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Go Set a Watchman

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With much of the advanced word containing the shocking news that the noble Atticus Finch from "To Kill a Mockingbird" has turned into a racist in "Go Set a Watchman," Adam Gopnik, writing in "The New Yorker," has other thoughts:

So the idea that Atticus, in this book, “becomes” the bigot he was not in “Mockingbird” entirely misses Harper Lee’s point—that this is exactly the kind of bigot that Atticus has been all along. The particular kind of racial rhetoric that Atticus embraces (and that he and Jean Louise are careful to distinguish from low-rent, white-trash bigotry) is a complex and, in its own estimation, “liberal” ideology: there is no contradiction between Atticus defending an innocent black man accused of rape in “Mockingbird” and Atticus mistrusting civil rights twenty years later. Both are part of a paternal effort to help a minority that, in this view, cannot yet entirely help itself.


He goes on to discuss the Southern Agrarians.

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Thanks for the New Yorker link -- I'm always interested in what Gopnik has to say.

I read the first chapter online last weekend, and was glad to hear her voice again, but I'm not sure I'm going to rush off and read this now. I'm sure I'll get there later, but I'm not going to put something else off to do it.

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The issue is that in Watchman Atticus is such a poorly drawn character that one can't really say he's bigoted, not bigoted, whatever. He seems to be a plot mechanism in what reads like a young adult novel where the young adult protagonist is disillusioned about childhood heroes and love interests. I feel like the racial issues in Watchman are so shallowly addressed that it almost felt like a hook to get the novel published because of the timeliness of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1957.

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He's actually not very present in the book except for penultimate chapter. It's a very short book. Most of the book consists of Jean Louise and her love interest Henry.

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My understanding is that after Harper Lee sent Watchman to a publisher it was sent back with many suggestions. She spent two years rewriting and that effort became To Kill a Mockingbird. In other words Watchman was never accepted for publication prior to her fame and it was never edited. Personally I find it sad that it's been published.

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Rumors have abounded for many years that her friend Truman Capote had a big hand in the editing/revision of Mockingbird, but he always denied it. I'm hoping that a digital literary scholar will analyze the two texts to detect writing patterns and authorship. Of course, Mockingbird would have benefitted from professional editing (quite independently of Capote), but we might learn something about the styles of the two books and who really wrote what. Personally, I don't plan to read Watchman. There are just too many question swirling around about Lee's current mental situation and the financial benefits her estate will gain. Mockingbird is a treasure on its own, quite independently of its genesis.

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According to Mary McDonough Murphy's 2012 documentary on Lee, Capote saw the manuscript once, and it would have been completely uncharacteristic of him to not have claimed credit outright, despite what Capote's exchange with Cavett is meant to imply, while his jealousy of her success and wish to undermine her was quite in character. The long rewrite process and inputs of her editor have been long- and well-documented.

The archives that contain the history of the manuscript from her agents seem to show that the manuscript she showed Capote wad"To Set a Watchman" and was transformed into "To Kill a Mockingbird."

https://blogs.cul.columbia.edu/rbml/2015/07/14/go-set-a-watchman-in-the-papers-of-harper-lees-literary-agents/

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According to this Times article, Tay Hohoff was her editor at Lippincott - her Maxwell Perkins. The Invisible Hand Behind Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird':


At Lippincott, the novel fell into the hands of Therese von Hohoff Torrey known professionally as Tay Hohoff a small, wiry veteran editor in her late 50s. Ms. Hohoff was impressed. [T]he spark of the true writer flashed in every line, she would later recount in a corporate history of Lippincott.

But as Ms. Hohoff saw it, the manuscript was by no means fit for publication. It was, as she described it, more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel. During the next couple of years, she led Ms. Lee from one draft to the next until the book finally achieved its finished form and was retitled To Kill a Mockingbird."


http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/13/books/the-invisible-hand-behind-harper-lees-to-kill-a-mockingbird.html

Thanks for the link to the Columbia Libraries website, Helene - and the great old 3"x5" card catalogue entries.

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Thanks for the link to the Columbia Libraries website, Helene - and the great old 3"x5" card catalogue entries.

While I'm more than grateful for the ability to search all kinds of places while sitting in my spare room at home, I do miss card catalogs, especially those cryptic dots and checks that long-ago librarians marked on the cards.

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It seems fairly pointless to make any vast generalizations or reconsiderations of "To Kill a Mockingbird" on the basis of what "Go Set a Watchman" appears to be. I haven't read it and have no plans to do so, but it sounds as if those readers past and present who thought it unpublishable are probably right. I agree with vipa - sad business all around.

As for the Gopnik piece - meh. I'm inclined think the distance between the character of Finch as we know it and the Citizens' Council types is longer than he does.

Thanks for starting the topic, canbelto.

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California, I'm intrigued by your statement

Of course, Mockingbird would have benefitted from professional editing (quite independently of Capote),

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Sorry, California, I couldn't get my cursor past the quote, so never asked my question. What part(s) of the book do you mean when you say that?

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Sorry, California, I couldn't get my cursor past the quote, so never asked my question. What part(s) of the book do you mean when you say that?

I wasn't thinking of any particular part. What I meant was simply that every writer benefits from having a good editor. From earlier posts here, it sounds like the editor on Mockingbird did yeoman's service through several drafts in making it a better book.

As an aside, one of the complaints about so many blog postings today (whether dance criticism or anything else) is that they don't have the professional editing that was the hallmark of traditional publications (whether books, newspapers, or magazines). Imagine if Lee had simply self-published Watchman via Amazon. Would it have been quickly dismissed and forgotten? We have Mockingbird because professional editors at a traditional press brought the manuscript to the finished form that deserved to be praised. Which is not to demean the original author either...if there's nothing to work with, the editor wouldn't bother.

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I've been very fortunate in editors at several times in my life -- the good ones make you sound like yourself, only more intelligent.

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Thanks, California, I realize that I misunderstood your post. I thought you were saying that TKAM would STILL benefit from editing! The fact that you said it vehemently by starting the sentence off with "Of course..." intrigued me so much that I had to ask. I now realize you meant that it DID benefit from a great deal of editing.

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Thanks, California, I realize that I misunderstood your post. I thought you were saying that TKAM would STILL benefit from editing! The fact that you said it vehemently by starting the sentence off with "Of course..." intrigued me so much that I had to ask. I now realize you meant that it DID benefit from a great deal of editing.

I had the same take on it, vagansmom, so you weren't alone. Thanks for the clarification, California.

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Rumors have abounded for many years that her friend Truman Capote had a big hand in the editing/revision of Mockingbird, but he always denied it. I'm hoping that a digital literary scholar will analyze the two texts to detect writing patterns and authorship.

Some digital sleuthing has been done since the publishing of Go Set a Watchman--it's referred to (and a link given for a fuller summary) in this article--which addresses the issue of Lee's authorship and, to a lesser extent, women authors generally:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/20/harper-lee-to-kill-a-mockingbird-authorship-women-writers?CMP=fb_gu

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