There has been a stir among the literary community with the announcement that Nelle Harper Lee will release her second book, “Go Set a Watchman,” this July 14, decades after her 1960 novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Lee, 88, lives in an assisted living home in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Writing only a few short essays, avoiding media overall and typically only releasing statements through third parties, Lee has lived a mysterious and quiet life after writing what is considered to be one of the greatest American novels.
Lots of suspicion has been raised about whether publishing her second book is Lee’s true wish. Locals from her hometown claim she is practically blind and deaf and incapable of making such a decision. Although her new book agent, Tonja Carter, said Lee was happy about the press her second book was receiving, it opposes her initial stance on a second book.
After Lee published Mockingbird under the pseudonym Harper Lee, she dodged pressure to publish another book, stating: “I said what she had to say … when you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go,” and “I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ for any amount of money.”
Lee made a lot of money from Mockingbird. According to legal papers filed against a former book agent, in the first six months of 2009 alone, Lee earned $1.6 million from royalties. So naturally, there’s speculation that Carter might be duping Lee into releasing Watchman just for the money.
But if there’s any lesson to be absorbed from Mockingbird, it’s that a clean unbiased perspective is the best way to judge the human character—one which is subject to so many moral inflections.
Atticus Finch was Lee’s character in Mockingbird who personified a clean sense of judgement. As easy as it is to quantify Carter as a greedy lawyer, or Lee as a misunderstood, reclusive writer, Atticus wouldn’t have.
That is why before drawing conclusions on Carter’s or Lee’s intent with this second book, one should simply draw perspective of the two characters first—just like Atticus would.
Lee is old. Even before she suffered a stroke in 2007, she had a reputation of signing legal documents without reading them and releasing statements that weren’t always believed to be her.
In 2001, Chicago Tribune reporter, Marja Mills, become close with the Lee sisters, Nelle and Alice, after writing a story on them. They kept in touch and Mills eventually moved next to them. Mills went on to publish a biographical book about the two sisters, “The Mockingbird Next Door.”
But with the release of the book, a series of four statements came from Alice, Nelle, Alice and Nelle again, respectively confirming, disputing, confirming and disputing their involvement with Mills’s work. But Mills still insists that both sisters knew entirely that she was writing the book about them.
Alice Lee managed Nelle’s legalities with Mockingbird under her law firm, Barnett, Bugg, Lee & Carter. She worked in the firm past her 100th birthday, and it wasn’t until her recent death three months ago at the age of 103 were the reigns of Mockingbird handed over to her legal prodigy, Carter.
Carter began working for the firm shortly after she got her law degree in 2006. She’s a good lawyer. In 2013, she helped Harper win a legal battle against an old book agent, Samuel Pinkus, claiming he tricked Harper into signing over the copyright to Mockingbird. Harper walked away with financial compensation and rights to all revenue “derived from the exploitation of Property.”
But there’s a twist. Carter is married to the son of the late author, Truman Capote. Capote was a good friend of the Lee sisters, so there is little doubt Carter is on good terms with the family as well. However, if you’re well versed on your literary conspiracy theories, you’ll know that some speculate Harper never even wrote Mockingbird, but instead was written by Capote under the pen name Harper Lee.
After studying the situation, Atticus still might be wondering if Nelle Lee gave deliberate permission for Carter to publish her second book—but more importantly, he might be wondering who the real Harper Lee is.