Sunday, February 21, 2016

Goodbye Harper Lee

Harper Lee had a very short-lived return to the limelight with the publication of a long lost novel, Go Set a Watchman.  It was met with mixed reviews, largely because the novel tarnished the image of Atticus Finch we all had from To Kill a Mockingbird, widely regarded as one of the best American novels of the 20th century.

To Set a Watchman actually predated To Kill a Mockingbird, but never was published because her editor, Tay Hohoff, felt it would be best for Lee to focus on Scout's childhood.  The runaway success of her latter novel meant that her first novel was tossed into the dustbin of history.  It probably would never have been resurrected had not Ms. Lee regained attention in 2007, when George Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Unlike most authors, Lee had only one novel to her credit, and everyone was curious if there was more.  So, we were presented with To Set a Watchman in 2015, as it seems Lee didn't try to publish anything after To Kill a Mockingbird, other than a few extant articles.

It was very hard to top To Kill a Mockingbird, which sold more than 40 million copies and was made into a cinematic classic.  No one has tried to remake the 1962 film starring Gregory Peck and Mary Badham as Scout, and for good reason.  Some questioned if it even came from her hand, attributing the novel to her childhood friend, Truman Capote.  Still, you would think Harper Lee continued to write and that there are other manuscripts hidden away, which now may see the light of day.  For the time being, we will have to settle for a 1983 essay, Romance and High Adventure, which was published in an anthology of Southern writers, Clearings in the Thicket, in 1985.

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