I want to preface this post by saying that it is in no way a book review. I merely want to toss around a few personal opinions about the current Harper Lee controversy. I did some research and took a few notes to ensure that my information is accurate, and - wouldn't you know it? I lost all of the notes. So, what I'm writing is completely off the top of my head (so to speak).
I was initially extremely skeptical when I heard that Harper Lee - author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird - suddenly consented (at age 89) to the publication of a nearly forgotten manuscript that she had written over 60 years ago.
According to the publishing company HarperCollins, and Lee's attorney Tonja Carter, a "newly discovered novel" by Harper Lee would be published in July of this year.
Statements by Attorney Carter indicated that Harper Lee was ecstatic and very enthusiastic at the prospect of this "second" novel, entitled Go Set a Watchman, being published (it was published and released on July 14).
Let's have a little reality check:
According to Harper Lee's sister Alice (who passed away last November), the famed novelist had been deteriorating physically and mentally for years. After suffering a stroke, she was physically incapacitated and was also deaf and nearly blind.
It's bitterly ironic that the announcement of publication came shortly after Alice's death and while Harper Lee is conveniently wheelchair-bound in a nursing home.
Harper Lee in 2007
Money and greed are the foremost factors in the publication of Go Set A Watchman. It is an insult to Lee's reputation and an extremely outrageous ploy to take advantage of an incompetent old lady's former literary fame.
It's no secret that Harper Lee shunned publicity her entire life and had stated numerous times that she'd never write another book. Why the sudden change when she's 89?
Like many people, I initially knew very few facts about Go Set a Watchman. I thought it was some sort of legitimate sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird.
In truth, Go Set a Watchman is a rough first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird that Harper Lee wrote in the mid-1950's. It was deemed unsuitable for publication by the editors but became the foundation for To Kill a Mockingbird, which was eventually published in 1960.
Incidentally, the title Go Set a Watchman is taken from a Bible verse, Isaiah 21:6 - - "Go set a watchman and let him declare what he sees."
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird takes place during the Depression Era , when the protagonist Jean Louise Finch (known as "Scout") is a child in the fictitious town of Maycomb, Georgia. Go Set a Watchman takes place twenty years later, when Jean Louise is an adult and returns to Maycomb for a visit to her attorney father Atticus Finch.
The childhood scenes in Go Set a Watchman were only told in flashbacks. Harper Lee worked extremely hard with her editor Tay Hohoff to develop the flashbacks into an entire novel which eventually became To Kill a Mockingbird.
Ironically, To Kill a Mockingbird was initially intended to be a trilogy - and ideas from the rough draft of Go Set a Watchman were going to be incorporated into two future sequel novels. The plan never materialized.
To publish Go Set a Watchman in its raw, crude state is a grievous disservice to Harper Lee and a ripoff for the unsuspecting public. It's not a genuine novel, merely a hodgepodge of rudimentary ideas. In fact, the editor who first read it considered it to be a series of anecdotes - not a novel.
I love the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and the 1962 film adaptation starring Gregory Peck is one of my favorite movies.
I have no desire to read Go Set a Watchman. From the reviews I've seen, it's supposedly poorly written and a major disappointment. It's beyond the realms of imagination that Harper Lee would have wanted it published.
A few facts about Harper Lee:
Her name was Nelle Harper Lee (Nelle from her grandmother's name - - Ellen spelled backwards). Harper Lee later dropped her first name because too many people mistakenly called her Nellie.
To Kill a Mockingbird was originally titled Atticus - after the character Atticus Finch in the book. Attius was the attorney father of Jean Louise (Scout) in the novel.
Harper Lee's real father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was a newspaper editor and an attorney.
He was, at least partially, the inspiration for the fictional Atticus Finch.
To Kill a Mockingbird was not a spontaneous or effortless literary endeavor. It took two and a half years of extremely hard work and endless rewrites before the novel was ready for publication. Harper Lee doubted her own talents, and once got so frustrated that she tossed the entire manuscript out the window into the snow.
Editor Tay Hohoff (Theresa Von Hohoff Torrey) worked very closely with Harper to help shape the book into an eventual masterpiece.
Writer Truman Capote was a close childhood friend of Harper Lee. She incorporated him as Dill, one of the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. An old rumor has long been circulating that Capote helped Harper write To Kill a Mockingbird - or that he wrote the novel himself. That is untrue and unfounded.
Harper Lee, in fact, helped Truman Capote do extensive research for his book In Cold Blood.
She also provided him with a very generous amount of notes, ideas, and suggestions. After the publication of In Cold Blood, Capote discounted Harper by insisting that she merely did some "secretarial work."
When Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird, Truman Capote became jealous and they never spoke again.
Harper Lee never expected To Kill a Mockingbird to become so successful and she was never able to deal with her success. She once stated that it would have been much easier to deal with failure.
She also believed that once you're at the top, there's no where to go but down. The whirlwind of fame in the 1960's left her no time for writing. She later attempted numerous new projects but never followed through. Alcoholism and fear of success turned her into a recluse and a mystery. She never married, and relied largely on her sister Alice for companionship and care.
The last public interview she gave was in 1964. It's a shame that her twilight existence is now being tainted with the publication of Go Set a Watchman.
New post on my photo blog: