A sequel to “To Kill a Mockingbird”?

There are two books I consider to be “Great American Novels”, and one of them is To Kill a Mockingbird. (The other, by the way, is A Confederacy of Dunces.)

So you might think I’d be excited that a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird is being released. But I’m not.  It strikes me as bizarre, more than anything else.  Supposedly, Harper Lee wrote this book–entitled Go Set a Watchman–prior to MockingbirdAccording to Wikipedia: “It was set aside when her editor suggested that she write another novel from the young Scout Finch’s perspective. The manuscript was then lost for many years, until being rediscovered by her lawyer in the fall of 2014.”

Now, how could they possibly misplace the sequel to one of the most famous books written in the last half-century for this long? If that’s actually true, it suggests that somebody screwed up royally. This article says “Lee’s lawyer found it affixed to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird.” Huh. An original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird. Where was this typescript? Something like that would very valuable, even if it had no other forgotten sequel attached to it.  So I would presume it would have been kept somewhere safe in the years since Mockingbird became one of the most famous books in the world.  And I would think whoever was keeping it would have been careful to keep it in good condition, and thus noticed the other book attached to it long before now.

But it seems crazy to me that, even after it became one of the most widely-read books in American history, even after it was made into an award-winning movie, Lee’s editor never thought to say “hey, what about that other book you were working on? Since evidence suggests people like your writing, maybe you ought to give that one a go.”

It strikes me as very, very hard to imagine that people in the book business are that sloppy.

So, what else might have happened?  Did Harper Lee get conned into agreeing to release something she didn’t want to release, as this article suggests? Did they have somebody else write it and have Lee agree to put her name on it?  I have no idea, but the whole thing looks weird.

That being said, I’ll probably buy the book.

3 Comments

  1. The mistakes required to lose the manuscript aren’t that exceptional, since at the time it was a failed first-draft novel, not a complete manuscript to be saved for future publication. The mistakes required to fail to find the manuscript also aren’t that exceptional. If Lee didn’t remember putting the two manuscripts in the same binding, she might not flip through one manuscript when searching for the other in a safe-deposit box (or safe) full of important papers. That’s a safe place to put an original manuscript, but also the sort of place that might be opened extremely rarely, and only to add or remove something specific (until you decide to ask your lawyer to take an inventory because you’re doing estate planning).

    From the publisher’s comments in the article, it seems they did inquire about the older manuscript after To Kill a Mockingbird was successful. But if the manuscript was lost, it’s not obvious they’d ask Lee to rewrite it instead of writing something new. Or maybe they did ask her and she wasn’t interested.

    So I think the most likely explanation is what it says on the tin.

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