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“Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy.” —JD Salinger

In praise of Harper Lee, JD Salinger, and Samuel Beckett
—Artemesia D'Ecca—           follow us

Books by Artemesia D'Ecca

I’m told that it’s essential now for authors to have to have an online presence, so here it starts – with a few words of tribute to three near-divine writers whose resistance to self promotion became legendary.

Today the road to mainstream publication is tricky to navigate for writers who like privacy too much. Even very good ones may be regarded as un-publishable if they are unwilling (or unfit) to self-promote. Still, such a fate may not be the end of the world – JD Salinger even regarded it as one to be embraced. He told The New York Times in 1974: “There is marvellous peace in not publishing… Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy.”

Publicity-shy writers will make the case – a reasonable one – that the whole purpose of their writing has been defeated if they have to answer questions about and explain their work, rather than letting readers take what they will from it.
They also point out that some of the titles that sell the most, year after year, are the products of writers who have kept the greatest distance from the press. This is a tribute to three of those “difficult” ones – the most magnificently elusive writers of the 20th century.

“I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure… I’m still trying to protect what privacy I have left… I pay for this kind of attitude. I’m known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I’m doing is trying to protect myself and my work.” [—JD Salinger, New York Times, November 3, 1974]

“Hell, no.” —Harper Lee’s usual written response to requests for interviews.

“When I say something, they [the press] simply turn the words around in my mouth. Later I read those interviews or the interpretation of my works, and I understand nothing whatsoever of what I read.” [—Samuel Beckett quoted by Mila Avrech, People Magazine, 1981]

“…I think I have borne all the exploitation and loss of privacy I can possibly bear in a single lifetime.” [—Salinger, responding to a 1983 letter from British literary critic, Ian Hamilton, before he sued, successfully, to stop extracts or paraphrases of personal letters being used in a biography]

“She…did not think a writer needed to be recognized in person,” Alice Finch Lee said, summing up in 2010, for documentary maker Mary Murphy, her sister Harper’s attitude to publicity [—The Guardian, 2012]

“If people want to have headaches among the overtones, let them. And provide their own aspirin.”  [—Beckett to director Alan Schneider, refusing to answer questions about the meaning of his play Endgame]

“I am still alive although very quiet.” [—Harper Lee, 1993]

“In spite of everything, they have given you the Nobel Prize – I advise you to go into hiding.” [—Telegram to Beckett from his publisher, Jerome Lindon, informing him he had received the award in 1969]
“Quelle catastrophe.” [—The reaction of Samuel Beckett’s wife Suzanne on hearing that Beckett had been awarded the Nobel Prize]

—Beckett did go into hiding at a hotel in Tunisia, relying on the staff to mislead the press about his presence, taking his meals in his room, and using the staff staircase when he wanted to go out. He did not attend the Nobel Prize ceremony, and gave away all the prize money.

“I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money.”  [—Harper Lee’s explanation for why she had not written another book, conveyed by her close friend, Revd Thomas Lane Butts, to Australia’s Sunday Telegraph, 2011]

Salinger and Reporters:

“Oh, go away, please!” [—Salinger to New York Post reporter, Charlie Carillo, in 1986]

“Oh no.” [—JD Salinger, on being told that a journalist was at the door, before being seen (in the journalist’s words) sidling “crab-like out of his small kitchen with his back to the window”]
“ ‘I’m so sorry you have come so far, but as you will know, my husband is someone who values his privacy,’ she [Salinger’s wife, Colleen O’Neill] said, all smiles, having opened the window to get rid of me on his behalf.” [—Reporter Tom Leonard, describing his visit, The Spectator, April 2009]

“ ‘My husband is a private person,’ she [Colleen O’Neill] said, smiling graciously. ‘There’s really not much more I can tell you.’ As she went inside, a figure hovered next to her, then retreated. The last thing I saw was a back disappearing behind a curve in the wall.” [—Vanessa Grigoriadis, Rolling Stone, January 29, 2010, describing her call to the house of JD Salinger]

And finally:

“In keeping with his lifelong, uncompromising desire to protect and defend his privacy, there will be no service.” [—JD Salinger’s literary representatives, announcing his death, 2010

“He was buried yesterday at the Montparnasse Cemetery after a private funeral.” [—The announcement of the death of Samuel Beckett being made only after he had already been buried, New York Times, December 27, 1989]

“Details of the service were closely guarded. Lee had wanted a quick and quiet funeral without pomp or fanfare, family members said.” [—Harper Lee's funeral, reported by The Associated Press, February 20, 2016]

“Monroe County Probate Judge Greg Norris signed an order last week to seal Lee's will from public view … The judge ordered that a label be put on the file stating ‘UNDER SEAL: DO NOT ALLOW PUBLIC INSPECTION’.” [—The Associated Press report, March 7, 2016]

A final note about Beckett, tenuously linked to his dislike of publicity as it concerns a letter he received in Tunisia when he was in hiding after the news of his Nobel Prize:– Correspondence was forwarded to him there, including a card from a man in Paris whose real name was Monsieur Georges Godot. M. Godot wrote how sorry he was to have kept him waiting. Beckett, much amused, wrote back to thank him for revealing himself so promptly. Behind a Georgian Door[—Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, James Knowlson, 1996]


Artemesia D'Ecca is Irish. She is the author of The Secret of Jules and Josephine and of Keeping Christmas Well and of Behind a Georgian Door.

Exceptionally private authors !