Monday Musings | Harper Lee and Posthumous Works

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Last week, some big news hit the internet: after 55 years, Harper Lee of To Kill a Mockingbird fame is releasing a new book. My reaction to this has been up and down. First, I was SUPER EXCITED. Then, I was shocked. Now that almost a week has past… I’m not exactly sure how I feel.

I’m sure by now most of you are familiar with the controversy: Harper Lee has previously gone on record saying that she’d never publish another book again. So… why is she deciding to publish Go Set a Watchman now? This announcement seems interestingly timed too, as Lee’s sister, who previously managed her legal issues, recently passed away. Plus, after suffering from a stroke in 2007, Lee’s health isn’t exactly in the best shape… I won’t continue to delve into this as it really is kind of a “he said, she said” situation, but for more information about this, Tanya from 52booksorbust has a very informative and interesting post here.

Personally, I’m torn. On one hand, I would hate it if something untoward was happening behind the scenes, but on the other hand, would me not buying the book even change anything? (Is that the wrong attitude to have?) I guess whether or not I decide to read the book is something for me to decide in a few months’ time (though if I’m being honest I can’t see myself resisting too hard), but all of this talk has me thinking about posthumous works.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that Lee doesn’t actually want this book to be published. Obviously, we should respect her wishes and not publish something against her will. But what happens to the manuscript if she passes? One example of a posthumous publication comes to mind here: Franz Kafka famously wrote to his literary exectuor and friend Max Brod telling him to destroy all of his unpublished works and letters after his death. Brod decided to ignore Kafka’s wishes and publish most of what remained in his possession anyway. Nowadays, The Trial is an often-studied and critically-acclaimed work of literary fiction, and it seems like the fact that Kafka never wanted it to see the light of day hasn’t really affected consumers. So… how does this relate to this Harper Lee situation?

To be honest, I don’t really know. I think it’ll be interesting to see how this continues to develop. Either way, a new novel by one of the most highly regarded English novelists is coming out this year and it is sure to be a huge literary event.

What do you think? Would make a difference if Go Set a Watchman was published posthumously? Would it somehow make this situation less controversial? How do you feel about this news? Do you think you’ll read Go Set a Watchman regardless? Please feel free to weigh in – I’m incredibly curious to hear your thoughts!

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16 thoughts on “Monday Musings | Harper Lee and Posthumous Works

  1. Cynthia says:

    I think if she were deceased, it would be a different matter. I don’t think it would be very controversial. I mean, we wouldn’t have any of Emily Dickinson’s work if people didn’t find her stuff after her death and published it. But also, I think there are way too many supposed “reports” of her bad health. I don’t think her old age means she isn’t aware of what’s going on. Personally, I am still excited for the book.

  2. tanya (52 books or bust) says:

    This is a tough one. I change my mind constantly about what i think and feel. The weird thing is, I wouldn’t have a problem reading the book if it was published after her death. Also, i kind of think that no matter what I will be disappointed by what i read. Is that fair?

    Thanks for the shout out as well!

    • Karen @ One More Page... says:

      My pleasure! Your post was a great read 🙂 That’s totally fair though, especially if it’s not going to be edited very much and knowing that her editor encouraged her to go the “young Scout” route all those years ago. It’ll be interesting to see how it holds up!

  3. joyousreads says:

    First, I need to read To Kill a Mockingbird. Yep. I haven’t read it yet. I suck. Second, depending on how I would feel after reading said book, then and only then can I actually form an opinion about reading a sequel. I think it’s great that after all these years, such a work exist. But I can understand your reservations.

  4. The Paperback Princess says:

    Have you read Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky?? That book was found and published well after her death and it’s a wonderful book. If they hadn’t published it posthumously, we never would have had the chance to read it.
    I’m with Tanya – I change my mind on this constantly. On the one hand, how wonderful to have a second book from Harper Lee! On the other, the whole situation is SO shady. Even though I’m sure the publishers have done their due diligence, I just don’t know!

  5. Leah says:

    The latest Book Riot podcast does a really good job discussing the issue. I wouldn’t have a problem with Harper Lee’s estate publishing her work after her death, but the timing now seems a little bit suspect. It seems like she might not have the mental capability to give or deny consent, which feels a little bit icky. But I also wonder if there’s any reason why she would be against its publication; she wrote it with the intention of publishing it, but her editor asked her to take a different approach, and that’s what led to To Kill a Mockingbird. In that way, it’s kind of like a first draft. It’s not like it was her private diary.

  6. M | BACKLIST BOOKS says:

    I’m feeling equally conflicted. This all started, for me, with publication of “The Mockingbird Next Door,” a book written about Harper Lee by a journalist. There was some debate as to whether she manipulated or took advantage of Lee in writing the book, and though I don’t feel like I have enough information to form any judgment, I did feel weird reading it (so much so that I didn’t finish it – though I do intend to return to it). I think, in the end, there’s just no way to know what happened behind the scenes. It’s possible that Lee isn’t all there, and that her publishers pushed or manipulated to get this new book out of her. It’s also possible that, nearing the end of her life, she changed her mind and decided she wanted to share her original work with the world (apparently Go Set A Watchmen was written before TKAM, from the perspective of a grown-up Scout returning to her hometown. The editor liked the flashbacks so much that TKAM grew out of them). I don’t know, and like you said, my purchasing the book or not won’t make a bit of difference. I guess I feel like I’m curious enough that I will want to read it, unless further information comes to light that definitively proves that Lee did not consent to publication. It is definitely a tricky moral area, and I don’t think there’s a clearcut right or wrong when it comes to reading the book, I guess it’ll be up to each reader to decide for themselves. Interesting post – and definitely thought-provoking! (I also found Book Riot’s article on the topic to be informative and interesting.)

    • Karen @ One More Page... says:

      I do think the whole discussion surrounding this fascinating. I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I have a feeling I’m going to end up reading it whether or not it gets good reviews. In fact, if it gets bad reviews it might make me want to read it even more…

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