The Betty Eppes Story

Paris Review (V23/80 Sum 81) carried a scoop titled What I Did Last Summer by one Betty Davis who was described as follows by them:

Betty Eppes is a reporter from the Baton Rouge Advocate. In the spring of 1980 she was a Special Assignments Writer for the "Fun" section which appears in both the Advocate and the State Times, the morning and afternoon papers respectively. That spring she decided to spend her summer vacation trying to interview J.D. Salinger, the author famous for his reclusive behavior. Her story appeared in the Sunday Advocate magazine section on June 29, 1980, and in syndication in a number of other newspapers including The Boston Globe. What follows is a far fuller account of her experience which has been arranged from conversations held with Ms. Eppes by G.A.P.

The story that followed in The Paris Review was like, pardon my political incorrectness here, reading a school magazine account of an egoistical and egotistical bimbo of monumental cunning, manipulativeness and stupidity (And lots of chutzpah and gumption, if I may append hurriedly). Anyway, I'll spare you my opinions of her and jump straight to the point. The point being that she not only suckered poor old JDS into a meeting dishonestly (She wrote him a note saying that she "wasn't a girl who had come to usurp any of his privacy", that she "was a womn who supported herself through writing and would very much like to see him. She "wanted to know if he was still writing". She told him she was a novelist. She told him writing was so hard. And ofcourse, she told him that, "I was tall with green eyes and red-gold hair." And then the clincher: "I will make no further effort to seek you out, not because of guard dogs or fences, but because I do not want to anger you or cause you grief." Followed by a P.S. "I see perfectly why you live in this area. Its beauty is awesome. Often I find myself whispering.") but also recorded her conversation with him. Not to mention photographing the unsuspecting man. In short a propah phony, very much like the Muriel of Bananafish perhaps? Anyway, all this was in 1976, and apart from some self-obsessed drivel about herself and her many attributes, the bits where she reports JDS conversations are somehow predictable. She badgered him with questions about Holden Caulfield (She does mention that she read Catcher twice a year, but from all accounts, it is difficult to think that she ever read any other Salinger work. Besides she seems more concerned about what Salinger thought of her boobs.) and he was patient enough to reply with words on the lines of "It's all in the book. Read the book again, it's all in there. Holden caulfield is only a frozen moment in time." Okay, read the following account, if you really wanna know:

Eppes: Did you make or work on a movie? Will you in the future?
Salinger: Can we go on to something else?
Eppes: Ofcourse. But just for fun, do you remember the name of the ship you worked on as an entertainer?
Salinger: I do, yes. The Kungsholm
Eppes: You were in the Counter Intelligence Corps. How many languages do, or did you, speak?
Salinger: French and German, but not very well. And a few phrases of Polish.
Eppes: Given your family background, why writing?Salinger: I can't say exactly. I don't know if any writer can. It's different for each person. Writing's a highly personal act. It's different for each writer.
Eppes: Did you consciously opt for a writing career, or did you just drift into it?
Salinger: I don't know. ( A long pause) I truly don't. I just don't know.
[On being asked about doing his writing in a special concrete workshop situated bbehind his house], "He said, I have my work area set up the way I like, so it's comfortable. But I don't want to discuss it. I don't want people streaming up here trying to climb walls and peek in windows. I'm comfortable, he said, and that's enough.
I asked him if publishing wasn't important.
He said that was an easy question that wouldn't take any time to answer at all. He said he had no plans to publish. Writing was what was important to him — and to be left alone so that he could write. To be left in peace. He couldn't tell me why he felt he wanted to be left in peace...but that he had felt that way in grade school, at the academy, and before and after military service. And he felt it now, too. Boy! he kept harping on that!
[So why had he publ;ished at all?]"He said that he hadn't foreseen what was going to happen. He said he didn't expect it, and when it did happen, he didn't want it. It meant he couldn't live a normal life. He had to put the roads near his home under patrol. His children suffered. Why couldn't his life be his own?"
[So why had he agreed to see her? Why hadn't he ignored her letter?]"He said, You write. I write. He had come as one writer to another. Then he began asking me about my writing. Had I done a book yet? Goodness me! J.D.Salinger asking Betty Eppes about her work."
"[...] Salinger nodded and said that publishing was a vicious, vicious thing. He said that so many vicious things happen when you publish. He said that I'd probably be happier if I never published. He said there was a certain peace in not publishing.
"Then we began to talk about autographs. I asked him why he hated togive them. He said he didn't believe in giving autographs. It was ameaningless gesture. He told me never to sign my name for anyone else. Itwas alright for actors and actresses to sign their names, because allthey had to give were their faces and names. But it was different withwriters. They had their work to give. Therefore, it was cheap to giveautographs. He said, Don't you ever do it! No self respecting writershould ever do it.
"[...] He said that discipline was no problem—that either you want to write or you don't."His style? Well, he said he didn't know much about his writing style. Obviously a writer had to make choices. Decisions. But he really couldn't help me with that question.
" He said, I don't care about politicians. I don't have anything in common with them. They try to limit our horizons; I try to expand our horizons.He said that not one politician stood out in his mind.
About economics— inflation, unemployment, energy, he said that none of this touched him personally. Not his area. He didn't know much about these things. And then some conversation about organic food and cooking oils. And then she asked him whether he believed in The American Dream.
"He said, My own version of it, yes.
"When I asked if he would elaborate, he said, I wouldn't care to, no.
"So I said that the constitution seemed to have been written by men for men and that it may not have been intended for women. That produced quite a response!

Salinger:Don't you accept that! Don't ever listen to that. Who says you don't have a right to the American Dream, who says? That's frightful. Awful! Don't you accept that. The American Dream is for all Americans. Women are Americans too. It is for you too. Claim it if you want it...
She also mentions ofcourse that JDS smiled twice during the course of the meeting—once when he wiped tears rolling down her face , and then again when she "asked him if he really was writing every day what then was he working on? He smiled and said, I can't tell you that."
At which point JDS goes off to get his mail. And when she saw him coming back , stopped by a guy who had "put his hand on Salinger's arm. Apparently, he wanted to shake Salinger's hand. That made Salinger furious. He came stalking across the street to the Pinto and leaning in the Window right in my face he really got on my case! He chewed my ass out! He was wearing his glasses this time. His eyes seemed much larger behind them.
"Here's what he said: Because of you, this man I don't know, have never even met, has spoken to me. Just walked up to me on the street over there and spoke to me. Just like that. Walked up and piut his hand on my arm and spoke to me..I don't like that.There have been calls to my neighbors because of you and I don't like my neighbors inconvenienced. I want to be left alone. Left to my privacy. That's why I moved here. I moved here seeking privacy, a place where I could lead a normal life and write. But people like you pursue me. I don't wish to seem harsh. It's just that I am a private person. I resent intrusions. I resent questions. I don't want to talk to strangers. I don't particularly like talking to anybody.I am a writer. Write me letters if you wish. But please, don't drop in."
Here Ms. Eppes really out does herself: "I knew I had nothing to lose at this point. As he began to turn away, I said, I'm sorry you're upset, Mr. Salinger, but please wait. Just a moment more. May I take a close-up photograph of you?
" He looked horrified. Absolutely not! No!"
"All right, Mr. Salinger, all right. I've put the camera down. It's down, Mr. Salinger, see?
"As he paused I put one more question to him. Tell me honestly, are you really writing?
"I thought he'd run, But he answered, I am really writing. I told you. I love to write and I assure you I write regularly. I'm just not publishing. I write for myself. For my own pleasure. I want to be left alone to do it. So leave me alone. Don't drop in here like this again."

[He left at this point. And Ms. Eppes, ofcourse, had to take a picture that Paris Review reproduced.]

"I sent Salinger a copy of the story I wrote for the Advocate. Eleven days later I received two photostats—copies of order blanks he had sent away to New York. They were signed by him, mailed in Windsor, and addressed to me care of the Advocate. I haven't any idea if he sent them to me. The order was addressed to the Chocolate Soup Company in New York City and in it, Mr. Salinger asked for two oversized schoolbags, gift-wrapped, from Denmark (at $16.50 each) that had been advertised in the then current New Yorker. Now why was that sent to me? It drove me just about crazy trying to figure it out.
"Don't you understand, shall I call it, well, behavioural satire, Ms. Eppes?

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Sonny (Sundeep Dougal) Holden Caulfield, New Delhi, INDIA