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Suspicion Surrounds the Release of Harper Lee's Second Novel

Does the author approve of it's release?

Sadie Gennis

Fifty-five years after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Collins has announced a July 14 release date for Harper Lee's second novel, Go Set a Watchman.

The book, which was actually written prior to Mockingbird, follows the adult life Scout. However, Lee's editor believed the flashbacks to Scout's childhood would make a better novel and persuaded the author to write a book from her point of view as a child, an effort which resulted in the historic To Kill a Mockingbird.

Half a centurylater, the previously lost manuscript of Go Set a Watchman was "discovered" by Lee's attorney Tonja Carter. But many see the timing - nearly three months after the death of Lee's sister and former lawyer Alice - as suspicious. For years, Alice acted as protector of her reclusive sister and Lee's estate, particularly since Lee's 2007 stroke which left her in a wheelchair, forgetful and nearly blind and deaf.

In the press release for Go Set a Watchman, Lee, 88, is quoted supporting the publication of the novel: "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. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years."

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However, the statement's legitimacy is questionable. By Alice's own admission in 2011, Lee"will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence" and is prone to forget the act afterwards. The notion that Lee is easily influenced by anyone around her, particularly Carter, is reaffirmed by multiple acquaintances in a 2014 Vulture exposeabout the author. Carter's questionable influence and Lee's apparent diminished mental capacity are well-documented in the profile, which details Lee allegedly signing over copyright to To Kill a Mockingbird and later forgetting, Carter suing the nonprofit museum in Lee's hometown over sales of Mockingbird memorabilia and Lee retroactively denying any cooperation in a book about the reporter's friendship with the Lee and her sister.

However, Lee's editor at HarperCollins Hugh Van Dusen, who only learned about Go Set a Watchman on Monday, insists the publishing house has her full support. Though Dusen does admit it's unlikely anyone has been in contact with Lee. "I don't know, but I don't think so, only because she's very deaf and going blind. So it's difficult to give her a phone call, you know?" Dunsen told Vulture. "I think we do all our dealing through her lawyer, Tonja. It's easier for the lawyer to go see her in the nursing home and say, 'HarperCollins would like to do this and do that' and get her permission. That's the only reason nobody's in touch with her. I'm told it's very difficult to talk to her."