New letters show human side of J.D Salinger

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J.D Salinger, the famously reclusive author of "The Catcher in the Rye", was not such a hermit after all, according to newly published letters Thursday that show he travelled -- and enjoyed Burger King.

Salinger died last year aged 91, leaving a reputation as an angry recluse who struggled to come to terms with the success of his 1951 novel, a tale of teenage rebellion which made him a cultural icon, as well as rich.

But a collection of 50 typed letters and four handwritten postcards sent over two decades to a British friend, Donald Hartog, show a different side.

"Although the letters are about quite mundane subjects, they are very moving, especially the way Salinger refers to my father and their old friendship," said Hartog's daughter Frances, who has given the letters to the University of East Anglia (UEA) in eastern England.

"There is tremendous warmth and affection towards my father and this is so different to the man Salinger is often portrayed as."

Far from spending his life holed up in his New Hampshire home, the letters reveal that Salinger joined a coach tour to Niagara Falls and visited the Grand Canyon -- although he admits he did not enjoy travelling.

In April 1989 Salinger visited London to celebrate Hartog's 70th birthday. The two men had met in 1937, when they were both 18, in Vienna, Austria, where they had been sent by their families to learn German.

They stayed in touch after their return home a year later and Hartog, a food importer, revived the correspondence with Salinger in 1986.

Frances Hartog met Salinger in London.

"I didn't really want to meet him because I liked his writing and was worried he might live up to his reputation and be rather unpleasant, but he wasn't at all, he was utterly charming," she said.

Among the events covered in the letters is the October 1992 fire that destroyed Salinger's home, as well as comments about his garden, his family and US and world politics.

He also remarks on his favourite fast-food chain -- Burger King.

"There is nothing startling in these letters, but that is what is so interesting about them," said Chris Bigsby, professor of American studies at UEA.

Salinger stopped the correspondence in 2002 but his wife, Colleen, continued writing to Hartog until the Briton died five years later. Hartog's children inherited the letters and have now donated them to the UEA's archives.

© 2011 AFP

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