…it’s taken a week, but I’m finally ready to share a few thoughts on Go Set a Watchman.
Please note that I am not calling this “Harper Lee’s latest novel.” My understanding, rather, is that this is the first manuscript she submitted for publication, back in 1957. Under the direction of her editor (I think she passed away in the 1970’s…boy would it be great to have her perspective now – although I have to admit, if she were alive, I doubt this book would’ve been published), she re-worked it into the novel that was ultimately published in 1960…our beloved To Kill a Mockingbird.
I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird earlier this summer and have to say I loved it even more this time around. And after reading GSaW, I still love it just as much. Maybe even more since I now have a glimpse into the process that created it. In fact, I think I want to read TKaM again in another month or two to really appreciate all that editing!
I don’t plan to ever re-read GSaW, however, for two reasons. First, it’s simply not well-written. Yes, there are places where Lee’s wit glimmers. One scene that I even enjoyed – for about two pages – described a “coffee” hosted by Jean Louise (Scout)’s Aunt Alexandra.
What do they talk about these days? Jean Louise had lost her ear, but presently recovered it. The Newlyweds chatted smugly of their Bobs and Michaels … The Diaper Set … distressed her beyond measure … The Light Brigade … in their early and middle thirties, they devoted most of their free time to the Amanuensis Club, bridge, and getting one-up on each other in the matter of electrical appliances … Jean Louise looked at the three Perennial Hopefuls on her right.
But the plot feels contrived – if anyone does read this and can explain what Dr. Finch (Scout’s Uncle Jack) was talking about? – and the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood don’t always support or even follow along with the present-day story.
And then, of course, is the subject matter. A small Southern town trying to deal with the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ultimately led to desegregation. It’s just plain ugly. Even more so because I know it’s a true recount of small Southern town life then…and sadly, still … and not just in the South (although I can only hope it’s not quite as prevalent).
The media has made much out of Atticus Finch turning into a racist (and make no mistake, Atticus Finch in GSaW is a racist!) But if you think about GSaW as the precursor to TKaM, the transition was the other way around; he evolved from a racist into a civil rights advocate. I don’t know if we have Harper Lee or her editor to thank for that, but I’m grateful nonetheless. Or maybe we can thank Harper Lee’s father who was the model for Atticus. Apparently he was a segregationist when GSaW was written and had a change of heart while Lee was reworking it. One review I read references Charles Shields, author of the biography Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee:
Mr. Shields said Mr. Lee’s late-in-life shift could explain the transformation of Atticus through the authors’ drafts from a bigot in “Watchman” to a civil-rights hero in “Mockingbird,” and why in interviews after “Mockingbird” she spoke glowingly of her father. “She may have been very proud of him,” Mr. Shields said.
I’m still waiting to have an in-person discussion about the book; hopefully that will happen tomorrow evening with my sister (over wine and knitting…seems like the right backdrop for that discussion). But I feel like I’ve come to terms with it. I wanted to read the book so I could participate first-hand in the conversation; I’m still glad I did.
…of course today is Tuesday, and that means there’s a whole lot of fun happening with the Ten on Tuesday crowd. Check out Carole’s blog to see what the fun’s about today.
There’s also a whole lot of fun happening here. Charlie had fun exploring the newly organized bookshelves in my yarn room this morning. with a ball of yarn in tow 🙂
|I don’t think he recognized either his mama or me in that photo! (ca. 2005)|