Harper Lee, A Legend Endures

As reported by Mallory Kane on The Hummingbird Place on Blog Talk Radio, on March 2, 2015

HARPER LEE, A LEGEND ENDURES
by
Mallory Kane

If you’re a reader, you almost certainly know about the recent announcement that Harper Lee, the author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, her only novel in 50 years, will publish a second book this summer. GO SET A WATCHMAN, already in the top 100 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, months before its July publication date, purportedly features an adult version of Scout, the famous and beloved protagonist of MOCKINGBIRD. In a statement recently released by her publisher HarperCollins, Lee said, “In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman. It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized it had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

‘If you read the book …
only Harper Lee could have
written this novel.’
Jonathan Burnham,
Sr. V.P. & publisher,
Harper/HarperCollins
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But author Marja Mills, whose book THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR detailed her friendship with Lee and Lee’s sister Alice Harper, has said that Lee told her clearly that she had decided long ago never to publish another book.

Mills agrees that Lee’s declaration means there was not another manuscript, whether partial or complete. In a recent interview, Mills said, “Nelle Harper (Harper Lee) and I both talked about the revisions and years that went into revising and reshaping what Nelle was writing into what became TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.‘ So I think it’s likely that there certainly were earlier chapters she had written or just earlier pages and versions done well before MOCKINGBIRD became MOCKINGBIRD…. She certainly wrote a lot before the book was ever published, so I don’t know.”

But Mills expressed concern about the timing of the decision to publish GUARDIAN. In her memoir, Mills quotes Lee as insisting that she had said all that she needed to say and that there would be no other book.

A member of the law firm that handled Harper Lee’s estate released a statement purportedly from Lee stating that the author did not cooperate with Mills’s book. But a statement released by Lee’s sister Alice, contradicts the attorney, saying she and her sister fully supported and cooperated with Mills’s memoir, THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR. Alice also issued the following, rather alarming statement regarding Lee. “Poor Nelle Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by any one in whom she has confidence. Now she has no memory of the incident.”

Apparently the publishing staff of HarperCollins has no direct communication with Harper Lee because of her physical infirmities. A vice-president said that they do all their dealing through her new lawyer, who, it turns out, is the same lawyer who found the manuscript of GO SET A WATCHMAN in Lee’s safe deposit box, wrapped in a manuscript of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. When asked about her willingness to have GO SET A WATCHMAN published, the V.P. admitted no one from HarperCollins has spoken to Lee but declared that they would never go against her wishes.

Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher of Harper, provided more details about the manuscript itself. ‘You can see that it is written on a manual typewriter from the period,” he said. “It has on the front of it the address where Harper Lee was living at the time in New York. But if you read the book… only Harper Lee could have written it.’

The recovered manuscript has ignited fierce debate—much of it speculative—about why Lee waited so long to publish again, whether the book will stand up to her beloved first novel, and whether the author, who has long shied away from public attention, might have been pressured or manipulated into publishing the newly discovered manuscript.

Many of Harper’s friends were shocked to hear that Lee was publishing a second book, citing her determination to never publish another book while at the same time hinting that she may be mentally infirm and could not have signed off on the publication, Others insist that she is, at 88 years old, fully capable of making up her own mind.

Fifty-five years after its publication, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD remains one of the most influential works in American literature, with global sales topping 40 million copies. But the question of who actually wrote the book has been around as long as the book itself. The top contender? Lee’s childhood friend, Truman Capote. However, in a letter to his aunt, Capote seems to belie the rumor. In the letter, dated prior to the book’s publication date, which came to light in 2007, Capote wrote that he had seen the novel, had read much of it, and liked it very much. He also wrote that Lee was very talented. Notably, there is nothing in the letter that indicates any involvement in the book on his part.

It makes sense, given the obsession with fame and fortune in our culture, that the rumor that Lee did not write TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD on her own has grown from the fact that MOCKINGBIRD is the only book Harper Lee has ever published or wanted to publish.

Given the mystery surrounding Harper Lee in the fifty-five years since TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was published, stemming from her notorious and obsessive insistence on privacy, it hardly seems surprising that the announcement and scheduling of this “new” book is steeped in intrigue. Had Lee forgotten the existence of GO SET A WATCHMAN until her young lawyer found it wrapped in a manuscript of MOCKINGBIRD? Or did she know exactly what would be found when that safety deposit box was opened. Did she agree, or even plot the discovery and ultimate publication of the book she wrote first? Or is she in fact deaf and blind and too ill and frail to understand or possibly even care that she is about to become a literary marvel once again.

Either choice is poignantly compelling to a reading public who is waiting to read a second book by Harper Lee, but the questions surrounding GO SET A WATCHMAN, like the author’s life, appears destined to remain a mystery.

The information found in this article was taken from articles which originally appeared in Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times, Huffington Post, USA Today, and various online articles and op-eds.

Mallory Kane has written 35 romantic suspense novels for Harlequin Intrigue and has two books scheduled for May and June of 2015. She also writes paranormal, contemporary and historical romance and has several novels and short stories independently published online. She has one book currently available from Tule Publishing and is working on a second and third. Ms. Mallory appears on The Hummingbird Place, Your Home for Romance, on blogtalkradio.com, Monday nights at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, where she reports on the week’s Romance News, sponsored by Dark Hollows Press.

 

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