Last week’s announcement that another novel by Harper Lee, author of the beloved classic To Kill a Mockingbird, had been discovered and would be published in July stirred up a lot of controversy and questions. The recently discovered novel is titled Go Set a Watchman. Lee wrote this novel, set 20 years after the events in Mockingbird, first, but her publisher suggested that she rework the flashback sections into a new novel set at the time of the crucial events and narrated from the perspective of the young girl. That reworking became Mockingbird, narrated by the young Jean Louise “Scout” Finch.
Much of the uproar about news of the new novel involved questions of whether Harper Lee, now 88 years old, reportedly nearly blind and deaf, and living in an assisted-care facility, was mentally competent to participate in the decision to publish the discovered manuscript. Over the years Lee has repeatedly told people that she had said all she had to say in that book and would not be publishing another novel. The questioning was exacerbated when Tonja Carter, Lee’s attorney and the reported discoverer of the old manuscript, refused to answer inquiries or furnish more information.
This article reports that yesterday (Saturday) Carter finally answered questions through text messages and email:
Answering questions on Saturday through both emails and text messages, Ms. Carter said that Ms. Lee is “extremely hurt and humiliated” at the suggestion that she had been duped.
“She is a very strong, independent and wise woman who should be enjoying the discovery of her long lost novel,” Ms. Carter said. “Instead, she is having to defend her own credibility and decision making.”
Much of the concern over the sudden announcement of the discovery of the manuscript was over Carter herself, who has become the gatekeeper over all issues involving Harper Lee, including who is allowed to visit her. Many sources have reported that Carter is really no johnny-come-lately to the scene. She worked at the law firm run by Alice Lee, Harper’s older sister who died last fall, and handled the settlement of Alice Lee’s will. But her initial refusal to provide more information about the discovery and planned publication of Harper Lee’s old manuscript raised questions:
Asked why she had not provided more detail about the discovery, which might have quelled suspicions, she said: “I am a lawyer, not a celebrity. The focus should be on the gift Harper Lee is giving the world.”
While some acquaintances of Harper Lee remain concerned over possible exploitation, others report that Lee is aware of and supports the publication of the novel that she thought had been lost.
When Ms. Carter revealed her discovery to Ms. Lee in August, the author was shocked, Ms. Carter recalled. Ms. Lee immediately asked her friend to repeat herself. Ms. Carter reiterated that she had found a novel, calling the book “Go Set the Watchman.” She was swiftly corrected: “It’s ‘Go Set a Watchman,’ ” Ms. Lee said.