From Mockingbird to Watchman: A Changing Alabama

14 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

From Mockingbird to Watchman: A Changing Alabama.

Harper Lee’s new novel Go Set A Watchman, released Tuesday, takes place two decades years after the Depression-era To Kill a Mockingbird. Less than 10 hours before the release of the most anticipated book in years, Jonathan Burnham, the publisher of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, was stuck in “a routine finance meeting” that ran late. In the new book, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch returns to her Alabama home in the 1950s, only to find a world on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement.

It was in these types of meetings, he explained a few minutes after extracting himself to call a reporter, that a joke was born. “There was always a joke, when we were making budgets, that maybe Harper Lee would deliver another novel,” Mr. At Lippincott, the novel fell into the hands of Therese von Hohoff Torrey — known professionally as Tay Hohoff — a small, wiry veteran editor in her late 50s.

Both novels grapple with issues of racism and justice, social issues that evolved dramatically — in real life as in the books — during the intervening years. And how can the same man who stood in front of a narrow-minded jury to announce, “I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system — that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality,” be found meddling in Klan-related activity? The wild difference between Mockingbird Atticus and Watchman Atticus has fans of the former novel understandably riled (the change is especially upsetting for those who’ve gone so far as to name their children after the lawyer).

Lee would write but a single novel, albeit one that won the Pulitzer Prize, has sold tens of millions of copies around the world, and is a mainstay of school curriculums across North America. “In my time here, there’s been nothing as big as this,” Leo MacDonald, senior vice president of sales and marketing at HarperCollins Canada, which will distribute 200,000 in Canada, said. “It’s a publishing event.” Excitement was ramping up at bookstores and libraries across the country, too. The main characters may be the same, but “Watchman” is an entirely different book in both shape and tone from “Mockingbird.” Scout is not an impressionable child in Maycomb, Alabama, looking up to her heroic father, but a young woman from Maycomb living in New York.

When eight of the teenagers were convicted and initially condemned to death by an all-white jury in Scottsboro, Ala., the subsequent series of appeals brought national scrutiny to the justice denied to black defendants. Jonathan Sturgeon at Flavorwire notes that Atticus wasn’t quite as forward-thinking as we’d like to remember; he was socially conservative, if progressive relative to other Maycomb residents, and was assigned to the Tom Robinson case by a judge. The Halifax Public Library had ordered more than 75 copies across all formats, with almost 400 holds as of Monday, while the Toronto Public Library had ordered nearly 650 copies with almost 2,000 holds. (“The holds are going up as we speak,” said Susan Caron, the TPL’s head of collections management.) Indigo Books and Music was partnering with Cineplex to screen the 1962 film adapation on Monday evening in several theatres across Canada.

Jean Louise Finch gazes out across the landscape, “grinned when she saw her first TV antenna atop an unpainted Negro house” – this is the 1950s – and becomes further pleased to see the increasing number of TV antennas on the homes of the black population and considers her life, not so much as it is in the present but as it has been shaped by memory. The New York Times writes that the discrepancies could be due to the extensive editing Mockingbird underwent (Watchman, on the other hand, was edited only lightly). TIME followed the cases as they repeatedly rose to the Supreme Court and returned to Alabama. (Read part of that original coverage here.) Throughout Southern states, Jim Crow laws remained steadfast, mandating “separate but equal” facilities and services, which were far from equal in practice. The train also symbolises the gradual if emphatic passage towards a realisation of how life really does evolve and of the many compromises living requires.

Maybe more to the point, how big a role did she play in reconceiving the story from a dark tale of a young woman’s disillusionment with her father’s racist views, to a redemptive one of moral courage and human decency? Interest in the book lies not only in the continued love of Mockingbird, but the circumstances surrounding its rediscovery and publication, reportedly found in a safe deposit box last August by her long-time attorney Tonja Carter. (In an op-ed published Sunday on The Wall Street Journal’s website, Ms.

So, why publish it now? (Full disclosure: I made my stance clear in February, writing, “Our idolization of authors often leads to a greedy quest to absorb everything they’ve produced, regardless of their personal wishes and, perhaps most importantly, the best interest of their storytelling legacies.”) HuffPost Live posed the same questions to a panel of book reviewers: in publishing Watchman, “What are we trying to protect? Lee, who resides in an assisted-living facility in her hometown of Monroeville, Ala., was aware or consented to the novel’s publication – they concluded she was. Maxwell Perkins, the longtime editorial director at Charles Scribner’s Sons, told Ernest Hemingway to “tone it down,” and cut 90,000 words from Thomas Wolfe’s debut novel, “Look Homeward, Angel.” Gordon Lish rewrote entire passages of Raymond Carver’s stories, and later boasted about it to friends. Hohoff, who died in 1974 at the age of 75, was in a different mold. “I suffer from some sort of mother-complex, so that I always want to make paths smooth for the people I am fond of and of whom I have a high opinion,” she wrote in 1969 in a letter to Edward Burlingame, who was at that time the new executive editor of Lippincott. “She was closely attentive and tough, but I never felt manhandled by her,” Nicholas Delbanco, who worked with Hohoff as a young author in the late 1960s, said recently in an interview. In 1941, TIME reported on Alabama’s steel mills expanding, as well as the new facilities for aluminum, gunpowder, ammunition and anti-aircraft shells.

He sits on the board of directors of the Maycomb County Citizens’ Council, an odious organization convened in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision to end school segregation, and it’s even revealed he once attended a KKK meeting. (“The one human being [Scout] had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her,” Ms. Readers new to Lee will be experiencing a wordy first novel which is unmistakably of its time, the late 1950s – as is its language, with plentiful mentions of “Negros” and “niggers”.

But probably the clearest window into her state of mind when she was coaching Lee through the rewrite of “Mockingbird” is the book she was writing herself at the time: a biography of John Lovejoy Elliott, a social activist and humanist in early-20th-century New York who had committed his life to helping the city’s underclass. The squadron incited anger, especially for surrounding farmers who “watched their cheap help skitter off the fields to get better jobs at the Army post.” An officer quelled their contempt by calling a meeting and telling them “that this is just what Hitler wanted, just this kind of division among the U.S. people; Goebbels would be delighted.” Wartime necessity continued to break down racial barriers when Roosevelt published Executive Order 8802 in 1941, barring any racial discrimination in the defense industry. Several former Ku Klux Klan members rose to power on the state and national level in the 1930s: Bibb Graves, elected Alabama Governor in 1936, had reportedly been a Klan chapter head, and Alabama’s Senator Hugo La Fayette Black caused a national scandal when it came out he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan before he was confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice in 1937. It is, frankly, shocking to read Atticus say things like “You realize that our Negro population is backward, don’t you?” and “Honey, you do not seem to understand that the Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people.” “I do feel that much of the … discussion has taken place between people who quite reasonably haven’t yet read the book,” Mr. This journey had unmistakable thematic parallels to that of Lee: Her subject was a descendant of Elijah Parish Lovejoy, an abolitionist minister who was murdered by a pro-slavery mob in Illinois in 1837.

Only that is not so easy; little Scout Finch is a persistent individual and far more appealing than her righteous grown self, Jean Louise, now 26 and no longer a convincing tomboy with inner thoughts being filtered through a fluctuating viewpoint. Lee in a statement released when the novel was announced in February. “My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. Reading this book is one thing, reviewing it is different – Harper Lee is still alive and aware of its publication some 57 years after it was rejected, but she did not work on the final edit, stipulating that it was not to be edited. It appeared, though, Hohoff comfortably inhabited the role. “She was a powerful gray-haired lady who knew her own mind and spoke in a frank sort of way,” Burlingame said recently.

Delbanco remembered her reacting to the first draft of “Grasse 3/23/66” over lunch. “She said, ‘It’s coruscating, Nicholas!’” he recalled. “I nodded sagely and had no idea what she meant. Though that case was decided in May 1954 and elaborated upon the following year, the first of the cases that were eventually combined into that landmark ruling began as early as 1950. It is by turns self-deprecating, gossipy, funny and empathic, with frequent references to the house’s boozy culture. “He does not carry his liquor well, and there is a lot to carry,” Hohoff wrote of one colleague. She describes another as “salt of the earth,” before adding: “Personally, as a woman, I prefer other seasonings added to a diet, including pepper and paprika and garlic, onions and wine. Alabama in particular put up strong opposition to integrated schools; in September of 1955, TIME graded the state with an “F” because none of its school districts had made moves to desegregate.

You realize the full implications of the word ‘backward’, don’t you?” Later in the confrontation, which occurs near the close of the book, Atticus puts it to Jean Louise, who has spoken in a most disrespectful way to him throughout the argument: “Then let’s put this on a practical basis right now. One winter night, as Charles J Shields recounts in “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee,” Lee threw her manuscript out her window and into the snow, before calling Hohoff in tears. “Tay told her to march outside immediately and pick up the pages,” Shields writes. It is similar to Captain Von Trapp being revealed as a Nazi sympathiser or Pongo, the father dog in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, deciding to eat the puppies. When Lee found a 12-toed kitten huddled against a pipe in the basement of her apartment building, she brought it to Hohoff and her husband in a wicker basket. “He needed a home,” Hohoff wrote in a memoir about her pets, “Cats and Other People.” “She knew us very well and pulled out all the right stops.” “Lippincott’s sales department would have published Harper Lee’s laundry list,” Burlingame said. “But Tay really guarded Nelle like a junkyard dog. But now that it is being published in an admittedly commercial rather than scholarship-driven context, it is only fair to read it in context – as a first version of a much-loved later book – not as a prequel.

She was not going to allow any commercial pressures or anything else to put stress on her to publish anything that wouldn’t make Nelle proud or do justice to her. Jean Louise is coming home for two weeks; she is in a good mood, has survived her little tussle with the folding bed and muses upon the history of Maycomb County “so cut off from the rest of the nation that some of its citizens, unaware of the South’s political predilection over the past ninety years, still voted Republican. But service was erratic and seemed to go nowhere, but the Federal Government had forced a highway or two through the swamps, thus giving the citizens an opportunity for free egress. Or would she have tried to talk her author out of it, arguing that “Watchman” could forever change how people read “Mockingbird”? “Will Atticus Finch still be the heroic and inspiring character we’ve so admired all of these years?” Burlingame asked. “Perhaps it was these concerns that, over the decades, caused Nelle and Tay, while she was alive, to refuse to have it published?” When she objects although “much pleased”, the third-person narrative proceeds in a knowing tone, which frequently surfaces: “the possessor of the right to kiss her on the courthouse steps was Henry Clinton, her lifelong friend, her brother’s comrade, and if he kept on kissing her like that, her husband.

In speaking with her aunt Alexandra, and Atticus, now stricken with rheumatoid arthritis, she retorts when asked about life in New York: “Right now I want to know about this big city. Aunty, I’m depending on you to give me a year’s news in fifteen minutes.” Alexandra attempts to convince her to return home for good. “– you can get a job at the bank and go to the coast on weekends. How can she be his sister and not have the slightest idea what goes on in his head, my head, anybody’s head . . .” Aunt Alexandra had gone to live with Atticus because of his arthritis. Yet the tension between the women culminates in the aunt remarking: “Jean Louise, your brother worried about your thoughtlessness until the day he died!” The rebuff causes Jean Louise to reflect: “It was raining softly on his grave now” (shades of the snow on Michael Furey’s grave in Dubliners) “in the hot evening.

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