person. Joyce Maynard's New York Times op-ed about him was the clincher. If you haven't read it, it's worth finding and perusing.

    I know that I'm tough on writers on certain issues, but that's the way it is.

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    1. That's very interesting Kathy, and I will certainly follow up and read the Maynard piece.

      Kathy, do you have a blog of your own? I can't find a link to one, but would like to read it if you have one.

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  2. Here's the Joyce Maynard op-ed.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/opinion/sunday/was-salinger-too-pure-for-this-world.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    I do not think Salinger was one of the U.S.'s best writers, never thought that. Enjoyed a few of his books when I was young, but then I was reading a lot of excellent writers' books, like Steinbeck's and Dreiser's and Upton Sinclair's and I didn't put Salinger on their level. His books barely made an impression on me, while the aforementioned authors's books are well-remembered. (It's a sham that I can't remember U.S. women writers of years ago the same way, but nowadays there are many greats like Toni Morrison and more.)

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    1. Thanks for the link Kathy, I will go and read that.

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  3. Moira - Just from the bit you shared I got the feeling I wouldn't like Seymour Glass in the least bit. I probably wouldn't search out that particular story, but I do give Salinger credit as a major influence in US literature. I agree with Kathy that Steinbeck and some others made more of an impression on me, but still, Salinger had some interesting things to say about society. Perhaps not in this story, but still...

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    1. It's great to hear your views Margot - I think of Salinger as being at the top of the canon, but I'm getting the impression that I may have that wrong as far as others' opinions are concerned!

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  4. Salinger? One bitten, twice shy, no thanks.

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    1. Well even I, a Salinger fan, am not recommending this one. Hold your fire till the next Mitford comes along, Col.

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  5. Alas, I don't have a blog. I'm rather technologically challenged for a lot of reasons.
    I do read favorite, wonderful blogs and comment. If you ever want to email me, feel free.

    There are so many terrific bloggers and writers out there whom I greatly appreciate and start my day by reading.

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    1. Thanks Kathy - I thought you might have one because you are so interested in the world and have such trenchant things to say - I'm sure you could do one....

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  6. Moira: As I read the passage I was thinking the character was a pretentious university student. I was not much interested in the story when I thought he was an adult. I could not suspend my belief to think of him as a year old.

    It has been a long time since I read Catcher in the Rye. I thought it was alright.

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    1. Salinger not at his best, but perhaps he is not the writer for you anyway. I wonder will his reputation survive... it's always hard to predict isn't it?

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  7. Well, I am a big Salinger fan, although I suppose I should reread the book and storie before I say that after all these. But I loved them when I read them earlier. But since I don't have access to this story, it is just as well it is not one of the better ones.

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    1. Make do with the published works Tracy! And it seems you and I are in the minority in our liking for JDS - though I'm not doing him any favours with this one.

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  8. /Thanks for your confidence in my teching. I have to call my bro-in-law to ask how to do things all of the time or I have to google about problems. I still can't fix some problems caused by someone hacking into my computer and deleting a lot of icons and sites I had at the top and they are gone.

    Yes, I have a lot to say. No shrinking violet am I. But I read blogs, comment, email, write elsewhere and have fun and learn a lot.

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