Harper Lee’s First Novel: A Review Of Go Set A Watchman (Harper Collins 2015)

by Judy M. Cornett

Harper Lee’s first novel, Go Set a Watchman, has entered the world under such a weighty burden of history that it can hardly be read, discussed, or analyzed. Every commentator who has addressed the novel, myself included, has read it in light of Lee’s later but first-published novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. As Jerome McGann points out, this constant shadowing of the earlier text by the latter is inevitable. But, still, it seems unfair.

For the record, Go Set a Watchman was written in the late 1950s by Nelle Harper Lee, who was born in Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926. After dropping out of the University of Alabama’s law school without taking either a bachelor’s or a law degree, she moved to New York City in 1949 to pursue writing as a career. The manuscript of Go Set a Watchman was submitted to J.B. Lippincott in May 1957. At this point, the journey of the manuscript becomes uncertain. However, it appears that the manuscript was returned to the author and, at some point, was stored in a safe deposit box in a bank in Monroeville, Alabama. After living exclusively in New York City for several years, Harper Lee began to divide her time between the city and her hometown of Monroeville. Most recently, as her health has declined, she has lived exclusively in her hometown.

 

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