'The New York Times' Has Released New Details on the Controversy Surrounding Harper Lee's 'Go Set a Watchman,' But the Public Remains Just as Torn as Ever
It should be news that fills anyone born between 1915 and 2007 — essentially, anyone with a sound literary/cultural conscience — with joy and excitement. Unfortunately, the July 2015 release of Harper Lee’s recently discovered book, Go Set a Watchman , is mired in controversy.
Not only has Ms. Lee been forthcoming about her reluctance to publish a second novel, but the 88-year-old, who lives in an assisted-living facility in Alabama, suffers from deteriorating health after a 2007 stroke. And residents of Ms. Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, claim that Ms. Lee’s reclusive nature and progressive blindness and deafness have rendered the author unwilling to, or incapable of, signing off on the book’s release.
Now, The New York Times has dug deeper into the controversy, speaking with Ms. Lee’s attorney, Tonja B. Carter, via text and email. Ms. Carter, who discovered the manuscript last summer, has been under fire in the media for potentially manipulating the author into publishing the manuscript. But in defense of the beloved writer, Ms. Carter says:
[Ms. Lee] is a very strong, independent and wise woman who should be enjoying the discovery of her long lost novel. Instead, she is having to defend her own credibility and decision making.
Others close to the writer attest to Ms. Lee’s lucidity. Cynthia McMillan, a caretaker at the Meadows, the facility where Ms. Lee resides, claims that Ms. Lee is “sharp as a tack.”
But Ms. Carter’s responses to the relative lack of transparency surrounding the discovery of the manuscript and the decision to publish it add fuel to the controversy’s fire. When asked to identify the readers Ms. Carter claims were given the manuscript for review, the attorney responds that “it is nobody’s business.” And when questioned about the circumstances surrounding her discovery of the manuscript, Ms. Carter remains quiet. "I am a lawyer, not a celebrity," she told the Times.
According to the Times, skepticism proliferates among Ms. Lee’s circle. Starling Lawrence, the former editor in chief of W.W. Norton, says that “[Ms. Lee] used to say, ‘I wrote one good book and that was enough.’” Another friend of Ms. Lee’s, the writer and scholar Claudia Durst Johnson, expresses her own concerns: “I was surprised and a little bit worried about how much control she has.”
The People of the Internet, too, remain divided about Go Set a Watchman. Some readers, like New York Times commenter Bill Fenley, are wary of Ms. Carter’s credibility:
Of course I'd like to believe Ms. Carter, and some of the testimony here is persuasive, but what does not persuade me is Ms. Carter's indignation at doubts about Ms. Lee's intentions, which are completely understandable.
Others, however, find the arguments about the Ms. Lee’s inability to make decisions shockingly ageist.
I am saddened by many of the responses quoted in the article. As one who spends quite a bit of time with an aging family member, I find the comments and suppositions disheartening. While Ms. Lee is indeed aging, and requires assistance to fulfill some basic needs, I believe the reports that her mind is sharp.
However, the public's support of Ms. Lee is unanimous, as is the genuine curiosity surrounding the new novel (like: will it be any good?). Unfortunately, the controversy — whether or not it turns out to be legitimate — is already shaping opinions on Go Set a Watchman before anyone has gotten the chance to fairly read and review the work.