Harper Lee to publish 2nd bookBy Francie Johnson | 02/04/2015 2:04am
Before the University of Alabama alumna wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird,” she had already completed another manuscript, “Go Set a Watchman,” featuring the character of Scout as an adult. Now, more than half a century later, the book is set for a mid-July publication.
“My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout,” Lee wrote in a press release. “I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.”
Lee set aside the manuscript for “Go Set a Watchman,” never to return to it. It wasn’t until fall 2014, when Lee’s friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered the original manuscript, that Lee became aware a copy of the book had survived.
“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,” Lee wrote. “I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.”
Andy Crank, an assistant professor of American literature at the University, said people knew Lee had written “Go Set a Watchman,” an early version of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” However, it wasn’t until recently people learned a copy of the manuscript still exists or how different the two storylines really are, he said.
"[We didn’t know] that while it was an early version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ [‘Go Set a Watchman’] has a very different story and setting,” he said. “The setting takes place in the mid-1950s as opposed to the mid-1930s. This story is about an adult Scout Finch and not a child.”
HarperCollins Publishers announced Tuesday that “Go Set a Watchman” will be published on July 14, 2015, mere days after the 55th anniversary of the publication of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in July 1960.
The timing of this announcement is not without controversy. Alice Lee, Harper’s sister and lawyer, died less than three months ago in November 2014. Alice had been an advocate of Harper’s privacy, and the fact that the announcement of “Go Set a Watchman“s publication came so soon after her death is reason for skepticism, Crank said.
“Harper Lee said the reason [the book is being published now] is because she had given it to a handful of people to vet and they thought that it had value and the American readership should see it, but I think we can be suspicious about that comment with what we know about her sister passing away,” he said. “I think we should be suspicious about it because it does seem a little strange that it’s coming out now.”
“Go Set a Watchman” features many of the same characters in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but is set 20 years later in the 1950s. It follows Scout (Jean Louise Finch) as she returns from New York to the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, to visit her father Atticus.
“Reading in many ways like a sequel to Harper Lee’s classic novel, it is a compelling and ultimately moving narrative about a father and a daughter’s relationship, and the life of a small Alabama town living through the racial tensions of the 1950s,” Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher at HarperCollins, wrote in a press release.
Although “Go Set a Watchman” takes place after “To Kill a Mockingbird” and features the same characters, Crank said it should not be viewed as a sequel to Lee’s earlier classic. Rather than expecting a literary work of equal merit of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he said readers should interpret the novel as a glimpse of Lee’s early writing process.
“There’s just no way that you can judge the new novel by the success of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’” he said. “It’s such a beloved novel that I think that would be unfair to expect another ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ That’s not going to happen.”
Crank said he is excited to read a new Harper Lee book, but “To Kill a Mockingbird” is strong enough to stand on its own.
“I think this novel will be sort of the icing on the cake,” he said. “I don’t think you need this novel to understand ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ or to appreciate it, but I think it will provide a nice sort of corollary to the reading of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”