Harper Lee wrote Go Set A Watchman in the 50’s while living in New York City. The novel centers on a woman named Scout, reflecting on her life in New York and her decision to return home to Alabama to revive the relationship with Atticus, her 70 year old father. Lee’s editors asked her to instead focus on a younger Scout, a character hungry to learn the intricacies of the harsh southern world around her. Lee took the flashbacks from Watchman and created To Kill A Mockingbird, arguably the most important coming of age story ever told.
Now Watchman is seeing the light of day after it’s creation in the 50’s, with little to no revision. Lee is 89, suffered a stroke, and has not written in years. The characters in Watchman haven’t had that constant tweaking needed for perfection. In this prequel of sorts, Atticus is a somewhat typical character from the segregated south. A man who believes that the black race is backwards and in need of refinement. Yet, it begs readers to realize that Atticus isn’t a man, he’s a character. And his original “self” is one you may loathe.
The novel is being called a very rough first draft, because that’s exactly what it is. A writer gets no satisfaction from his or her work. We’re never finished, we never believe that what we’ve completed is worthy. That’s why you must trust an editor with something so dear to your heart and original vision. Lee hasn’t had that relationship with an editor in decades. So why publish this manuscript now?
HarperCollins chose to push Go Set A Watchman hard, making it the fastest selling novel in the publishing house’s history (with 1.1 copies sold in a week). The Wall Street Journal ran an excerpt of the 1st chapter before its release, as well as a contest for a signed copy. HarperCollins and The Wall Street Journal are both owned by Rupert Murdoch. I hope the pieces are starting to fit, as it seems HarperCollins looks to cash in on frail, quiet, bewildered artists. Worth a read? Maybe. A companion piece to one of the greatest novels ever written? Hardly.
Some might say Go Set A Watchman is a novel we were never meant to see. But you can thank Murdoch and his never ending quest for cash as the catalyst for a Lee’s potentially tarnished legacy.