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About that new Harper Lee novel…

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…it’s important to remember something about statements like this one reprinted in the BBC:

“I hadn’t realised it [the original book] had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it,” Lee continued. “After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication.”

Namely, that they were in all likelihood written by her “dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter,” who has been writing such statements on Lee’s behalf — if not with her knowledge — since at least 2012.

In an interview with NPR last year the author of The Mockingbird Next Door, Marja Mills, noted that the blind and deaf Lee — who recently suffered a stroke — often signs any document put in front of her by Carter.

I know everyone is very excited to read this sequel/prequel of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I have a feeling that something very sad precipitated this novel’s publication, and that it involves taking advantage of an elderly woman.

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  • Joe_JP

    something very sad precipitated this novel’s publication

    are you talking about her overall health failing or something else?

    The details suggest to me the book should have at least been published after her death.

    • SEK

      I’m talking about a self-praising lawyer “discovering” an elderly, disabled woman’s long-lost manuscript and publishing it with her imprimatur — especially when that lawyer will personally profit from its publication.

      • sibusisodan

        imprimatur

        I spelled that word wrong not two minutes ago. Now I feel ashamed.

        I knew it was wrong as I was typing, too.

      • Joe_JP

        okay thanks. More “shameful.”

  • LeeEsq

    Ugh, pity, and shame are about the only proper responses to this situation.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    i’m getting further into helping an older family member manage her affairs. it’s a bit spooky how blurry the lines can be between ‘helping/managing/taking advantage of’ but it doesn’t appear to bother harper lee’s attorney. it would be different if it seemed lee *needed* whatever $ would come of a new book

    • SEK

      Lee’s sister, Alice, managed her affairs until she retired from her law practice at 102-years-old, so the Lee family is under no great financial burden — at least according to the NPR interview. Circumstances may have changed since it was aired last November, but if they have, I’d wager that has something to do with Tonja Carter’s management of it as well.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        i think you’d make out okay on that bet

  • Boots Day

    It seems entirely possible that Tonja Carter has not only been writing statements issued by Harper Lee, but wrote this new book as well.

    • NewishLawyer

      Now the later part would require serious proof.

      I am not saying that this situation is good but….

      • SEK

        Lee’s a little out of my American literary history expertise — I’m a late 19th/early 20th century specialist — but from what I’ve read, there’s evidence that her original editor did, in fact, tell her that the flashback was more interesting than her novel, and that she should rewrite it to focus on the flashback, i.e To Kill a Mockingbird.

        So, hypothetically, the novel that’s going to be released in July existed at some point. Whether the manuscript “discovered” by Carter is that novel is another matter entirely. If I were a betting man, I’d say that Carter didn’t find an intact manuscript, but cobbled together numerous drafts and what-not the same way Ellison’s editors did with Juneteenth.

        Of course, that’s not how this book’s being marketed, which is highly problematic.

        • cpinva

          after reading those articles, ms. carter comes across as an almost stereotypical sleazy attorney, or totally out of her depth. it’s a pity there’s no younger relative who might aid ms. Lee. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if an audit of ms. Lee’s last couple of years of financial records came up with evidence of defalcation.

        • Richard Gadsden

          cobbled together numerous drafts and what-not the same way Ellison’s editors did with Juneteenth

          Or the way that Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay did with The Silmarillion. At least C. Tolkien came clean about that and published the actual drafts later (as Morgoth’s Ring and The War of the Jewels) but it was – and still is – sold under the name of J.R.R. Tolkien.

    • pseudonymous in nc

      That’s reaching, I think. As Thers says over at his place, the story of how TKAM was honed into a novel is fairly well-known among literary scholars.

      Point is, Tonja Carter has a durable power of attorney, which means that for legal purposes, she is Harper Lee. That doesn’t fit well with how we think of authorship.

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