“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.” ~ Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman is a “new” novel by Harper Lee which is set to be released on July 14, 2015 by HarperCollins in the United States and William Heinemann in the United Kingdom.

It is new but it is old. It was written before Lee’s only published novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Some news reports have called the book a “sequel” to Mockingbird, but that’s not totally accurate.

cvrGo Set a Watchman was written in the mid-1950s before she wrote Mockingbird, which was published in 1960. Go Set a Watchman was the first novel Harper Lee submitted to publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird.

It wasn’t accepted or published and was assumed to have been lost. She set it aside when her editor suggested that she write another novel from young Scout Finch’s perspective.

The manuscript was then said to be “lost” until it was “rediscovered” by her lawyer in the fall of 2014.  What’s with all those quotes around words? I’m not convinced that story is true – and I’m not the only one who feels that way.

The title is from the Bible (Isaiah 21:6) “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.”

As any reader of Mockingbird knows, young Scout sees her father, Atticus Finch, as the moral center, the watchman, of their town of Maycomb.

Harper Lee in 2007

Maycomb is a thinly-disguised version of Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama where she was born in 1926. She attended Huntingdon College and studied law at the University of Alabama.She recently celebrated her Happy 89th birthday. She has been awarded numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Go Set a Watchman is a literary event.

To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite novels and one I loved teaching because many students ended up loving it too. That’s part of why I am cautiously anticipating the new novel.

Some media reports the past few months have also been suspicious about the manuscript’s sudden discovery and the publication.

Harper Lee’s health has been in decline and she had said last year she would not write or release another novel. Her sister was also her caregiver and he lawyer. Her sister died and two months later comes the announcement of the new book. Harper is blind, 89 years old, in assisted living where she has been since she had a stroke in 2007. NPR suggested that the publication circumstances raise “questions about whether she is being taken advantage of in her old age.”

I have read that some people were planning to boycott the new novel, believing that it would tarnish her Mockingbird reputation. The publisher has said that it will be published as originally written, with no revisions.

Did Harper Lee control over the decision to publish? Is it a worthy followup to her beloved first novel?

I hope the answer is yes to both of those questions.

Will I read the book? Yes. How can I resist?

Go Set a Watchman tells the story of an adult Scout Finch who travels from New York to Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father, Atticus. It is a sequel in that it takes place 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird.  You could think of Mockingbird as her prequel to Watchman.

tkamThe book is said to have many of the characters we already know and love. It will be interesting to see how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are dealing with events in the mid-1950s American south.

If you’re a big fan of a novel, then you might not welcome the idea of it being made – and ruined – by a film version.  You also might not welcome a sequel of a novel or a film if you think it was just being released to make a buck.

I am hoping that Watchman was just as well written as Lee’s other book since they were written about the same time. Of course, all the years that I taught Mockingbird, I would look for biographical material on Lee and it always said she was “at work on a second novel.” Wouldn’t she have gone back to that earlier manuscript and released it if she thought it was as good as Mockingbird?

I hope a watchman has been watching over Harper Lee.

 

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