Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Harper Lee Remembered

Harper Lee’s funeral was attended by only closest friends and family. It was a reflection of the way she chose to live. Yet she will long be remembered for one classic American novel, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Like many English teachers, I taught the novel to sophomores in high school. According to THE WASHINGTON POST, the book still earns about three million dollars each year.

Ironically, I had just learned of Harper Lee’s death as I finished reading 
GO SET A WATCHMAN, the unimpressive prequel to MOCKINGBIRD recently published.

Did Lee have help from her friend Truman Capote or a sympathetic editor in creating MOCKINGBIRD? It hardly matters. Didn’t Shakespeare write his plays with input from other playwrights?

On the very day that Harper Lee passed away, my first cousin, Ros, also died. She didn’t leave behind a great work of American fiction. However, her three children and their families including six grandchildren were there at her funeral. There were, in fact, many friends and relatives who knew and loved her for the fine person she was.


There is more than one type of greatness. When we must shuffle off the mortal coil, being remembered by others keeps us alive in ways that matter.


Thoughts and comments always welcome.

22 comments:

  1. Jacquie, a fitting tribute to Harper Lee and your first cousin. Your parting words are so true.

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  2. Beautiful tribute.
    Sorry for the loss of your cousin.
    Take care & God Bless
    PamT

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    1. Thank you, Pam. I appreciate these lovely comments.

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  3. This is a very quietly appropriate tribute to Harper Lee. I'm sorry about the loss of your cousin, but the reminder of what we leave behind is very welcome.

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    1. Thank you, Susan. I did feel there was a true human connection between my cousin and Harper Lee, even though they were very different women.

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  4. Jacqueline, I agree it doesn't matter if others contributed to the book--it exists only because Lee had a story to tell.
    My condolences on the loss of your cousin.

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    1. Thank you, Allan. I appreciate your condolences. As to Harper Lee, who wrote what part of Mockingbird really doesn't matter very much. The novel exists and that's what does matter.

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  5. I have concluded that Harper Lee did indeed write most or all of Mockingbird herself. But that she had input from Capote. and that her editor basically held her feet to the fire until Lee came up with the content the editor wanted.
    In other words, the editor had the vision which culled & crafted the raw material Lee produced. Just an example of a talented, perceptive, and determined editor bringing out the best in a great writer.
    After that experience, I can well imagine Lee didn't want to face such an ordeal again, especially when the second production was bound to fall far short of the wide acclaim of Mockingbird.

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    1. Jeff,

      Your conclusions make a lot of sense and I concur.

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  6. I sometimes wonder if that's the real reason I write -- the possibility that my fifteen minutes of fame will sit on library shelves for a few years before they're sent to the library sale or, worse yet, the book shredder. At least Harper Lee received lots more than fifteen minutes for her Mockingbird. I applaud her talent and her willingness to step away from the writing life.

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    1. Patricia,

      There are very few of us who will reach that level of success--and just for one book at that. It is impressive.

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  7. So sorry for the loss of your cousin. As for Harper Lee's passing, I'm going to stick my neck out here and say I'm thankful she's gone. Certainly not because I dislike her or bear her any ill will, but because when the body outlives the mind, there is no reason to want someone to linger. Her sister who had served as her gatekeeper for many years was already gone, and I'll never be convinced that the publication of the by all accounts inferior Go Set a Watchman was not a case of elder abuse, or at least manipulation. I've always thought it was too much of a coincidence that within months of her sister's death, this manuscript was "discovered," and is now making a lot of money for someone. I hope it will quickly be forgotten, so that Harper Lee's true legacy and masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, will remain untarnished.

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    1. I agree with you, Sheri. Apparently, Lee had lost her abilities after a stroke. Her sister's death put her in a terrible situation.

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  8. I read an article once that stayed with me about MOCKINGBIRD. It said that Harper Lee initially took her series of short stories to an editor in New York who was not able to buy the stories separately, but suggested Lee connect the stories in one volume. Lee asked for help and the editor added her expertise, then engaged an editor friend and others until there were a group of women who polished and honed and worked with Lee to create the finished work. The article said Lee solicited help from Capote, but he was busy with his own writing and begged off. Still the editors loved MOCKINGBIRD as it developed. Then, when it was released and was such a marvelous hit, even won the Pulitzer, Lee accepted all the accolades and credit. She took another book (not WATCHMAN) done in a series of short stories to her editor "friends." Annoyed by having received neither credit nor comment from Lee, they declined to take on another project with her. Word got out and no other editors wanted to tackle the new collection. Some speculated when WATCHMAN was being developed, that it was actually one of Lee's original efforts at MOCKINGBIRD, before the editorial group got hold of it. Apparently the editorial group remained miffed. I always wondered why none of those spoke up after MOCKINGBIRD was such a success, if those rumors were true. Anyway, that was the explanation of why Lee did not produce any other manuscripts. Doe anyone else remember that furor, or is my memory flawed?

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    1. Sharon, I hadn't read that before, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was true. WATCHMAN is a real disappointment and doesn't compare at all to MOCKINGBIRD.

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  9. TKAM, my favorite book. I personally do not think she had help from Capote. More than likely the other way around; she helped him write "In Cold Blood". Be that as it may, she rightfully earned the respect that she has been accorded.

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  10. Herschel,

    I also read that she was Capote's researcher when he wrote In Cold Blood, and in fact, felt slighted that he did not give her proper credit for her contribution.

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  11. A lovely tribute to both Lee and your cousin.

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  12. I, too, just finished WATCHMAN and consider it her first published effort at writing--even though it came years (decades) after MOCKINGBIRD. Sorry to see her pass. Nice post.

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    1. Hi, Susan,

      Supposedly, Watchman was her first writing effort and the editors suggested concentrating on her Depression childhood effectively shelving the original effort.

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