I’m ambivalent about today’s “information age.” There’s good and bad about it. I’m often totally appalled at the crude and vicious remarks that one sometimes finds posted about YouTube videos and other online offerings — an attitude fostered by the anonymity provided by the Internet — and yet often I find vast resources that are documented, and delve insightfully into timely matters — an availability formerly only found through libraries, and weighty papers and magazines such as The Manchester Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Consumer Reports, and The Globe and Mail. (All sources of responsible journalism; you may have your own favourites.) However, often the information (and I use that word loosely because it tends to imply “facts”) found online seems to be based on nothing more than speculation and supposition — nothing even close to primary sources — information reminiscent of scandal sheets one tends to find at the supermarket. It strikes me that this is the case in the controversy about the publication of Go Set a Watchman by (Nelle) Harper Lee.
I found this excellent documentary by Yahoo online: Beyond To Kill a Mockingbird,
It was posted on July 9th of this year (about 26 min. long) in anticipation of the publication of Watchman, which is not a new novel, just a novel new to a public that cherishes the prequel, To Kill a Mockingbird, where a young girl sees her father as a paragon of virtue who can do no wrong. Whether you believe Lee is still in command of all her faculties today, or that publisher, agent, or whoever has hijacked an unedited manuscript in order to profit (and everyone seems to have an opinion about this), we must keep in mind that it was written first from the point of view of a 26-year-old Harper Lee prepared to confront the south, and her father, on issues she felt strongly about in the late 1950s. We must also keep in mind that she’s writing (mostly autobiographically) about a lawyer in what would be the 1940s. There is no reason to assume that this will be any less brilliantly written than Mockingbird, and no less amazing for the bold way in which it challenges the historical racism of the south at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was just getting ready to burst onto the world scene.
I urge you to watch the documentary, which contains interviews with people who knew Nelle when and know her now (primary sources), and then read Go Set a Watchman for yourself. Was it not an interesting book as it stands, or was it deemed too controversial for the times, and a softer, more reminiscent book by a first-time writer thought to be enough of a chance to take? Decide for yourself whether it shouldn’t have been published 50 years ago to make the story complete.