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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Old Flame Auctions Off Salinger Love Letters




NEW YORK -- The saga of the hermetic author, the confessional writer, the love letters and the auction block came full circle Tuesday and ended, at least in theory, happily for everyone.


Fourteen letters written 27 years ago by J.D. Salinger to Joyce Maynard, a young writer and star-struck admirer who lived with him briefly when she was a young woman, were sold at Sotheby's for $156,500 to the software entrepreneur and art collector, Peter Norton. Norton then announced that he was going to return them to Salinger.


The sale would seem to wrap up a story that has fascinated the literary world with a Shakespearean denouement. Salinger, a famous recluse who has sued in the past to keep his words private, presumably will be content to have the letters back. Maynard, who said she needed to sell them to raise tuition for her children, now has enough for four years at an Ivy League college, before taxes.


And Norton is pleased to be of service.


"A lot of people I admire," he said in a telephone interview, "share the opinion that if the letters have to be sold they should fall into sympathetic hands."


"My intention is to do whatever he [Salinger] indicates to me he wants done with them," he continued. "He may want them returned. He may want me to destroy them. He may not care at all."


A man who answered the phone at the office of Phyllis Westerberg, Salinger's agent, said that neither she nor the author would have any comment about the sale.


Maynard, in a telephone interview on Monday, said she felt little emotion about finally parting with Salinger's letters. "I don't shed a tear. The sale of the letters really was a business decision," she said. "I'm really finished with it. I feel a burden lifting for me."


Norton, the retired head of Peter Norton Computing Inc. and a contemporary art collector, said he does not know the 80-year-old author of "Catcher in the Rye" and other works, and has not been in touch with him. But he indicated he respected his quest for privacy.


Since Salinger last published in 1965, he has vigorously guarded his seclusion and he has not been heard from during what in gentler times would have been called a literary scandal. Maynard, who published a memoir last year that included an account of her nine-month romance with Salinger, has been roundly taken to task for her decision to sell the letters.


Some accused her of violating Salinger's privacy and trading on his name. The National Review termed her an "opportunistic onetime nymphet."


But Norton defended her decision to sell the letters. "This woman also had a right, really a duty to herself and her children to safeguard her economic security."


Maynard, 45, is the divorced mother of three children.


Norton, 55, said the sale was fraught with "moral ambiguity."


"I thought, gee, it's a shame this is happening and I thought if it's happening, it would be for the best if the letters ended up in the hands of the sympathetic party," he said. "I had the means to be a contender."


The sale represents an ending, of sorts, to a story that began in 1972, when Maynard, then a student at Yale, wrote an article, "An 18-Year-Old Looks Back on Her Life," in The New York Times Magazine, published with a photograph of its doe-eyed author. Salinger, then 53, wrote the 18-year-old a fan letter, "in strictest privacy, if you can bear it," offering her fatherly advice, and warning her not to let herself be exploited for her talent.


The letters continued with Salinger praising her writing abilities, and saying they were soulmates. He told her how much he craved isolation from the world, and expressed disillusionment with his relatives and the publishing industry.


Eventually, the tone became one of a lover. Maynard left Yale, and moved in with him at his home in Cornish, N.H. But the relationship was troubled. After less than a year, Salinger broke it up. On Aug. 17, 1973, he wrote Maynard one last letter in a cold tone.


For 25 years, Maynard kept silent about their connection, until her memoir "At Home in the World," (Picador USA). She said that one reason she wrote the book was to put the past to rest. She also said, in a statement written on the eve of the auction, that she was motivated to make public the couple's intimacy by her discovery that Salinger had carried on similar correspondences with other young women.


Maynard had originally planned to attend the auction, but at the last minute, changed her mind when she realized that much of the attention would be focused on her. She said she had hoped that people "would look at the letters themselves, instead of focusing the attention on my violation."