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Harper Lee

Harper Lee's first name is Nelle; Harper Lee is her pen name. Until very recently, she only had one published work: To Kill a Mockingbird. This novel explores themes of racism, justice, and innocence, and it was inspired by Lee's own experiences growing up. She published her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, in 2015, at the age of 88. Naturally, this came as a surprise to everyone: Lee had written next to nothing in the intervening 55 years. 

Background on Harper Lee

Harper Lee was born in 1926 and recently died in the February of 2016. She was an American, and she has been known primarily—even exclusively—for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Read a summary of this novel.

Lee was famously reclusive over the course of her life, essentially renouncing the entire apparatus of fame and publicity that would ordinarily accompany being the author of a widely acknowledged American classic. In this respect, she could be compared to other writers such as Salinger and Pynchon.  

Lee has indicated that she was almost frightened by the success her novel experienced, and that she had never actually expected such a thing. 

Major Literary Works

Lee's entire literary reputation rests on the single novel To Kill a Mockingbird. This novel features such classic characters as Atticus and Scout, and it delves deeply into the American psyche, especially as this pertains to race relations, social justice, and the concept of innocence. 

After this novel, Lee published nothing (save for a couple essays) over the course of her entire life. At least, this was the case, until the publication of Go Set a Watchman—a sequel to Mockingbird—occurred in the year 2015. 

This novel portrays Atticus as an older man, and many have expressed concern that his characterization in this work perhaps tarnishes his original characterization as achieved in Lee's first novel. 

Harper Lee's Unique Voice

It would seem that Lee was initially unsure about her gifts as a writer: To Kill a Mockingbird went through several drafts with the assistance of an editor before it was published in its final form. 

This is congruent with the fact that Lee's novel is primarily admired not for its innovations at the strictly literary level per se, but rather for its thematic content, emotional poignance, and deep grasp of central issues of the American experience. 

It is also congruent with the fact that Lee published nothing after Mockingbird over the course of her entire life. This would seem to indicate that she did not especially experience a calling as a writer, and that her one novel satisfied all of her literary aspirations. 

Recent Work

There was a great deal of controversy surrounding the publication of Lee's Go Set a Watchman in 2015. Much of this controversy hinged on the basic fact that it seemed implausible that Lee would have actually wanted to publish that work, given the fact that she had more or less renounced all literary aspirations over the course of her entire life following the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Moreover, there is evidence that Go Set a Watchman may have initially began as a first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird: it was the working title of Lee's first novel. This makes it seem somewhat strange that this apparent sequel was published almost six decades after its predecessor. 

There has been speculation that Lee was becoming old and somewhat senile (after all, she lived to the age of 89), and that the people who were responsible for managing her estate engaged in some kind of foul play in order to get the sequel published. It is not clear how much truth there is to this allegation. What would seem to be clear, though, is that there is something murky about the circumstances that led to Go Set a Watchman entering the public consciousness. 

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This post was written by Ultius.

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