Salinger on the block

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

Few value their privacy as dearly as J.D. Salinger. Now his daughter, Margaret, is putting her own price on that commodity, joining his former lover, Joyce Maynard, by offering letters from him to the highest bidder.

Margaret Salinger, nicknamed Peggy, plans to auction a cache of 32 letters at a Sotheby’s auction in New York next month. The correspondence, which began when Peggy was 2 and ended when she was 36, document a relationship marked by turmoil.

The letters are “truly extraordinary,” said Marsha Malinowski of Sotheby’s in New York, adding that in the latter part of the correspondence, Salinger “becomes his character. He kind of goes into another world. You see flashes of Holden Caulfield--his humor, his wit that sometimes have a slightly childish nature to it.”

Malinowski, a 16-year manuscript veteran at the auction house, said the letters “reveal more about Salinger than [anything] I’ve ever read. They give a more detailed image of Salinger as an author, a father and a tortured soul in a lot of ways.”

Salinger could not be reached for comment.

Peggy Salinger, like Maynard, has also written a tell-all memoir about her relationship with the reclusive author of “Catcher in the Rye.” Last year’s “Dream Catcher” revealed the “terrible and beautiful world” of her childhood. (Maynard’s book, “At Home in the World,” was published in 1998.)

Writer Ian Hamilton was sued by Salinger a few years back when he quoted from the author’s letters. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled for Salinger, saying that letters belong to the person who wrote them.

“We have been very careful that every T has been crossed, that we are not violating any copyright that Mr. Salinger has,” Malinowski said. “The bottom line is that Peggy owns the letters ... he has the right to the words.”

The letters are expected to fetch up to $350,000. When Maynard’s letters of Salinger’s courtship went on sale in 1999, they brought $156,000. Peter Norton, the Los Angeles philanthropist, bought the letters, only to return them to their author.

Perhaps he’ll consider doing the same Dec. 12, when this bundle goes on sale.