In 1960 To Kill a Mockingbird was released and quickly became a literary sensation widely acclaimed by critics and the masses alike. 55 years later in February 2015 it was announced that a newly discovered novel title Go Set a Watchman by the beloved Harper Lee would be published later this year on July 14, 2015. The release is quite controversial. Lee is now 89 years old and had completed Watchman over 50 years ago (same time as Mockingbird was written). It certainly seems strange for the reclusive author who never published another novel in her life to suddenly feel like now is the right time to release a “newly discovered manuscript.” Numerous blogs and other media have questioned the motivation behind the publication of Watchman in Lee’s twilight years. One other interesting detail is that Mockingbird was heavily edited beginning with a series of anecdotes and ending with the treasure we have not. Watchman is apparently only lightly copy-edited.
While Watchman may simply be scraps compared to Mockingbird (since her original editor did not help craft this novel) you can think of it as getting scraps from a Kobe steak, and them is pretty good scraps. Aside from speculations of editing and quality of writing, apparently the story is not as idealistic or redemptive as Mockingbird with Atticus portrayed as a bigoted old man in his later years. The first chapter, released a week early, is really benign and not telling of anything other than Jean-Louise (Scout) being all grown up with a hometown romantic interest that she isn’t sure about. With that information in hand I bought a copy of each anyway. Too many reports were written by people that had not read the book themselves for me to stand down.
It is not likely to be as good as Mockingbird just because such cultural powerhouse novels aren’t a common thing, but I won’t know if it is bad unless I read it myself. This is what I think it might say if it is badly written or if it tells a story that I don’t like about the stalwart exemplary Atticus of Mockingbird:
- Watchman would a good example of reality rather than an ideal fantasy.
- Watchman could be telling of the crucial role that Lee’s original editor played in Mockingbird and therefore allow the public to spread some of the praise for its greatness around a bit.
- Watchman could show us the original intent and perception espoused by Lee in the 1950s regarding race and the proper place of different people at that time in American history. Perhaps a view that she was unwilling to expose in the intervening years.
In the end I think it will be a worthwhile endeavor and plan to see what there is to find in Go Set a Watchman having just completed To Kill a Mockingbird I think it will be interesting to say the least.