Salinger's women: From pen-pal to (young) lover

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The Independent Online

In his love-life as well as his literature, J.D. Salinger was attracted to younger souls, and over the years cultivated a harem of teenage female pen-pals who were occasionally elevated to the standing of girlfriends, or even wives.

Shortly after the Second World War, he married Sylvia, a former Nazi party functionary he met while working as an Allied counter-intelligence officer in Europe. Their union was short and unhappy: he gave her the pet name "Saliva".

Following the success of The Catcher in the Rye, he acquired a yoga guru, adopted a New Age lifestyle, and became romantically involved with a schoolgirl fan called Claire Douglas. She was 16, and he was 31. The couple married in 1955 and had two children, Margaret and Matt, before divorcing in 1967.

But Salinger was by no means entirely faithful. In a memoir published in 2001, his daughter Margaret recalled travelling all the way to Scotland so he could meet a pen pal, only for her to be rejected on the grounds that she was: "a terribly homely, poor girl".

In 1972, when he was 53, Salinger began a year-long relationship with an 18-year-old fan called Joyce Maynard. That relationship later became famous when Maynard wrote a memoir. In 1999, some of their correspondence came up for auction, and sold for $150,000.

From some time in the 1980s until his death yesterday he had been married to Colleen O'Neill, a nurse 40 years his junior who like most of his former lovers had first contacted him by sending a hand-written letter to his literary agent.