Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Harper Lee’s Controversial Second Novel

Her debut novel won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beloved books in the English language. It sells in excess of three quarters of a million copies each year. And yesterday’s announcement that a second novel by Harper Lee would be published this coming summer nearly broke the Internet.

Go Set a Watchman will be published July 14. HarperCollins will come out of the gate with two million copies and we no longer have to wonder what the top selling book of 2015 will be.

Lee announced through her publisher that she wrote what will be her second published novel before the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. She said the book, “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.”

The announcement, as well as the author’s quotes regarding publication of the book, came entirely through her publisher.

“I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized [the original book] 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. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”

Since Lee is now 88 and somewhat infirm, suspicions of foul play have been loud and pointed. “Be Suspicious of the New Harper Lee Novel,” a Jezebel headline advised.
Tonja Carter, Harper Lee’s attorney since Alice Lee retired at the age of 100, acknowledges that the author—who was left forgetful and nearly blind and deaf after a stroke in 2007—often doesn't understand the contracts that she signs. "Lee has a history of signing whatever's put in front of her, apparently sometimes with Carter's advice," Gawker reported last July. 
“The existence of ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was unknown until recently, and its discovery is an extraordinary gift,” said HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham in a statement.
But was the gift willingly given?
But in an interview with Vulture, Lee’s editor, Hugh Van Dusen, asserts his confidence that all is as it should be.
Vulture: It’s easy to be skeptical about her willingness to publish a book that had been forgotten for 55 years.  
Van Dusen: You mean was she unwilling to have it published? No, no, no, no. We would never do that. She’s too valuable an author to fool around with that way. It would never happen. We wouldn’t dare do that.
Further, Van Dusen seemed confident that there would be no breaking news on the topic. “I don’t think anything there's going to be anything more revealing than what's in the press release,” he told Vulture.

Considering Lee’s reclusive reputation, her advanced age and just how venerated Mockingbird has been, it seems unlikely we will ever truly know if Lee had intended for this lost manuscript to be found and published.

What we do know: those of us who have loved To Kill a Mockingbird are going to enjoy seeing Lee’s vision of a fully grown Scout. And those of us who love books can rejoice, as well. Any time a book-related announcement can raise so much dust we are reassured that reading and book culture are alive and well.

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Blogger Jeri Westerson said...

I do worry that she has been badgered into this. After all, didn't her agent bilk her out of millions?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 at 8:02:00 AM PST  

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