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Bridges to Scandinavia

 | 
Andrea Meregalli
, 
Camilla Storskog

Books of innocence and experience. Holden Caulfield’s Scandinavian Brotherhood

Camilla Storskog

Résumé

Within a couple of years of its publication in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye was translated into the major Scandinavian languages. A few protagonists of the Scandinavian novel of the twentieth century mirror, more or less overtly, the iconic character of Holden Caulfield with his finely tuned observations on the ways of the world: David in the novel Rend mig i traditionerne (1958) by Leif Panduro, Janus in Den kroniske uskyld (1958) by Klaus Rifbjerg, and Erik in the Finland-Swedish writer Lars Sund’s work Natten är ännu ung (1975). As to content, what the three novels share with Salinger’s prototype is the frame of the (psychiatric) clinic, the breakdown of an adolescent, the death of a family member or a close friend, the motives of rebellion and escape, and the opposition between innocence and experience. As to form, all novels are retrospective accounts given in the first person singular and written in seemingly casual teenage slang. This essay discusses one of the features central to Salinger’s book and common to the three Scandinavian novels, i.e., the way in which the adolescent protagonist reacts to and interacts with standardised behaviour and ready-made mannerisms provided by works of literature and films. This is seen as an aspect of Holden’s concern with phoniness (a theme which also engrosses the minds of his Nordic brothers) and is interpreted as a strategy in the transition from ‘innocence’ to ‘experience’.

Texte intégral

My brother D.B.’s a writer and all, and my brother Allie, the one that died, that I told you about, was a wizard.
(Salinger [1951] 1994, 60)

Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B., being a prostitute.
(Salinger [1951] 1994, 1)

1. Introduction

1All readers of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye are bound to remember that Holden Caulfield has lost two siblings: his younger brother Allie to leukaemia and his older brother D.B. to Hollywood, where he has sold his writer’s talent to the movie industry. Any effort to compensate for Holden’s loss would be hopeless, his bereavement is immense and it is the very absence of his two brothers that makes their presence in the novel all the more acute. Yet, I would like to call attention to Holden’s Scandinavian brotherhood, in an attempt to make a contribution to a greater critical discourse having as its object the charting of Holden Caulfield as a paradigmatic character in world literature. This essay will narrow an otherwise vast field of investigation of parallels down to the discussion of one of the features in Salinger’s novel common to the Scandinavian works examined here, namely the way in which the adolescent protagonist reacts to and interacts with the ready-made bearings and behaviours provided by literature and cinema. This aspect of the narration is a facet of the dominant and manifold theme of ‘phoninessʼ, with which Holden is more than concerned and which also engrosses the minds of his Nordic kinsmen. References to literary and cinematographic mannerisms, whether as to putting on a mask or unmasking, are found in all the three novels that we are about to examine. This aspect of the narrations can be interpreted in relation to Holden’s favourite game of ‘horsing aroundʼ and ‘shooting the bullʼ, and as an activity functional to the adolescent grappling with the construction of an identity in the midst of his transition from childhood innocence to the world of adult experience.

2Brothers (and sisters) of Holden Caulfield’s have been tracked all over the world. Part of the vast critical commentary devoted to The Catcher in the Rye has focused on the interrelations that Salinger’s protagonist establishes with characters in works of literature preceding and following the publication of the novel in 1951. In the Seventies, the literary theoretician Aleksandar Flaker (1975 and 1976) created the label ‘jeans-prose’, under which he discussed Holden as an archetype in the prose of central and eastern Europe; Thomas Feeny (1985) later identified a female Holden in Penny, the young narrator in the Italian novel Con rabbia (With Anger, 1963) by Lorenza Mazzetti; parallels between Holden and Njoroge, the central character in Weep Not, Child (1964), written by the Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thing’o, have been drawn by Sandra W. Lott and Steven Latham (Latham and Lott 2009) - for a quick trip around the world. According to the Swedish expert of children’s literature and adolescent fiction, Vivi Edström (1984, 46), Salinger’s novel soon became a weighty paradigm for the juvenile dissatisfaction with Western society, both in the U.S. and in Europe, and many a scholar agrees on the remarkable impact that the book had on Nordic literature after the Second World War, especially on two of our three novels:

The most popular American novel after the war has without a doubt been J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye […] a work into which young high school students could project their sense of loneliness in a hostile adult world. It also immediately influenced young Danish writers like Leif Panduro and Klaus Rifbjerg with novels such as Rend mig i traditionerne (1958) and Den kroniske uskyld (1958), respectively (Secher 1998, 34).

3Within a couple of years of its publication, The Catcher in the Rye was translated into the major Scandinavian languages. These translations were subsequently updated, not least for the peculiar and, at times, rather far-fetched choices of title. With the fanciful designation Hver tar sin - så får vi andre ingen (When Each and Every One Has Made His Choice - There Is No One Left for the Rest of Us), Salinger’s novel appeared in Åke Fen’s Norwegian translation in 1952, and was re-translated in 2005 by Torleif Sjøgren-Eriksen as Redderen i rugen (The Saviour in the Rye). Räddaren i nöden (The Saviour in the Crisis), as the book is known in Swedish, was originally translated by Birgitta Hammar in 1953 and subsequently, in 1987, by the novelist Klas Östergren, who maintained the title. The first Danish translation by Vibeke Cerri entitled Forbandede ungdom (Damned Youth) was also published in 1953, while the aforementioned Klaus Rifbjerg produced the most recent translation (2004) of the novel into Danish, now entitled - quite literally - Griberen i rugen (The Catcher in the Rye).

2. Holden’s heritage

Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiri- tually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them — if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you.
(Salinger [1951] 1994, 170)

  • 1   Rifbjerg’s work has appeared as La grande sbronza in Liliana Uboldi’s Italian translation (Rifbje (...)
  • 2   Kirsten Kalleberg (2003), in an essay dedicated to the act of writing in Salinger, Panduro and th (...)

4The two novels most often cited as texts reflecting the impact of The Catcher in the Rye on the Scandinavian literary scene are thus both Danish. Both were published in 1958: Leif Panduro’s Rend mig i traditionerne ([1958] 1986; Kick Me in the Traditions, Panduro 1961) and Klaus Rifbjerg’s Den kroniske uskyld ([1958] 1986; The Chronic Innocence).1 Next to David, Panduro’s young protagonist, and Janus, the narrator in Rifbjerg’s work, I would like to place Erik, a third brother fathered by the Finland-Swedish writer Lars Sund as protagonist-narrator in Natten är ännu ung ([1975] 1998; The Night Is Still Young), a novel less widely known than the Danish works, today rightly considered twentieth-century classics. Sund’s novel hence makes out for the contribution in Swedish to the upholding of the myth of Holden in Scandinavia.2

  • 3   In a short documentary film directed by Anders Engström (Lars Sund 1998), cf. also Stenwall 1996, (...)
  • 4   See, e.g., Hesselaa (1976, 22): “J.D. Salinger’s [sic] ‘Catcher in the Rye’ er ofte blevet nævnt (...)

5While Sund outspokenly acknowledges the influence of Salinger’s model,3 the two Danish authors both deny any knowledge of The Catcher in the Rye prior to the composition of their own novels.4 Rifbjerg (though enrolled at Princeton in 1950-51) dismisses all obvious connections as coincidental, attributing any resemblance between his own novel and Salinger’s to matters of Zeitgeist:

  • 5   “Well, in defence one must say that at that point one had not read Salinger! When I wrote Den kro (...)

Så må man forsvare sig med at sige, at man på det tidspunkt simpelt hen ikke havde læst Salinger! Da jeg skrev Den kroniske uskyld var jeg iøvrigt stensikker på, at jeg var det eneste menneske i Danmark, som ville drømme om at skrive en opvækstroman - så kom Panduro samtidig. Der er ingen tvivl om, at der er en åndelig temperatur i verden og at bestemte fænomener eksisterer på samme tid (Clausen 1974, 136).5

  • 6   “Common point of departure.”
  • 7   The first scholar to investigate the parallels between Rifbjerg and Salinger was Poul Bager (1974 (...)

6Given the numerous correspondences, the statements provided by the authors themselves (subsequently toned down, cf. Clausen 1974, 136) have not, however, discouraged several critics from asserting that The Catcher in the Rye does come across as a “fælles udgangspunkt” (Bredsdorff 1967, 160)6 for the two Danish novels.7

7On the whole, though without neglecting the peculiarities of each text, what the three Scandinavian books share content-wise with Salinger’s prototype is: 1) the frame of the (psychiatric) clinic; 2) the nervous breakdown of an adolescent protagonist; 3) the death of a family member or a close friend (followed by a dreadful sense of guilt); and 4) the motifs of rebellion, escape and the age-old opposition between innocence and experience. In addition, 5) the formal aspects - a retrospective account told in the first person singular and written in the seemingly slapdash language of teenagers - common to all three narrations and, again, reminiscent of Salinger’s stylistics, push the stories towards Flaker’s definition of ‘jeans-prose’ as a text presenting a “young narrator […] who builds a style of his own, based on the spoken language of urban youth (frequently infused with elements of slang), and who denies traditional and existent social and cultural structures” (1980, 52).

8In other words, a matter of style.

2.1. The voice of innocence. Stylistics

‘Boy!’ I said. I also say ‘Boy!’ quite a lot. Partly because I have a lousy vocabulary and partly because I act quite young for my age sometimes.
(Salinger [1951] 1994, 8)

9The representation of adolescent Weltschmerz was nothing new to the domain of literature in 1951; Salinger’s true novelty was instead to be found in his way of wrapping up young Holden’s mal de vivre. According to the Ohmanns, what struck the first reviewers was indeed “Salinger’s choice of a seventeen-year-old personal narrator and his matching of syntax and idiom to that choice” (Ohmann and Ohmann 1976, 19). As to the vernacular of the adolescent, Sund’s novel, with its adoption of colloquial anglicisms (e.g., “ta’t easy nu, cool down boys”; [1975] 1998, 8) and domestication of a few famous ‘holdenisms’ (“kornig” [‘corny’]¸ “mainda” [‘to mind’], “craysig” [‘crazy’]; 8, 12, 133 respectively), is the one drawing closest to Salinger’s model. The author’s emulation of Holden’s informal, oral teenage idiom is particularly striking in its rewriting of Salinger’s famous first lines in small-town Finland-Swedish slang:

  • 8   “If I was about to write some kind of school composition now, I guess you’d want to hear the whol (...)

Sku ja skriva nån sorts uppsats nu, så sku ni väl vilja veta hela historien från början, hur jag föddes och vad min farsa gör och var min morsa är född och vad min farfar gjorde och var min morfar är född och hela stamtavlan i all oändlighet, ända tillbaks till Adam och Eva. Men det intresserar int en jävel, och dess-utom sku väl farsan och morsan få hicka av rena skräcken om jag här sku börja kavera om en massa saker och ting som ändå int har nån betydelse. Så jag låter det vara. Det som intresserar er, hoppas jag, är mej och den story om mej som jag försöker dra. Resten får ni hitta på själv, om ni ids (Sund [1975] 1998, 7).8

  • 9   According to Flaker (1980, 154), an ironic attitude towards canonised national literature is anot (...)

10Just like Holden, Erik begins his account by marking the distance from his parents and from the conventional autobiographical narration. The detachment from literary tradition, in Salinger synonymous with a repudiation of the coming-of-age novel (“that David Copperfield kind of crap”; Salinger [1951] 1994, 1), is transposed here as a refusal to kick off with an illustration of the family tree in the manner of the Bible and the Icelandic sagas.9 It is also worth noticing that as the wordy and talky narration is drawing to its end, Sund again mimics Holden’s legendary understatement “That’s all I’m going to tell about” (Salinger [1951] 1994, 192) with Erik’s terse “Nåt mer tänker jag sen int berätta” (Sund [1975] 1998, 146).

  • 10   Cf. Costello 1959, 172-73.

11Granting that the three novels would be worth exploring were it only for their linguistic codes (in Panduro and Rifbjerg the urban slang of 1950s Copenhagen), which, just like The Catcher in the Rye,10 caused a great hue and cry among the first reviewers, David Lodge’s opinion, according to which it is but Holden’s jargon that justifies an interest in Salinger’s novel, is in my view unwarranted: “it is the style that makes the book interesting. The story it tells is episodic, inconclusive and largely made up of trivial events” (Lodge 1992, 20). It is my conviction that The Catcher in the Rye grabs hold of its readers not only because of matters of style, but also because of its content. Let us now take a closer look at how the three Scandinavian authors respond to one of the major themes in the novel - i.e., Holden’s preoccupation with insincerity - by investigating what use is made of the schemes and behaviours suggested by mass culture: models that seemingly lead away from the unaffectedness of childhood.

2.2. The two (contrary) states of the human soul

The one side of my head – the right side – is full of millions of gray hairs. I’ve had them ever since I was a kid. And yet I still act sometimes like I was only about twelve.
(Salinger [1951] 1994, 8)

  • 11   “Some kinda house gnome, who scuttles around and looks after people.”
  • 12   “It was as if they were my children. I had sat there guarding them while they were saying their g (...)

12In an attempt to sum up the substance of Salinger’s novel, it can be said that Holden’s mission is to protect innocent children from falling into a corrupt adult world. Much in the same way, his Nordic peers perform as saviours: Erik describes himself as “nån sorts hustomte, som knatar omkring och håller reda på folk” (Sund [1975] 1998, 19-20),11 fathering broken-hearted girls with whom he is secretly in love and cleaning up wrecked houses after wild parties; Janus is watching over the budding love affair between Tore and Helle (“det var som om de var mine børn. Jag havde siddet og passet på dem, mens de sagde farvel og var helt ubeskyttede”; Rifbjerg [1958] 1986, 76)12 and is willingly playing the part of the initiated and depraved one, in order to let Tore’s virtue triumph; David is, as we will see, concerned with shielding teenage Lis and little Lindy from stepping into falsehood and adulthood.

  • 13   Sund’s and Rifbjerg’s novels are set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Second World (...)

13At first sight the dialogue between innocence and experience thus appears to resolve itself in a traditional, warring opposition between the true ‘essenceʼ of the child and the inauthentic ‘façadeʼ of the adult. What unsettles the conventional antagonism is Holden’s - and his brothers’ - inability to really choose sides. Being adolescents, they are in an unstable balance between a childhood to which there is no return and an adulthood that they fear to enter. Different strategies of transition from one state to another then have to be put to the test: strategies through which any flat opposition between innocence (here intended as imagination, play and creativity) and experience (war,13 death, sexual love) becomes impossible. In their adolescent quest for identity, the narrators’ tactics involve a series of assaults on the ‘phoniness’ of adult conformity, whether identified as formulaic clichés in literature or as stagnant, off-the-rack human behaviour belonging to the repertoire of the cinema.

14If growing up is a process of learning to adapt as well as of affirming one’s individuality, how effective is this strategy as an attempt to make a statement for the narrators’ own originality? How does it operate? While the protagonists declare themselves sickened by any conventional descriptions of love and human behaviour in books and films, they actually revel in that very same imagery and experiment with it. While marking their distance from standard adult behaviour, they really engage with it. My assumption is then that the playful episodes where the protagonists comment on or actually slide into the ready-made mannerisms they claim to despise allow them to hold on to an earlier, childish self by offering creative exits into a realty that is still to be discovered. It is an imaginative activity permitting the adolescent to maintain the value of naiveté while experimenting with the ways of the ‘corruptʼ adult: a clash between the contrary states of innocence and experience, which seems to release creative energy not only within the protagonist but also on the written page through its irresistible use of language.

2.2.1. Reflections on literary phoniness

I’m quite illiterate, but I read a lot.
(Salinger [1951] 1994, 15)

15Although the opposition between teenagers and adults is central to the works that appeared in the wake of The Catcher in the Rye, it is, according to Flaker (1980, 153), a type of antagonism that does not give rise to an open generational conflict, since only the point of view of the youth is represented. In ‘jeans-prose’, Flaker states, adults (parents and teachers) are mostly absent or, at best, secondary characters, and the confrontation unfolds mainly on a cultural level. Like Holden himself, his Nordic disciples are on a collision course with the school environment but have, nevertheless, a talent for verbalisation and excel in composition writing. The quotation from Sund’s novel gave us a sample of the narrator’s distinctive stylistic skills and of a writing that clearly dissociates from the unreliable, standard language of the adults and from literary tradition itself. Erik’s comments on literature (whether scornful or appreciative) and his awareness of a literary tradition (whether synonymous with the great classics, poetry, romantic novels or pulp, and even if only to be disdained) actually reveal the extent to which the protagonist feeds on reads.

  • 14   “You know what, while the birds are chirping and the waves are splashing and the wind is blowing (...)
  • 15   “I didn’t mean to veer off into that poetic crap.”

16Many of Erik’s reflections on the world revolve around love. Like Holden, he fears that this fixation may bring his readers to take him for a sex maniac (Sund [1974] 1998, 132): love, in its sexual form, appears threatening to his universe of childhood friends, pleasant conversations and male bonding, and is outright scorned when wrapped up in deceptive, romantic and ‘literary’ descriptions. To Erik, the worst kind of double-dealer is the one who talks of doing “ni vet vad, medan fåglarna skvattrar och vågorna kluckar och vinden drar och all den där poetiska skiten” (11).14 The consequent withdrawal of his own brief, but inspired, concessions to lyrical, naturalistic description is also in line with his knowledge (and refusal) of the customary workings of literary writing: “Jag menade int nu spåra ut i sån där poetisk skit” (123).15 Erik is similarly able to put his finger on predictable “cinematographic” happy endings (43) and on the “idiotic” turning points typical of novels (67) and, while snarling at sentimental ‘chick lit’, he knows it well enough to quote from it (74-75, 79), just as he readily imitates the affected language of publicity (79) or refers to the trite accounts of sexual love in pornographic narratives (89). Erik, who writes poetry and is known as the “bard of the bunch” (“skalden i gänget”; 12), is highly concerned with stressing the authenticity of his own story and distancing it from the average run-of-the-mill novels, with their improbable adventurous epilogues or ridiculously dramatic endings:

  • 16   “If this was some kinda lame novel where loads of lame characters do loads of stupid things, at t (...)

sku dehär vara en sån där löjlig roman där en massa löjliga figurer gör en massa korkade saker, så sku jag väl vid dehär laget ha farit och startat en kålrotsfabrik eller blivit revolutionär teoretiker eller så sku jag ha blivit polare med morsan och farsan till sist med då sku det ren ha varit för sent, jag sku ha stått på balkongräcket och hotat att hoppa, och just som allt sku ha blivit ok så sku jag förstås ha halkat och trillat ner […]. Men nu är dehär int nån sån där roman, utan verkliga livet, och där händer int nåsånt (117).16

17The point at issue is again the ‘song and dance routine’: although Erik cannot stand conformity in a novel, he cannot completely leave it be.

  • 17   “‘In books they always smoke a cigarette on the bedside after making out’, I thought. But we hadn (...)

18In his role as narrator Janus, too, is acutely aware of how a main character in a novel should behave according to standards, but, as protagonist, he is (in contrast) incapable of living up to these. When the man-eater Mrs Junkersen reappears with coffee and cigarettes after having tried to seduce young Janus, the story goes: “‘I bøgerne tager de altid en cigaret på senge- kanten, når de har ordnet det,’ tænkte jeg. Men vi havde jo ikke ordnet noget. For øvrigt drak jeg meget sjældent kaffe” (Rifbjerg [1958] 1986, 131).17

2.2.2. Reflections on cinematographic phoniness

The goddam movies. They can ruin you. I’m not kidding.
(Salinger [1951] 1994, 94)

  • 18   “It is forbidden for every person over thirty to use more than twenty words a day.”
  • 19   “Hollywood has provided a standard form for everyone’s life. Nobody can determine with certainty (...)
  • 20   “When Kim Novak stands there fiddling with James Dean’s collar, the options are two. Either he an (...)

19In spite of their exuberant monologues filled with imaginative metaphors, the narrators pronounce themselves fed up with words, especially when uttered by adults. A case in point is David’s rewriting of the Constitution: “Det er forbudt ethvert menneske over tredive at anvende mere end tyve ord om dagen” (Panduro [1958] 1986, 56).18 David’s little niece Lindy (seemingly a romantic incarnation of innocence and alter ego of Holden’s beloved sister, Phoebe) is instead voiceless, communicating almost exclusively without words. In response to the verbal masquerade of the grown-ups that David heavily criticises, he recoils into her silent communication. In contrast to Lindy, the language of adults, cinema and books boils down to clichés, emptying or covering up the very experience that they are trying to represent. In a world where everything seems to function in line with a pre-set model, in David’s words: “Hollywood har lavet sådan en standardform for alle menneskers liv. Der er ingen, der helt kan sige, hvor Hollywood begynder og de selv holder op” (64),19 basic actions like establishing a relationship with the opposite sex seem inauthentic (cf. Lundbo [1973] 1974, 13), as shown by David’s imaginary attempt to make a move on nurse Marianne at the mental hospital, which is fictionalised Hollywood-style: “Når Kim Novak står og retter på James Deans krave, kan der ske to ting. Enten si’r han som en vred, ung mand: - ta’ og la’ vær’, eller også kysser han hende. Jeg kyssede hende [...]” (Panduro [1958] 1986, 65).20

20The reference to Hollywood introduces a motif common to all three Scandinavian novels. In Holden’s footsteps, and crossing the national borders, the protagonists are confronted with specific ‘American phoniness’ through films, books, comics and music and, just like in Salinger, it is a love-hate relationship: even Panduro’s David, with his severe case of movie-phobia, dresses as if he were in a Hollywood musical (93). Bernard S. Oldsey has observed that however much Holden spills out his hatred for the movies, he comes across as a great connoisseur of the imagery at work in Hollywood musicals and in the gangster movies of the Thirties and Forties (Oldsey 1961). When in a quandary or when feeling the need to escape from reality, Holden launches his performances as an actor, acting out movie roles and using them, as Alan Nadel (2009, 12) observes, “as a pool of allusion to help articulate his own behaviour”.

  • 21   “Everything followed a preset scheme.”
  • 22   “Then the orchestra started playing Pennies from Heaven real slow, and I could see what I looked (...)

21Several Scandinavian counterproposals to Holden’s recitals can be found in Rifbjerg’s novel. Extremely ill at ease at a school ball, the two male protagonists, Janus and Tore, observe with great envy the boys from the countryside, who all behave gallantly with the girls. After Tore has set the example through his staging of a war scene from a Gary Cooper movie (Rifbjerg [1958] 1986, 62-63), Janus manages to disentangle his own embarrassment when he realises that everything is following a pre-set scheme (“alting gik efter et mønster, som var lagt ud i forvejen”; 66).21 As the orchestra starts playing the Bing Crosby song Pennies from Heaven, it seems to Janus that he is changing places. All of a sudden he is observing himself from the outside, as in a film: “Så spillede orkestret Pennies from Heaven rigtig slow, og jeg kunne se, hvordan jeg så ud, da jeg vendte mig om mod dansegulvet. Jeg så skide træt og overlegen ud, som om det var en smugkro i Jersey City, jeg så ud over, og ikke en rædselsfuld gymnastiksal på en pigeskole i København” (66).22

  • 23   “It was almost too much, but suddenly it felt as if we all were actors in a film, and then it was (...)

22The relationship between the two Danish novels and cinema has not yet been scrutinised, although American film is sometimes mentioned as a source of inspiration to both Rifbjerg and Panduro (cf., e.g., Michelsen and Riis Langdal [2005] 2009: 103). On the subject of the numerous ways in which film has influenced the (Swedish) novel, Anders Ohlsson has published an interesting study (1998). Among the different integrations of the cinematographic medium into the narrative structure of the novel, Ohlsson mentions the occasions when tillvaron filmiseras” (1998, 15; italics in the original), i.e., episodes in which a character’s life appears patterned after filmic scenes. This kind of “filmisering” (“filmicalization”, as Ohlsson puts it) of reality at work in The Catcher in the Rye, as previously mentioned, is evident also in Rifbjerg’s and Panduro’s novels, and plays, in my opinion, an important role in the quest for identity and authenticity in a world of clichés. To the adolescent protagonist, insecure of his masculine identity, slipping into a role and resorting to an attitude that is cool and blasé, as well as to markers such as beer, cocktails and cigarettes, increase his self-confidence. When lacking the means to interpret episodes related to the world of the adults, the staging of a scene as if on a movie set becomes a way of handling new emotions. If Holden, through the staging of platitudes extracted from Hollywood gangster movies, has found a way of giving vent to his sufferings, Janus, feeling overwhelmed and goofy as he is drawn towards his first love story, finds a way of dealing with this bewildering situation only by pretending to act out a scene: “Det var lige ved at være for meget, men pludselig føltes det, som om vi allesammen spillede med i en film, og så gjorde det ikke så meget” (Rifbjerg [1958] 1986, 77).23

  • 24   “One of those viciously spiritual faces, which you can observe in any American film.”

23Even Erik, although quite outspoken on the subject of his aversion for American imperialism and commercial culture (putting his interest for Harold Pinter and the theatre of the absurd on display), is similarly drawn towards this ‘holdenesque’ role-playing (be it Sven Hedin, Father Christmas, Richard Nixon or Mick Jagger). David, by contrast, refuses to take part in the deceitful recitals that go on around him, in which the girls are incarnations of Grace Kelly wearing “sådan et åndelig-grusomheds-ansigt, som man kan se på alle disse amerikanske film” (Panduro [1958] 1986, 41).24 There is simply no Hollywood role, no Tarzan and no Don Juan, that can match the purity of Lis:

  • 25   “There’s something about her […] that makes you want to be terribly nice to her. […] I don’t mean (...)

Der er noget over hende […] som gør, at man har lyst til at være mægtig god ved hende. […] Det er ikke, fordi jeg ikke har lyst til at gøre en hel masse ved hende, men jeg kan ikke få mig selv til at sige alle de åndssvage ord til hende, som man ellers har til det brug. […] Ærlig talt, så er jeg meget forelsket i hende, men Hollywood kommer altid imellem. Jeg kunne selvfølgelig være den stærke mand, og tage hende uden ord, men det ville også være Hollywood (Panduro [1958] 1986, 73-74).25

3. Closing comments

24Associations and connections to Salinger’s novel are many in all the three texts that have been under scrutiny here, but can be studied as a direct influence only in the case of Sund’s Natten är ännu ung. Although, at the time of the publication of their novels, Rifbjerg and Panduro did not admit to any knowledge or reading of The Catcher in the Rye, a comparison still proves constructive if undertaken to explore variations on the coming-of-age theme in the historical moment of the Americanised Fifties, a decade often seen as “a golden age of innocence” (Miller and Nowak 1977, 5). Through a thematic comparison, this investigation has thus made an effort to enter the branch of comparative literature studies stemming from Matthew Arnold, according to whom “no single literature is adequately comprehended except in relation to other events, to other literatures” (quoted in Bassnett 1993, 1). When viewed side by side, these three texts then reciprocally shed light on variations on a motif that is central to Salinger’s model, as I have tried to show. If books and movies seem to provide “definitions of manners and of emotional and psychological conventions” (Brookeman [1991] 1993, 72) to Holden and his peers, these adolescents are also caught in the struggle of trying to safeguard their integrity from standardised behaviour. How can these opposites combine? Through a few examples I have made an attempt to pin down the strategy of Holden’s Scandinavian brotherhood. Very much in the manner of their big brother, they resort, on the one hand, to a personal idiom capable of ensuring the authenticity of their voices and, on the other, to the buoyancy of their imagination. Engaging in the adoption of a role and trying to disclose stereotypical behaviour while doing so are means that allow Janus and Erik to maintain the double identity of the playful, innocent child and the experienced man. To David, instead, playing a part is impossible:

  • 26   “She sat there looking at me and I thought that it was precisely the way people sat looking at ea (...)

Hun sad og kikkede på mig, og jeg tænkte, at sådan sad folk altid i Hollywood-filmene og kikkede, lige før de kyssede hin- anden. Og i samme øjeblik, jeg tænkte det, var det ligesom det var skuespil det hele. Og så kunde jeg ikke kysse hende alligevel, for så skulle jeg gøre det på en bestemt måde og sige noget bestemt og smile på en bestemt måde. Og hundredmandsorkestret skulle spille denne hersens: Fascination. Og jeg kunne ikke sige, at jeg havde gjort noget, der var helt mit eget (Panduro [1958] 1986, 142).26

25Although Panduro’s work is rich in comic scenes, it seems to me that the text is making a serious attempt at replying to some of the questions left open by Salinger’s novel. In one of his virtual escapes from reality, a vain attempt at holding the corruption of the adults at stake, Holden is imagining himself living as a deaf-mute. When David makes it clear to the reader that the story he is telling is - curiously enough - directed at a deaf-mute, possibly a person unfamiliar to him or much older than him (as he turns to him with “hr” [Sir] and “De” [the polite form of address]), Panduro appears to be emphasising the impossibility of a communication that is both authentic and capable of bridging the generational gap between the child and the man:

  • 27   “Words lost their meaning long ago. Hitler and Stalin and Hollywood and many more have joined in (...)

Ordene har mistet deres betydning for længe siden. Der har været Hitler og Stalin og Hollywood og en hel masse andre, og i forening har de haft mægtig succes med at ødelægge ordene. Ja, hvad forbinder De med ord som lykke, frihed, kærlighed, demokrati, slaveri, elskov og længsel. Jeg forbinder i hvert fald ikke noget med det. Ikke andet end Hollywood (Panduro [1958] 1986, 69).27

26As if suggesting the possibility of a reconciliation of the two contradictory states, Salinger places the clinic where Holden has retired at the end of The Catcher in the Rye not far from Hollywood. With the insistence on the impossibility of a bi-directional verbal communication and on the need to fictionalise encounters belonging to the sphere of the adults (to which the only alternative seems to be Lindy’s silence), Rend mig i traditionerne, instead, leaves the reader with the impression that Panduro, long after William Blake, is still “shewing the two contrary states of the human soul”.

Bibliographie

Bager, Poul. 1974. “Felix Culpa - Faldet som (mulig) begyndelse.” In Omkring Den kroniske uskyld, eds. John Christian Jørgensen and Erik Olesen, 167-84. København: Reitzel. Originally published in Kritik 5 (1968).

Bassnett, Susan. 1993. Comparative Literature: A Critical Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bredsdorff, Thomas. 1967. Sære fortællere. København: Gyldendal.

Brookeman, Christopher. [1991] 1993. “Pencey Preppy: Cultural Codes in The Catcher in the Rye.” In New Essays on The Catcher in the Rye, ed. Jack Salzman, 57-76. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clausen, Claus. 1974. “Interview med Klaus Rifbjerg.” In Omkring Den kroniske uskyld, eds. John Christian Jørgensen and Erik Olesen, 133-36. København: Reitzel. Originally published in Digtere i Forhør 1966 (København: Gyldendal, 1966).

Costello, Donald P. 1959. “The Language in The Catcher in the Rye.” American Speech 3: 172-81.

Edström, Vivi. 1984. “Värderingar i ungdomslitteraturen.” In Ungdomsboken. Värderingar och mönster, eds. Vivi Edström and Kristin Hallberg, 11-51. Stockholm: Liber.

Feeny, Thomas. 1985. “The Possible Influence of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye upon Lorenza Mazzetti’s Con rabbia.” Neohelicon 2: 35-46.

Flaker, Aleksandar. 1975. Modelle der Jeans Prosa: Zur literarischen Opposition bei Plenz- dorf im osteuropäischen Romankontext. Kronberg-Taunus: Scriptor.

―. 1976. Proza u trapericama. Zagreb: Liber.

—. 1980. “Salinger’s Model in Eastern European Prose.” In Fiction and Drama in Eastern and Southeastern Europe: Evolution and Experiment in the Postwar Period. Proceedings of the 1978 UCLA Conference, eds. Henrik Birnbaum and Thomas Eekman, 151-60. Columbus: Slavica Publishers.

Hesselaa, Birgitte. 1976. Leif Panduro. Romaner. Noveller. Journalistik. København: Borgen.

Jørgensen, John Christian, and Erik Olesen. 1974. Introduction to Omkring Den kroniske uskyld, eds. John Christian Jørgensen and Erik Olesen, 10-27. København: Reitzel.

Kalleberg, Kirsten. 2003. “‘If You Really Want to Hear about It’ - Skrivehandling som plot hos J.D. Salinger, Leif Panduro og Lars Saabye Christensen.” motskrift 1: 56-69.

Lars Sund. 1998. Director Anders Engström. Finland (VHS/DVD).

Latham, Steven, and Sandra W. Lott. 2009. “‘The World Was All Before Them’: Coming of Age in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Weep Not, Child and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.” In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, ed. Harold Bloom, 21-36. New York: Infobase (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations).

Lodge, David. 1992. “Teenage Skaz.” In David Lodge, The Art of Fiction, 17-20. London: Penguin.

Lundbo, Orla. [1973] 1974. Panduro. København: Gyldendal.

Michelsen, Knud, and Berit Riis Langdal. [2005] 2009. Litteraturens perioder. København: Gyldendal.

Miller, Douglas T., and Marion Nowak. 1977. The Fifties: The Way We Really Were. New York: Doubleday.

Nadel, Alan. 2009. “Rhetoric, Sanity, and the Cold War: The Significance of Holden Caulfield’s Testimony.” In J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, ed. Harold Bloom, 5-20. New York: Infobase (Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations).

Ohlsson, Anders. 1998. Läst genom kameralinsen. Studier i filmiserad svensk roman. Nora: Nya Doxa.

Ohmann, Carol, and Richard Ohmann. 1976. “Reviewers, Critics, and The Catcher in the Rye.” Critical Inquiry 1: 15-37.

Oldsey, Bernard S. 1961. “The Movies in the Rye.” College English 3: 209-15.

Panduro, Leif. [1958] 1986. Rend mig i traditionerne. København: Gyldendal.

—. 1961. Kick Me in the Traditions, trans. Carl Malmberg. New York: Erikson- Taplinger.

Rifbjerg, Klaus. [1958] 1986. Den kroniske uskyld. København: Gyldendal.

—. 1966. La grande sbronza, trans. Liliana Uboldi. Milano: Rizzoli.

Salinger, Jerome David. [1951] 1994. The Catcher in the Rye. London: Penguin.

Secher, Claus. 1998. “American Literature in Denmark.” In Images of America in Scandinavia, eds. Poul Houe and Sven H. Rossel, 24-37. Amsterdam / Atlanta: Rodopi.

Stenwall, Åsa. 1996. Den förvirrade äventyraren. Hur pojkar blir män i nyare finlandssvensk litteratur. Helsingfors: Schildt.

Sund, Lars. [1975] 1998. Natten är ännu ung. Helsingfors: Söderström.

Notes

1   Rifbjerg’s work has appeared as La grande sbronza in Liliana Uboldi’s Italian translation (Rifbjerg 1966).

2   Kirsten Kalleberg (2003), in an essay dedicated to the act of writing in Salinger, Panduro and the Norwegian author Saabye Christensen, mentions, without further specification, P.C. Jersild’s novel Barnens ö (The Children’s Island, 1976) as another example of Swedish prose that falls within the influence of The Catcher in the Rye. While some of the features in Jersild’s text do support the parallel (the protagonist is an eleven-year-old exploring the city of Stockholm on his own), the narrative elements that interest the present analysis are irrelevant in Barnens ö.

3   In a short documentary film directed by Anders Engström (Lars Sund 1998), cf. also Stenwall 1996, 15.

4   See, e.g., Hesselaa (1976, 22): “J.D. Salinger’s [sic] ‘Catcher in the Rye’ er ofte blevet nævnt som inspirationskilde for dem begge, men både Rifbjerg og Panduro afviser teorien om direkte påvirkning” (“J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye has often been mentioned as a source of inspiration for the two, though both Rifbjerg and Panduro dismiss the theory of any direct influence”). All translations are mine.

5   “Well, in defence one must say that at that point one had not read Salinger! When I wrote Den kroniske uskyld I was also more than certain to be the only person in Denmark who would dream of writing a coming-of-age novel, and then Panduro came and did it simultaneously. There is undoubtedly a spiritual world temperature bringing certain phenomena into existence at one and the same time.”

6   “Common point of departure.”

7   The first scholar to investigate the parallels between Rifbjerg and Salinger was Poul Bager (1974), cf. Jørgensen and Olesen 1974, 21.

8   “If I was about to write some kind of school composition now, I guess you’d want to hear the whole story right from the start, how I was born and what my old man does for a living and where ma was born and what granddad did and where the other granddad was born and my whole pedigree for ever and ever, all the way back to Adam and Eve. But it wouldn’t interest a damned soul, and I guess the old folks would get the hiccups for fear of knowing that I’m blowing the whistle on stuff that’s of no importance anyway. So I’ll leave it be. What interests you, hopefully, is myself and my own story, which I’m about to tell. You can make up the rest yourselves, if you bother.”

9   According to Flaker (1980, 154), an ironic attitude towards canonised national literature is another trait distinguishing ‘jeans-prose’.

10   Cf. Costello 1959, 172-73.

11   “Some kinda house gnome, who scuttles around and looks after people.”

12   “It was as if they were my children. I had sat there guarding them while they were saying their good-byes and were so defenceless.”

13   Sund’s and Rifbjerg’s novels are set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Second World War, respectively, while Panduro’s David has a genuine obsession with the atomic bomb.

14   “You know what, while the birds are chirping and the waves are splashing and the wind is blowing and all that poetic crap.”

15   “I didn’t mean to veer off into that poetic crap.”

16   “If this was some kinda lame novel where loads of lame characters do loads of stupid things, at this point I would have left to set up a swede factory or become a revolutionary theoretician, or else I’d have gotten on friendly terms with the old folks except it’d already be too late and I’d be standing on the balcony rail threatening to jump, and when everything was starting to seem ok I’d slip and fall down […]. But hey, this is not some kinda novel, it is real life, and in real life these things don’t happen.”

17   “‘In books they always smoke a cigarette on the bedside after making out’, I thought. But we hadn’t made out. Besides, I very rarely drank coffee.”

18   “It is forbidden for every person over thirty to use more than twenty words a day.”

19   “Hollywood has provided a standard form for everyone’s life. Nobody can determine with certainty where Hollywood begins and he himself ends.”

20   “When Kim Novak stands there fiddling with James Dean’s collar, the options are two. Either he answers like an angry young man: - quit it, or he kisses her. I kissed her [...].”

21   “Everything followed a preset scheme.”

22   “Then the orchestra started playing Pennies from Heaven real slow, and I could see what I looked like as I turned towards the dance floor. I looked damned tired and imperious, as if I found myself overlooking a speakeasy in Jersey City instead of a horrible gymnasium in a girls’ school in Copenhagen.”

23   “It was almost too much, but suddenly it felt as if we all were actors in a film, and then it wasn’t so bad.”

24   “One of those viciously spiritual faces, which you can observe in any American film.”

25   “There’s something about her […] that makes you want to be terribly nice to her. […] I don’t mean to say that I wouldn’t want to do all sorts of stuff to her, but I can’t bring myself to say all those insincere words to her that are normally used. […] To tell you the truth, I’m very much in love with her, but Hollywood always intervenes. I could of course act like a real man and take her without a word, but that would also be Hollywood.”

26   “She sat there looking at me and I thought that it was precisely the way people sat looking at each other in Hollywood movies just before they kissed. And as the thought crossed my mind it felt like we were acting. And then I was unable to kiss her anyway, since I was supposed to do it in a certain way, saying certain things and smiling in a certain way. And an orchestra of a hundred musicians was supposed to play Fascination. And I wouldn’t have been able to say that I had done my own thing.”

27   “Words lost their meaning long ago. Hitler and Stalin and Hollywood and many more have joined in a successful venture to destroy words. Well, what do you associate with words like happiness, freedom, love, democracy, slavery, passion and desire? I don’t associate anything with them. Except Hollywood.”

Auteur

Università degli Studi di Milano – PhD, is Assistant Professor in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Milan, where she has been teaching Scandinavian literature since 2003. Her main research interests include encounters between verbal and visual language (literary impressionism, illustrated books, graphic novels, comics), but she has also worked on subjects such as autobiography, travel writing, and the historical novel

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