What Harper Lee’s attorney doesn’t say in an op-ed is revealing

14 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

6 worst lines from Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman.

As the 21st century arrived, Atticus Finch topped an American Film Institute list of all-time movie heroes. Though ‘s “Go Set A Watchman” won’t be released until midnight Tuesday, anxious readers are watching the clock as they wait for pre-ordered copies or add their names to waiting lists at local libraries.LONDON—Hours before U.S. readers were able to snatch up copies of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman,” hundreds of fans braved long “queues” in the British capital to buy copies of the book just minutes after Big Ben struck midnight. Later, the admired lawyer from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was included in a charming book titled The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.

Released across the globe Tuesday, the launch was received with particularly large fanfare in the U.K., where chain bookstores as well as smaller, independent vendors from London to Glasgow, Edinburgh to Leeds held late-night parties to celebrate—and sell—the second novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “To say that I am excited about this would be an understatement,” said 25-year-old Shiraz Engineer of London, who bought a copy of “Watchman” at a midnight launch held at the Piccadilly Circus Waterstones bookshop, the flagship store of the country’s largest chain bookseller. She is a lifelong Harper Lee fan, and named her daughter, age 6, after the author. “A lot of people are upset about this change they didn’t see coming in his character. Ahead of the book’s release, EW has found the worst lines from Watchman. 2. “She sternly repressed a tendency to boisterousness when she reflected that Sidney Lanier must have been like her long-departed cousin, Joshua Singleton Sinclair…” 4. “Atticus raised his eyebrows in warning. He watched his daughter’s daemon rise and dominate her….When she looked thuds, only God and Robert Browning knew what she was likely to say.” 5. “She was completely unaware that with one twist of the tongue she could plunge Jean Louise into a moral turmoil…by tweaking the protestant, philistine strings of Jean Louise’s conscience until they vibrated like a spectral zither.” 6. “With the same suddenness that a barbarous boy yanks the larva of an ant lion from its hole to leave it struggling in the sun, Jean Louise was snatched from her quiet realm and left alone to protect her sensitive epidermis as best she could, on a humid Sunday afternoon at precisely 2:28 p.m.”

In the hours before Tuesday’s official publication, Mockingbird fans were shocked to learn the aging Atticus was bitter at the successes in the 1950s of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and at the demise of the Old South. I think there will be more conversations about the character of Atticus and the complexity of who he is, and maybe we can transfer some of that discussion into what’s going on with race in our world today.” The Denver Public Library will have 252 copies of “Watchman,” including large-type, regular type, e-books, audio books and 11 Spanish translations. Old high-school copies of Mockingbird will surely be dug out and reread in an effort to discover if Atticus was misjudged or over-idealized in the first place. In this Aug. 20, 2007, file photo, author Harper Lee smiles during a ceremony honoring the four new members of the Alabama Academy of Honor at the Capitol in Montgomery, Ala. (Rob Carr, Associated Press file) The Douglas County libraries have long waiting lists, too — 405 people signed up for one of 160 hardbacks, 79 readers are on the list for large-type, and 59 listeners are anxious to hear the audio book. It was also never clear what shaped his atypically liberal outlook, why a Finch had — as one Maycomb, Ala., crone put it — “gone against his raising” to defend a black man.

Charlotte Bush, a Penguin spokeswoman, declined to say how many copies it printed of the British edition, which will be sold across Europe, South Africa, India, Australia and New Zealand. (“Watchman” will be published in the U.S. by HarperCollins, which like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.) “British people connect to [“Mockingbird”] because it has such different meanings for different people,” said Sandi Phillips of North London, who had also lined up at the Waterstones midnight launch. As a result, critics frequently saw Atticus as a “plaster saint.” In Mockingbird, he doesn’t advocate for change and social justice so much as hope that they will arrive in their own good time if everyone is courteous. “Through the lens of the intervening years we can see why the civil rights movement in the United States had to be instigated and led by black people themselves,” Smiley wrote in her book Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. “Even the most well-meaning white people (Atticus Finch is the model) didn’t have the understanding and the will to break up the status quo and reimagine American life …” A.C. Lee was a teacher, then a bookkeeper, moved to Monroeville, Ala., on which ’s Maycomb was based, in 1912, met and married Frances Finch (who provided Atticus’s surname) and began his upward mobility.

Nobody really thought about how it would be different when told from the viewpoint of a 30-something-year-old returning to her hometown, she said. “But that change is something that many of us (who are) that age, or older, experience when we go home, and we see our parents with adult eyes.” He was elected to the Alabama legislature, became a church deacon and publisher of a local newspaper — using that pulpit to promote frugality and morality. But as Charles Shields chronicles in his 2006 book Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, “A.C. was no saint, no prophet crying in the wilderness with regard to racial matters.” “Like most of his generation, he believed that the current social order, segregation, was natural and created harmony between the races,” Shields wrote. “Blacks deserved consideration and charity as fellow creatures of God; and the law should protect them.

But they were not the same as white people …” Lee was opposed to federal hiring guidelines, which he said would “take away from every employer in this United States the right to choose his employees.” When he sold his stake in the Monroe Journal in 1947, the inflexible A.C. said in his final editorial that “with the added experience of the years we are unable to recall any position we have previously taken on any important question that we would wish to change.” But during the social tumult of the 1950s, the period in which the new novel Watchman is set and which Smiley describes as pivotal, A.C.’s views on race relations apparently did. Engineer, who had brought the old copy of “Mockingbird” with her to the store, said she liked the look of “Watchman” and, if she were to judge it by its cover, would give it a favorable review.

As Watchman ends, she ruefully welcomes Atticus, her one-time idol, “to the human race” — in all its contradiction and disillusionment, the state in which it labours still.

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