American author J.D. Salinger (most famous for the often-banned The Catcher in the Rye) first published "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" in his 1953 short story collection Nine Stories (1953). All of the other stories had been previously published – "Down at the Dinghy" in Harper's Magazine, and the other seven stories in The New Yorker. "Blue Period" has the distinction of being the only Salinger story ever rejected by The New Yorker. We can't imagine why. It's a mini-masterpiece: a beautiful and exciting work with no shortage of laughs, and maybe tears, too, if you think about the sad parts long enough.
Both tragic and comic throughout, "Blue Period" is the story of a nineteen-year-old's adventure as an art teacher with a fake identity. He's in a "blue period" because his mother has just died and he's now struggling to learn how to live without her. The main story is set in 1939, part of a "blue period" for the world, World War II. It's (presumably) a particularly sad time for Pablo Picasso (the real owner of the term "Blue Period") as well. Picasso's mother passed away in that year.
As astute critic John Russell points out Jean de Daumier-Smith and J.D. Salinger share the same initials. The narrator of the story is anonymous, and quite possibly a recluse, just like J.D. Salinger. As you might have heard, Salinger is notorious for being an extremely private person. Be sure to check out "Best of the Web" for more links and Shmoop's biography of Salinger for more on his life.
What? The title alone isn't enough to spark your interest? We don't know about you guys, but if we saw a title like this on a bookshelf, we'd just have to peek inside. Of course, we get that not everyone spends their spare time prowling bookstores, checking out spines, so how about this:
Ever wanted to change your life? We don't mean get a better job, or lose a bit of weight. We mean totally chuck everything in your world for a set of entirely new experiences. We're imagining a lot of raised hands out there. The truth is, this is a pretty common fantasy, but it's probably a really rare occurrence. As much as our current lives can be a drag, it's a lot safer and more realistic to stick with what we know than to scrap everything and start from scratch.
This difficulty can put us in a bind, which is precisely the kind of trouble ol' Jean de Daumier-Smith is dealing with. Oh, and by Jean de Daumier-Smith, we mean Jean from New York, just a regular shmoe dealing with his own problems by trading in one life for another. Sure, it starts out great, but eventually things come apart and Jean ends up right back to where he started. His star pupil, Sister Irma, deals with the same problem. She's just not willing, or able, to transform her old life as a nun to become a full-time artist.
So this may not be the happiest story you've ever read (for that we'd have to go with this), but reading it lets you know that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. It's natural to want to go all Eat, Pray, Love and reinvent yourself, but also really difficult. And Javier Bardem is definitely not waiting for you in Bali. Maybe, then, by reading this story, you'll come to appreciate what your current life has to offer in first place. Just like Droopy.
Meet Salinger.org – a vast web resource for all things J.D. Stop by to learn more about this strange and fascinating author.
Salinger at The Guardian
Here's the Salinger page at Britain's Guardian, which boasts one of the best Books sections of any newspaper anywhere.
Salinger at The New York Times
Check out the Salinger Topic Page at the NY Times.
Taken in 1951
Picasso's Blue Period
Learn more about Picasso's Blue Period, and check out his paintings from this time period.