So, first, by way of context: We at The Wall have just recently finished Lewis Carroll's two Alice books, the second of which provided the opportunity to briefly examine an excised "episode," relatively recently discovered and published. Over the weekend, I picked up my battered copy of Salinger's Seymour, and Introduction and took to enjoying it yet again. Salinger, like Carroll, is dead. Also like the Carroll, Salinger wrote something--a lot of somethings, if the news is to be believed--that he never published.
The day Jerome David Salinger died, I had the same thought had by so many, and it was a greedy, unkind one. Part of me, I'm ashamed to admit, was happy he was gone. After all, now, finally, we might actually get the potential mountains of genius material with which he never deemed to grace the world. The literary cannon would expand!
Maybe I was wrong.
If I'm honest with myself, I (and I speak for me alone, though, again, if I'm being honest, I think I might even be qualified to speak for the literary world at large here, at least in this case) don't need "The Wasp in a Wig." Don't get me wrong, I love the episode, but I think I love it more because I love Carroll and Alice; not so much for its intrinsic value (which, as it happens, is not null, but yet pales--nearly disappears! --alongside the glaring brilliance of the rest of Looking-Glass). Is Carroll a better writer for having penned it? Are we better scholars ("scholars") for having read it? Does it benefit its source material? At all?
Well ... *sigh* ... no, maybe-but-not-by-much, and no.
In my little collection of great writers and their great works, I've got Salinger on a pedestal similar to Carroll's. Both have relatively little fiction available to the public (contrast this to someone like Steinbeck, who's got tons), and their ratios of near-/perfect to largely-flawed works are both impossibly high. If I apply a friend's scale for rating literature (upon which I give Wonderland a 4.5/5 and Looking-Glass a 5/5), I would give a portion of Salinger's fiction the same: Catcher in the Rye -- 4.5/5; Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters -- 4.5/5; "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" -- 5/5; "For Esme' -- with Love and Squalor" -- 5/5.
My impression of Carroll didn't change when I read "The Wasp in a Wig," and it didn't change when I finally admitted to myself that it was far, far from the more-or-less perfection of the Alice books. Why? Most likely because he didn't publish it! Would the same be the case with Salinger's alleged 15 un-published novels if they ever come to light? Would my love of Salinger and every word he's written (well, published) remain untainted?
I don't know. Is it worth the risk?