He did not regard Jean Louise as a sister. In the years when he was away at the war and at the University, she had turned from an overalled, fractious, gun-slinging creature into a reasonable facsimile of a human being. He began dating her on her annual two-week visits home, and although she still moved like a thirteen-year-old boy and abjured most feminine adornment, he found something so intensely feminine about her that he fell in love. She was easy to look at and easy to be with most of the time, but she was in no sense of the word an easy person. She was afflicted with a restlessness of spirit he could not guess at, but he knew she was the one for him. He would protect her; he would marry her.
–From “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee
Say it ain’t so!! A twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise (a.k.a. Scout)–all grown up compared to where we leave off in “To Kill a Mockingbird” when she is in her eighth year–described in mushy terms as “intensely feminine”? Does she need a man to “protect her” when she was always the first to pull a punch in grade school?
This woodenly delivered novel is actually a rough draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird” set in the fifties instead of the thirties. Clearly Lee was a songbird without a tune when she penned “Go Set a Watchman” in 1957. Scout’s heavily inflected Southern drawl is what makes “To Kill a Mockingbird” sing. So why publish a lousy earlier version?
“Go Set a Watchman” was discovered in 2011 in a safe deposit box in Lee’s hometown of Monroeville. Lee said about it: “In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called ‘Go Set a Watchman.’ It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel from the point of view of the young Scout. I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.”
However, there is a great deal of doubt as to whether Lee (described as “in a wheelchair in an assisted living center, nearly deaf and blind”) really understood what was going on. HarperCollins ended up having a field day with this manufactured “literary event.”
The only thing I take away from this is how well Lee fine-tuned her craft in the three years between the two novels. I think it is Anne Lamott who says every book needs a “shitty first draft.” It’s a miracle that Lee turned the sludge of “Go Set a Watchman” into the fragrant Southern blossom of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”