Harper Lee’s prequel of To Kill a Mockingbird was published this week. Go Set a Watchman is actually a first draft of Mockingbird, having been rejected by her publisher and refashioned into the iconic American novel millions have read and loved. There’s some question as to whether or not Lee wanted the manuscript published, and by early reviews we can understand her reluctance to publish after the monumental success of Mockingbird. By some accounts, Lee agreed to the publication while in a nursing home, living with the physical limitations brought on by a stroke. Others say she’s happy for it. Is she capable of making this decision, without duress of some kind, from parties who may not have her best interests at heart?
The situation hits close to home for me in two ways: one, as an aspiring author, would I really want an early version of my work, rejected by editors, to be published…especially after the iconic success of an earlier novel, and what appears to be a lifelong pattern of staying out of the limelight and keeping the Watchman manuscript under wraps? Secondly, my own mother recently suffered a broken hip and was ultimately moved to a nursing home. I’ve sat with her to sign documents over these last months, my heart aching at her vulnerability and feeble hands. She completely trusted my siblings and me that the signatures were in her best interest, and that the documents honored her wishes. I want to honor Harper Lee, too, on both counts.
IF I read Watchman, it will be as a first draft to Lee’s greatest work. This writer is intrigued by the process that created Mockingbird. Yet, I fear I’ll violate something sacred: the creative process; the essential trust between author and editor; and the sanctuary of the pen and page as early drafts take shape. Yet, I remain curious; my internal jury is still out. If I read Watchman, it will be the library’s edition. I don’t want to give the publisher the satisfaction of having sold one more copy.
Setting my own minor protest aside, my heart goes out to Harper Lee. Her work, polished or not, is now fair game for critics, and those who profit from the book’s sales. And I bet all she wants right now is a nap.