The manuscript of the first never-published novel, entitled "Go Set A Watchman", was found by Tonja Carter, Ms. Lee's attorney and guardian who in Harper Lee's behalf gave the manuscript to a literary agent who brought it to the publisher HarperCollins.
HarperCollins snapped up the novel and plans to initially print two million copies which will go on sale in July. Pre-orders have caused "Go Set A Watchman" to zoom up to number one on the Amazon bestseller list five months in advance of its publication.
It seems that the whole country is anxious to read "Go Set A Watchman".
I'm anxious to have a look at it myself.
Even though I, along with many others, feel troubled by the circumstances surrounding its publication.
Harper Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007, is 88 years old and resides in an assisted living facility in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
According to those who know her she is frail, almost deaf and blind and, depending on who you wish to believe, is either still mentally sharp or not fully capable of making her own decisions.
But Tonja Carter, considered the gatekeeper between Harper Lee and the rest of the world, is the one who now speaks publicly for Harper Lee. Carter quoted Ms. Lee as saying that she was "alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to Watchman". In a press release by HarperCollins Ms. lee is also quoted, through Tonja Carter, as saying of the manuscript:
"I hadn't realized it had survived, so I 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."
Carter also added that Ms. Lee was "hurt and humiliated" by accusations that she was duped into agreeing to have her manuscript published.
Are we to believe, then, that all this eloquent public speaking is suddenly coming from Harper Lee, famous for her fierce privacy, reclusive shyness and desire only to be left alone? That it's from the same person who has made repeated declarations that she never wished to write or publish another novel?
But now, if Tonja Carter and the editors at HarperCollins are to be believed, Harper Lee has suddenly changed her mind. Changed her whole personality, in fact.
Harper Lee's older sister Alice, who used to be her sister's protector before her recent death at 103, said a few years ago that "Harper can't see and can't hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence."
Some consider it suspicious that the deal for Harper Lee's manuscript was made so soon after Alice Lee's death.
But aside from the questions of whether the publication of "Go Set A Watchman" goes against the wishes of it author who may be unable to speak for herself and whether Harper Lee is being manipulated and misused by someone she trusts, this whole story at first brought up another question for me: how could any writer, even if she were the most reclusive hermit on the planet not
want her work published?
We writers exist to be published. We flood agents and editors with our manuscripts, we self-publish, we yearn and burn to see our words in print, to have them read by others. We'd almost sell our souls for the sublime gratification of knowing that our writing is good enough that someone will actually pay us for it.
So even though Harper Lee vowed never to write another book what reason could she have possibly had all these years for not seeking the publication of "Go Set A Watchman"?
I found a possible answer in a New York times article that came out two days ago.
According to this article Harper Lee did once submit "Go Set A Watchman" for publication. But the editor at HarperCollins who read the manuscript rejected it. He suggested that she re-write the novel, re-set it from the present to the heroine's past and tell a similar story from a child's point of view.
Harper Lee followed the editor's advice and re-wrote then re-submitted the novel, which was published in 1960 under the title "To Kill A Mockingbird".
Now, I think it's interesting that although "To Kill A Mockingbird" sold 40 million copies, won a Pulitzer Prize and was proclaimed one of America's greatest literary masterpieces, until now neither Harper Lee nor HarperCollins has ever sought to publish "Go Set A Watchman" as a sequel. It seems to be an effort that both parties wanted forgotten.
And yet the current editor at HarperCollins has proclaimed to be "Go Set A Watchman" to be "fantastic."
But with predictions that this book will be the sight-unseen best-seller of 2015 and with advance orders already promising to reap in millions upon millions for everyone involved in its production, what difference does it make if the book is fantastic or dreadful? Who'll care?
Besides the person who wrote it?
1. "How Harper Lee's Long-Lost Sequel Was found", Russell Berman, The Atlantic, February 4, 2014.
2. "Harper Lee is 'Happy As Hell' About New Book", Maria Puente, USA Today, February 5, 2014.
3. "After Harper Lee Novel Surfaces, Plots Arise", Alexandra Alter and Sergei Kovaleski, The New York Times, February 8,2015.
4. "Does Harper Lee REeally Want Her Novel Published--And Do Her Wishes Matter?", Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2015.
5. "Harper Lee 'Extremely Hurt' By Mockingbird Sequel Claims", BBC News, February 9, 2015.