Why You Should Stop Bellyaching About the Publication of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman”

So much brou-ha-ha has been made of the recent discovery—and subsequent publication—of Harper Lee’s manuscript Go Set a Watchman.  Everyone with a literary bent seems to have a passionate reaction to the event, good or bad.

Some feel that the novel has been published either without Ms. Lee’s direct knowledge or consent, given her current circumstances; she suffered a stroke in 2007 and now resides in an assisted living facility, partially blind and partially deaf and perhaps with her other senses addled, as well, depending upon which reports you choose to believe.  Others—her attorney included, who found the long-missing manuscript in a safe-deposit box–insist the author is pleased at the novel’s rediscovery and is happy to have had it published at long last.

At this stage of the game, the full and true picture of the situation will—unlike Watchman—never come to light, and no amount of speculation or discussion is going to resolve the controversy.  What remains, then, is whether or not this recent discovery should have been published.

Naysayers point to the well-documented fact that Nell Harper Lee has maintained for decades that she would never publish another novel , and for her literary agent Andrew Nurnberg to have allowed HarperCollins to release Go Set a Watchman is a direct betrayal of the author’s wishes.

The fact is, the book exists, and has, for quite some time.  Longer, in fact, than Mockingbird, since it was written earlier than the other novel.  And since she wrote it, shouldn’t we assume that it was her desire and intention at some point, anyway, to have it published?  I’m tempted to say that because Watchman predates Mockingbird, then its publication isn’t strictly a violation of her wishes.

Except that I could be wrong about that.

Another vociferous argument has been that publishing this second book can only tarnish the reputation of the first, and of its author.  Some claims have been made that the writing is of considerably inferior quality.

Well, beauty is in the eye, and all that…

I think we all understand that Go Set a Watchman is unlikely to be anywhere near as revered as To Kill A Mockingbird.  But does this really matter?  Is there even the remotest chance that the latter’s release can in any way threaten the position that Mockingbird holds in the annals of world literature?  Are we so worried that Nell Harper Lee’s grasp on her revered place in history is so tenuous that the release of another of her literary efforts might shake our faith in her that much?

Oh, ye of little faith…

So let those of us who want to have yet another taste of Harper Lee’s writings do so in peace.  Railing against her money-grubbing attorney, agent and publisher isn’t making a difference;  it’s only making noise.


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