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Harper Lee’s "To Set a Watchman" is Called Into Question

Harper Lee’s "To Set a Watchman" is Called Into Question

Harper Lee’s "To Set a Watchman" is Called Into Question

Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is about to abandon her reputation as the author who wrote only one American classic.

To Set a Watchman has been nothing but a manuscript for decades. However, Tonja B. Carter, Lee’s lawyer, found the old manuscript while doing legal work.  She first assumed it was an old version of To Kill a Mockingbird because the characters are the same; however, the story is much different.  Scout is now grown up and instead of experiencing the Depression of the 1930’s, she goes from New York to Alabama to visit her father Atticus in the still-racist 1950s.

Interestingly enough, this novel was written before the famous To Kill a Mockingbird.  Her editor first rejected To Set a Watchman and told her to write a version with Scout as a child; thus, To Kill a Mockingbird was born.  It was published in 1960 and has sold over 40 million copies around the world!  It went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become an Oscar-winning film.

What was supposed to be a celebrated revelation in the literary world quickly turned into a controversy filled with speculation.  

The 88 year-old author lives largely shielded from the public at an assisted-living center and is partially blind and deaf.  She used to say that “one good book is enough”, according to a close friend.  

This causes us to speculate what level of consent Lee gave her publisher to publish her novel - people began to question whether or not Lee was pressured or manipulated into it.  Residents of her assisted-living center said that she is no longer mentally competent, as she doesn’t recognize friends and previously stated that she didn’t want to write a second book.  However, others reject these claims; they say that Lee, although not in the best condition, is still fully capable of making her own decisions.

After these speculations, Lee released in a statement through her lawyer, Carter, that she was “happy as hell with the reactions to ‘Watchman.’”  Carter also said that Lee was hurt that people would doubt her.  Her caretaker for several years additionally attested to her excitement over the release of her novel.  She described Lee as “sharp as a tack.”

However, this didn’t stop the controversy.  Several people from her hometown recall Lee saying multiple times that she did not intend to publish anything else during her lifetime and it seemed extremely unusual that the manuscript has been hidden for so long.

Carter also was brought into speculation.  She was the one who negotiated with HarperCollins for the new book, never speaking to Lee directly.  Carter responded that it was terrible that to accuse her of exploiting Lee.

The unreleased book has already become extremely popular.  Even if there is much debate whether or not the book should have been published, there’s no doubt that the book is already a success because of the classic American author who wrote it.  


To Set a Watchman will be released on July 14.  Soon after the title was announced, preorders made the novel No. 1 on Amazon and HarperCollins plans on initially printing two million copies.


Waverly Colville is a freshman at the University of Missouri studying journalism and international relations.  Originally from Buffalo, New York, she hopes to one day become an international correspondent.  Waverly is a beat writer covering the student government for her school newspaper, The Maneater, and a correspondent for E23, the entertainment show on the school TV station.  Waverly loves fashion, traveling, music and chai tea lattes.  Find her at her blog, waverlycolville.wordpress.com and on Twitter at @wavecolville.  


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