Go Set a Watchman

Controversy

Some publications have called the timing of the book "suspicious", citing Lee's declining health, statements she had made over several decades that she would not write or release another novel, and the recent death of her sister and caregiver—two months before the announcement.[19][20] NPR reported on the news of her new book release, with circumstances "raising questions about whether she is being taken advantage of in her old age".[21] Some publications have even called for fans to boycott the work.[22] News sources, including NPR[21] and BBC News,[23] have reported that the conditions surrounding the release of the book are unclear and posit that Lee may not have had full control of the decision. Investigators for the state of Alabama interviewed Lee in response to a suspicion of elder abuse in relation to the publication of the book.[24] However, by April 2015 the investigation had found that the claims were unfounded.[25]

Historian and Lee's longtime friend Wayne Flynt told Associated Press that the "narrative of senility, exploitation of this helpless little old lady is just hogwash. It's just complete bunk." Flynt said he found Lee capable of giving consent and believes no one will ever know for certain the terms of said consent.[26]

Marja Mills, author of The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, a friend and former neighbor of Lee and her sister Alice, paints a very different picture. In her piece for The Washington Post "The Harper Lee I knew",[8] she quotes Lee's sister Alice, whom she describes as "gatekeeper, advisor, protector" for most of Lee's adult life, as saying "Poor Nelle Harper can't see and can't hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence." She makes note that Watchman was announced just two and a half months after Alice's death and that all correspondence to and from Lee goes through her new attorney. She describes Lee as "in a wheelchair in an assisted living center, nearly deaf and blind, with a uniformed guard posted at the door" and her visitors "restricted to those on an approved list".[8]

New York Times columnist Joe Nocera continues this argument.[7] He also takes issue with how the book has been promoted by the 'Murdoch Empire' as a "Newly discovered" novel, attesting that the other people in the Sotheby's meeting insist that Lee's attorney was present in 2011, when Lee's former agent (whom she subsequently fired) and the Sotheby's specialist found the manuscript. They say she knew full well that it was the same one submitted to Lippencott in the '50s that was reworked into Mockingbird, and that Carter had been sitting on the discovery, waiting for the moment when she, and not Alice, would be in charge of Harper Lee's affairs.[7] He questions how commentators are treating the character of Atticus as though he were a real person and are deliberately trying to argue that the character evolved with age as opposed to evolved during development of the novel. He quotes Lee herself from one of her last interviews in 1964 where she said "I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing—is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this—the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea."[7][27] He states that, "a publisher that cared about Harper Lee's legacy would have taken those words to heart, and declined to publish Go Set a Watchman—the good idea that Lee eventually transformed into a gem. That HarperCollins decided instead to manufacture a phony literary event isn't surprising. It's just sad."[7]

Others have questioned the context of the book's release, not in matters of consent, but that it has been publicized as a sequel as opposed to an unedited first draft.[8] There is no foreword to the book, and the dust jacket, although noting that the book was written in the mid-1950s, gives the impression that the book was written as a sequel or companion to Mockingbird, which was never Lee's intention.[8][13] Edward Burlingame, who was an executive editor at Lippincott at the time of Mockingbird's release, has stated there was never any intention, then or after, on the part of Lee or Hohoff, to publish Watchman. It was simply regarded as a first draft.[13] "Lippincott’s sales department would have published Harper Lee’s laundry list", Burlingame said. "But Tay really guarded Nelle like a junkyard dog. She was not going to allow any commercial pressures or anything else to put stress on her to publish anything that wouldn’t make Nelle proud or do justice to her. Anxious as we all were to get another book from Harper Lee, it was a decision we all supported." He said that in all his years at Lippincott, "there was never any discussion of publishing Go Set a Watchman".[13]

Brilliant Books, an independent bookstore in Michigan, made headlines by offering full refunds to customers who felt duped by the marketing of the book, calling it "shameful" and "exploitative". They released a statement shortly after Go Set a Watchman was released, comparing the book to James Joyce's Stephen Hero and condemning its publication.[28]


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