Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageAnyone who thought Go Set a Watchman would solve the 'delicious mystery' of Harper Lee was dreaming.Akki annant, CC BY-NC

We all love a good mystery. So what are we to make of claims and counterclaims currently playing out in the media about a possible “third book” in Harper Lee’s body of work, a companion piece to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) and the newly-released Go Set A Watchman (2015)? Is a third book possible?

Well, yes, it is.

In 1966, the Hanover County School Board in Richmond, Virginia declared To Kill a Mockingbird “immoral literature” and sought to have it banned from all school library shelves in their county. Still riding high on the success of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but becoming jaded with and tired of the demands of public life, Lee nevertheless provided a response to the heated discussion being played out in the local newspaper in that county, beginning by explaining the reports she’d heard from Richmond had made her wonder if any of “[the board] members can read”.

She continued:

I enclose a small contribution to the Beadle Bumble Fund that I hope will be used to enrol the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice.

Lee’s rapier wit and somewhat dark humour is not unlike that of the young Scout Finch’s innate rebelliousness and deep sense of justice, which many readers have already have seen playing out again in Go Set A Watchman, through Jean-Louise’s (the now grown-up Scout) conflicted relationship with her father, Atticus Finch.

This relationship, and particularly the rendering of Atticus Finch as a rather more complex man with segregationist overtones, has created in would-be readers and fans somewhat of an ethical dilemma – read the book, and risk tarnishing the image of one of the most beloved characters in American letters.

Atticus Finch is a man exalted like no other, particularly for one who’s occupation is a lawyer, and oft-cited as the reason many join the legal profession.

Real-life influences

Lee’s father AC Lee was also a lawyer, and it is to him both To Kill A Mockingbird and Go Set A Watchman are dedicated, along with Lee’s sister Alice, a lawyer with the distinction of having been the oldest practising lawyer in Alabama, only retiring a year or so before her death at 103 in November 2014.

While a respect for the law and a keen sense of justice ran in the family, it was Harper Lee who backed away from practising, leaving university just shy of a law degree to move to New York City to focus on writing. There are obvious commonalities between the portrayal of Jean-Louise in Go Set A Watchman and what we think we know of the life of Harper Lee, and it is through these close readings that we are given our only real glimpse at the writer herself.

Choosing a life away from home and the family trade seems characteristic of the strong-willed woman who wrote that blistering retort to the school board, and is evident in the index of Charles J Shields' unauthorised biography, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (2006).

Under “Lee, Nelle Harper”, we find entries for: “Athleticism” (p. 77, 78), “Drinking of” (22, 99, 129, 185, 270), “Foul mouth of” (76, 78), “Humor” (89, 97, 112) and, tellingly, “Nonconformism of” (33, 35, 39, 55, 61, 76-77, 84, and 237).

Lee’s carefully guarded private life is one of the few things over which she has retained a sense of ownership. One only has to witness the almost distressed and soul-searching reactions to the re-imagining of Atticus Finch being played out across social media and in news columns to understand that To Kill A Mockingbird is a book that in many ways belongs to us now, not Lee.

Competing versions

Charles J Shields' biography contains many references to the previous versions of To Kill A Mockingbird, and they are revealing, especially in light of claims there may be one more version of this much-loved and revered text.

We learn much about the labour Lee performed under the watchful eye of editor Tay Hohoff. The descriptions in Shields' book of the “drafts, titles and revisions” refer not only to the extensive editing and revision the manuscripts were subject to, but also the progressive titles, with Go Set A Watchman being first offered to editors in 1957.

Go Set A Watchman is recorded on index cards from the publisher’s office as being received, and Lippincott’s (the publisher) staff track the manuscript’s development over time.

There followed a series of suggestions to an uncommonly compliant Lee, and this resulted in the shift in perspective to what we now know is Jean-Louise as a 26-year-old in Go Set A Watchman, to Atticus in the next full manuscript submitted. Chapter 5 of Shields' unauthorised biography describes the next iteration of the novel in the chapter title: Atticus becomes To Kill a Mockingbird.

Atticus, then, would be the mysterious “third” book (chronologically, it would be the middle book of three). Hohoff’s name should figure largely in the eventual discussion of the changes made to the manuscripts, especially given the furore over the depiction of Atticus in Go Set A Watchman, and claims from Hohoff’s granddaughter that the editor would not have approved of the publication of Go Set A Watchman.

The new Atticus Finch

It seems evident that Hohoff’s steady hand guided Lee to a more flattering and progressive portrayal of Atticus Finch, one that may sit somewhere in the more moderate middle, if the manuscript of Atticus ever comes to light.

This is, by all accounts, the man AC Lee became later in life, and one Harper Lee enjoyed a good relationship with, developing a deep admiration for her father, as evidence by the dedications of both her best-selling books to him.

Perhaps in this third version of the man – in Atticus – readers would find, as Jean-Louise does (and as Harper Lee seemed to), a sense of balance and an acceptance of their differences. In the last pages of Go Set A Watchman we see this, with Jean-Louise helping the increasingly frail Atticus Finch into a car, expressing her love to him in words and yet thinking of him as “her old enemy” (p. 178).

There’s a quiet, devastating reference to her brother there too but then the dark Lee humour rears up and bites the reader, lest the scene lull us into a false sense of sentimentality.

Where Lee may have once responded with fiery retorts to a perceived slight against her work, the once rebellious nonconformist has been able to settle into something resembling acceptance – of her fame, of her status as a writer, of her life away from the limelight, which has regardless led to further scrutiny.

Questions still remain about the discovery and publication of Go Set A Watchman, including Lee’s participation and the role of her lawyer. It’s all part of what long time friends have described as the “delicious mystery” of Miss Lee.

Lee may still have one more ace up her sleeve, but Go Set A Watchman has already achieved some of what To Kill A Mockingbird did, both polarising and uniting readers – and leaving us ultimately wanting for more.

See also:A long-lost friend reborn: what we can expect from Go Set a Watchman

Lynda Hawryluk is affiliated with the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, and the Northern Rivers Writers Centre, organiser of the Byron Bay Writers Festival.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/the-third-book-harper-lee-may-indeed-have-another-ace-up-her-sleeve-44703

Writers Wanted

NZ election 2020: 5 experts on the final debate and the campaign's winners and losers ahead of the big decision

arrow_forward

Meet North Queensland First, the party that wants to kill crocs and form a new state

arrow_forward

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

3 Ways to Keep Your Business Safe with Roller Shutters

If you operate your business in a neighbourhood or city that is not known for being a safe environment, it is not surprising if you often worry about the safety of your business establishments o...

News Co - avatar News Co

Expert Tips on How to Create a Digital Product to Sell on Your Blog

As the managing director of a growing talent agency, I use the company blog to not only promote my business but as a way to establish ourselves as an authority in our industry. You see, blogs a...

Adam Jacobs - avatar Adam Jacobs

How to Find A company with Tijuana manufacturing

If you have decided to launch a business in Tijuana, there is a need to know about the manufacturing companies. The decision to choose a manufacturing company is not so easy as it looks.   The rig...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion