Saturday, 7 March 2020

J. D. Salinger and Tiverton

J. D. Salinger was based in Tiverton as part of the US 4th Infantry that took over Collipriest House in 1944 as a Division Command Post. You can read about the division's time in Devon in the 4th Infantry Yearbook by Major General Harold Whittle Blakeley (from page 18).

Tiverton may have been the basis of the setting for J. D. Salinger's short story For Esmé - with Love and Squalor which you can read in full here.

Collipriest House - Division Command Post for the US 4th Infantry - 1944
Collipriest House - Division Command Post
for the US 4th Infantry - 1944

From J. D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski (2012):
From February 1944, all of Salinger’s correspondence passed through military censors, thus muddying the specifics of his actions while in England. We know from his letters that he spent time in Tiverton, the Devon town where the 4th Infantry had its headquarters, and in Derbyshire and London, attending CIC training courses. As the invasion drew nearer, he participated in amphibious landing exercises on the south coast at Slapton Sands, between Plymouth and Dartmouth, and on the north coast at Woolacombe Bay, sites chosen by the Allied High Command because they resembled the French coastline.

Tiverton was a town very similar to the one described in his 1950 story “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor.” It was small and charming and had a population of about 10,000 before its own invasion by American servicemen. Set among the hills of Devon, Tiverton is a quaint place with narrow cobblestone streets that meander along the contours of the land. They were streets that Salinger loved to stroll in his spare time, often stepping into a pub for a drink or slipping into a church during choir practice.

The 4th Infantry had taken over a number of large buildings in and around Tiverton. Division headquarters was located at Collipriest House, a large estate just outside town, and it was here that Salinger collected his mail, reported for assignments, and, as in “For Esmé,” attended “rather specialized pre-Invasion training” courses. These courses instructed Salinger in combat espionage, sabotage, and subversion, and how to deliver security lectures to the troops, search captured towns, and interrogate both civilians and enemy troops in occupied territory.

The image of J. D. Salinger wandering the streets of Tiverton in pensive solitude illustrates the contemplative mood that absorbed him while he was stationed in England. During the months he trained for the invasion, Salinger began to reevaluate his attitude toward both his writing and his life.
Various news outlets ran articles about Salinger and Tiverton in 2016 following a BBC radio documentary about how he may have been developing Catcher in the Rye during his time here:

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