Have we met before? My name is Alexander Wainwright—landscape painter and protagonist of the Trilogy of Remembrance. My personal story is contained in those three volumes. Two have been published—The Drawing Lesson and The Fate of Pryde. The third one, Night Crossing, I’m told, will be published in 2014.
Right now, I’m riding on a creaking and rickety train headed for the tiny town of Cornish. For hours, I have stared out the window lost in thought as we passed through the deep green woods and rocks and the sparkling streams of New Hampshire.
I’m on a bit of a holiday from those novels of the trilogy where my creator, Mary E. Martin, decides where I go and what I do and say. She can, at times, be quite controlling and it’s good to get some time off.
But she poses me the most intriguing but unanswerable questions about the nature of the universe and why we are here. For example, do you think we live in a random universe or one that is ordered by mysterious forces we cannot always understand? Just what those forces might be and how they operate provide me with endless hours of conjecture.
On these travels, I am always in search of my light or my muse. Still, I have my own life to live. As a character in a novel, I sometimes wonder if you, as full human beings, have the same debates over free will.
I’ve been reading a very fine novel, The Catcher in the Rye. This novel has led me to town of Cornish. I was really impressed by the main character, Holden Caulfield, a young man who lived in New York City. It seemed he had very wealthy parents who kept sending him from one boys’ boarding school to another where he’d stay a few months and then get kicked out. Not an accomplished student by any means! One who must by his nature, swim upstream.
However, I had to sympathize with him. Throughout his story he claimed that just about every adult in his life was a phony. The boy has a point. I suspect he’s the sort of person who sees beneath the surface of things. He sees the pretense in life and yearns for people to be authentic.
It’s a troublesome condition which I’ve had my entire life—this ability to see beyond appearances. In fact, my author, Martin, has sent me on numerous quests in the Trilogy of Remembrance for just that purpose—to find that ever present but elusive beyond both in life and in my painting.
That is why I set out to find Holden Caulfield to let him know he was not alone and that many others have similar misgivings. I searched the web to find out where the boy might be living. Although I could not locate him, I did find a man named J D Salinger [his author, I believe] who seemed to know a lot about him. It was he, I hoped, to visit in Cornish so that he might lead me to Holden.
It was a long but very pretty walk from the train station to J.D. Salinger’s farm. Cornish is very small but it does have a thriving arts community—a number of poets, painters and potters live there. It also has a very attractive covered bridge which I walked across admiring the river below. The house in the countryside did not look welcoming. One growling, barking dog nipped at my heels from the gate to the front door. Some of the windows were boarded up. When I knocked a very tall man answered and, frowning, gazed at me suspiciously.
I smiled and said, “Does Holden Caulfield live here. Might he be in?”
“What do you mean? If Holden Caulfield exists anywhere, it’s in the pages of The Catcher in the Rye.” The man tapped his temple with a long, bony finger “Or else in my head.” He began to shut the door.
“Please, sir, wait?”
“What? Are you with the press?”
I shook my head. The man did not seem to care for anyone from the media, which I can understand. “No. I’m not. I simply found Holden Caulfield to be very interesting young man, who seems to need help.”
“You do realize that he is a fictional character?”
“Yes…yes of course. But surely that doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist here in this world!” I hesitated. “Are you Mr. Salinger his creator?”
“Are you mad, sir?”
“Me? Mad? How so?”
“Most people understand that fictional characters have no existence independent of their author.”
I was stunned by such an outlandish claim. “Mr. Salinger…really! I am a fictional character standing before you. I tell you, I live and breathe in this world. If you cut me, I will surely bleed.”
He gave a ghastly grin. “Come in then.”
I nodded cheerfully and entered his home which resembled a turn of the century farm house. The parlour had a fireplace large enough for cooking. Around it sat several rocking chairs and a few tables with gas lamps. He motioned me to sit down in one of the smaller rockers.
I asked, “Does Holden live here? May I speak with him?”
Salinger gave me a canny look as if he suspected I were playing a ridiculous joke. “Why do you persist in this absurd fantasy, Mr. Wainwright?”
“It’s neither a fantasy nor absurd. At least not from my point of view.”
“You seem angry. Why?”
“If someone questioned your existence even though you were seated in front of him, wouldn’t you be—somewhat annoyed?”
The man continued to stare at me without speaking for long moments. At last he said, “If you want to speak with Holden, you will have to do so through me. What do you want to ask him?”
I felt as if I were attending some weird seance, but if that were the best Salinger could offer, then I would have to accept it. I said, “Holden, why do you feel that everyone in The Catcher in the Rye is a phony? Is it true you can see underneath the disguise?”
When Salinger answered, a look of fierce, teenage angst came over him. He tensed his arms and his face grew rigid with anger. His voice was not that of an old man, but rather an angry, confused and disgusted young man. No longer did the man before me look like J.D. Salinger. Amazing! He looked exactly like Holden Caulfield.
His tone was that of a young boy—almost a child. “Because they are! Once I took this really pretty girl to see those dancers Lundt and Fontaine at Radio City Music Hall. But I got really pissed off with her and just walked out because she was such a phony. All caught up in her little world where everything was proper”
His face was dark and twisted. I could see the old man’s wrinkled face but—clear as day—I could see the smooth-faced boy’s suffering just underneath. What else could I conclude? Holden Caulfield lived right inside his creator J.D. Salinger. No! That’s wrong! Holden Caulfield was J.D. Salinger!
Good Lord! Does that mean that I am my creator and she is me?
Salinger stood up. “Shall we have that coffee now, Mr. Wainwright?”
The old man was back in just a few minutes with a tray of two mugs of coffee and a plate of biscuits.
When I took my cup and began to sip the coffee, a look of consternation swept over Salinger’s face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“The old man gave his ghastly grin again and said, “Just a test, Mr. Wainwright. You are drinking the coffee and eating the biscuit. I can no longer deny your existence in this world. Unless I have myself suddenly gone mad this afternoon.”
I smiled to have, at last, my existence acknowledged. After we had reached our understanding, we had a most pleasant afternoon of discussion.
You probably can’t see him, but the creator J. D. Salinger is waving at me from the window as I left to catch the train.
These stories are developed from the novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] and are designed to entice you into that world and read them. Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter and visionary artist, is the star. Think of them as delightful appetizers. Enjoy and respond!