Wednesday, July 15, 2015

It's a Sin to Mock a Mockingbird

 (This article appears in the current issue of The Republic --The Republic of East Alabama Artists; Republic for short)

By William Cotter

One personality quiz game on the internet invites the fantasy: What famous character from literature are you?

My wife of  40 years had earned two degrees in English from Georgia State University in Atlanta.  What could be more fun than being a famous character? When she answered all the questions, her fictional alter-ego was identified as Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee of Monroeville, Alabama.  I took the same quiz.  Nothing up my sleeve, no wagering or side bets allowed. Who was I?  Atticus Finch, Scout’s father.
Indeed my wife’s father had been venerated and beloved, the second of four consecutive generations of South Alabama lawyers, the most recent of which had named a daughter Harper, as also had actor Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird

A. C. Lee, Harper Lee's father, was a Monroeville, Alabama, lawyer, newspaper publisher, and state legislator.

Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his performance as Atticus Finch in the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird. Peck and Harper Lee became friends, and he named his daughter Harper.     

Harper Lee’s novel has sold more than a million copies every year since its publication in 1960, ranking it on the all-time best-seller list along with The Bible and Gone With the Wind, thanks partly to its success with high school English teachers and their students interested in justice and injustice.  Still, without explanation and little comment, Harper Lee has published nothing since, until the recent announcement that a sequel will be released this summer entitled Go Set A Watchman.  All the more unexpected because Harper Lee is now 89 years old, mostly blind, profoundly deaf, and minimally communicative in a Monroeville nursing home. 

For many years, Harper Lee’s sister Alice looked after legal matters.  A lawyer, like their daddy, Alice lived to be 100.  At one time, they had been hoodwinked into signing away copyrights for To Kill a Mockingbird.  Then a lawsuit was filed and ultimately settled but terms undisclosed.  Who is looking after Harper Lee’s interest at this time, now that sister Alice has died? 

The publisher of Go Set A Watchman says the manuscript was discovered attached to a file copy of the original manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Does that make it at best discarded remnants, chaff separated from the wheat, sweepings piled in a corner and now hailed as long-lost by the mill owners?

Monroeville has been designated the literary capital of Alabama by the state legislature, surprise experts on the subject but with the certain knowledge that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood pals, two years apart in age, and next-door neighbors on Alabama Ave., barely a hopscotch from the Monroe County courthouse, where they stowed away in the balcony like Becky Thatcher and Tom Sawyer to watch trials instead of going to the movies.  


Mel's Dairy Dream now occupies the lot on Alabama Ave., where Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote, childhood pals, played hopscotch.  The stone wall remnant is on the property where Capote lived with his old maid aunts.

Half a century without a sequel to Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird, this summer Go Set A Watchman appears miraculously, though she is blind, deaf, and minimally communicative at age 89 in a Monroeville nursing home

The historic courthouse has been preserved beautifully and thoughtfully as a museum worthy of Harper Lee’s literary legacy.  The Monroeville Chamber of Commerce estimates 30,000 visitors a year, about equal to the permanent population of the county.  In the spring, live performances of To Kill a Mockingbird are scheduled for the courthouse, and the Alabama Writers’ Symposium nearby culminates in the Harper Lee Award for some gifted writer.  These events are well attended.  All the hotel rooms in Monroeville were booked up solid, when I tried to make reservations.  I stayed in Evergreen, 22 miles away, at the same exit of I-65. 

Some citizens of Evergreen declared they believed the publication of Go Set A Watchman, the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, is “a hoax.”  However, a loyal fan from far off Post Falls, Idaho wrote to me, “I had just watched the movie again (after many years) a few weeks before this became known…that there was a sequel.  I’m sorry the same actors won’t be available for a movie—but I can read the sequel and imagine them.”

The friendship between Nelle Harper Lee and Truman Capote survived into adulthood, after each had moved to New York.  Ms. Lee accompanied Capote to Kansas to research the gruesome family-murder that was the subject of his non-fiction book In Cold Blood.  Capote enjoyed literary success years before To Kill A Mockingbird appeared.  Almost from the beginning, whispers could be heard that perhaps Capote had a hand in the writing of To Kill A Mockingbird.  No specifics.  No denials.  No introductions to publishers, no good advice.  Just a smash hit book, followed by over half a century of silence.

On the cover of  the first edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, Capote quipped, “Someone rare has written this very fine first novel, a writer with the liveliest sense of life, and the warmest, most authentic sense of humor.”  Who would say such a thing, if he were talking about himself?

Harper Lee once said Truman Capote had “landed from Mars.”

No comments:


Hit Counter
Boden Clothes