Go Set a Watchman: 12 key points

The convoluted history of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

Gregory Peck  as attorney Atticus Finch in a scene from the 1962 movie To Kill a Mockingbird. While the trial is pivotal to the book, Go Set a Watchman is more about the grown Scout, now Jean Louise and her coming to terms with her world and also what she perceives as her father’s racism. Photograph: AP Photo

Gregory Peck as attorney Atticus Finch in a scene from the 1962 movie To Kill a Mockingbird. While the trial is pivotal to the book, Go Set a Watchman is more about the grown Scout, now Jean Louise and her coming to terms with her world and also what she perceives as her father’s racism. Photograph: AP Photo

 

1. It is a complete manuscript. It was first submitted in 1957and is very much of its time.

2. The third-person narrative voice is awkwardly handled.

3. It is neither a prequel nor a sequel; it is instead the original version which was rejected by editor Tay Hohoff, who advised Lee to develop the flashbacks.

4. There is very little plot; whereas To Kill a Mockingbird is dominated by the trial of Tom Robinson and the defence Atticus Finch presents, Go Set A Watchman is more about the grown Scout, now Jean Louise and her coming to terms with her world and also what she perceives as her father’s racism.

5. Harper Lee insisted it was not to be edited.

6. The manuscript had been kept by her sister Alice Lee in her office in order to protect their father’s memory. It is interesting that it was not held in literary archives.

7. The textual aspects have so far excited little interest; most of the attention has been generated by the apparent deconstruction of the much-loved character of Atticus Finch, immortalised by the quietly dignified and sublimely gorgeous Gregory Peck in the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

8. Go Set A Watchman is neither forgotten nor newly “discovered”. It is more a case of being overlooked.

9. Scout’s brother Jem, so important in To Kill a Mockingbird, is dead and little is written about him. Mockingbird begins with Scout recalling the accident which left him with a damaged arm.

10. Some of the mythology of Mockingbird centres on speculation about whether or not Truman Capote offered any help. It would appear unlikely; Capote saw himself as an artist and treated Lee as a friend and assistant. Of far more support to Lee was her editor, Tay Hohoff, who encouraged Lee to look to the childhood flashbacks and develop them.

11. Is this an exciting moment in publishing history? It is certainly an interesting one. Far more exciting would have been the discovery of a complete manuscript of Capote’s unfinished novel, Answered Prayers. The fact remains that Lee belongs to a very rich tradition of Southern writing, which includes masters such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Peter Taylor and Tennessee Williams. Stylistically she does not approach these writers and certainly not on the quality of the prose evident in Go Set a Watchman.

12. Interesting fact: O’Connor’s wonderful second novel, The Violent Bear it Away, was also published in 1960, the same year as To Kill a Mockingbird. Mockingbird went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.