Sad news this week of the death of two very differing authors: Harper Lee, southern lady and writer of one perfect novel and Umberto Eco, Italian philisopher and academic.
I've come late to Eco, having just bought "In the Name of the Rose", but simply have to read anyone who, when questioned about the similarities between his work and that of bestselling author Dan Brown, insists that he "invented" Dan Brown in his book "Foucault’s Pendulum" - a touch of wit by the great man! A scholar of the middle ages whose interest in semiotics lead to his becoming a professor on the subject at the University of Bologna. His death came too early for me to add my personal observations to his great reputation, but I look forward to enjoying his archive.
And so to Harper Lee - rightly famed for her one perfect novel. I know I am one of many in regarding the decision by HarperCollins to publish "Go Set a Watchman" as an appalling breach of trust, one which does not change the fact of my opening line: Harper Lee wrote one perfect novel. Miss Lee placed that first draft manuscript into a safe; she had no intention of publishing it. It was a draft which had been rejected, then re-written and published to great acclaim as "To Kill a Mockingbird". What author in their right minds would publish a first draft, when the final draft has been on the receiving end of such huge acclaim. How would the first draft hope to do better than to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize? Plain and simply, HarperCollins were driven by their desire to maximise income and took advantage of an elderly lady in her final years. Many refused to buy the book - a stance I felt correct. Nevertheless, I did buy a copy and read it. For someone learning to write, it provided a rare before and after example of how to get it right, when your first draft is really wrong. Sadly, it also provided a real and valuable lesson that all writers should ensure their literary reputation by legal protection of their output.
One brief word on racism and these two publications from my reading. "Go Set a Watchman" was a truthful depiction of life in the south at this time. It speaks clearly of the deeply-held racist views of all the white characters, including not just Atticus, but also Scout. "To Kill a Mockingbird" was written about the same story at the time period but, by telling the same story from a child's view, we simply see people demonstrating positive and negative character traits and/or behaviour. The result is that all the black characters are depicted positively, if stereotypically so, whereas the white characters are largely displayed with all their weaknesses and negativity on show. The only exception to that final observation is that it does permit Atticus and Scout from too close an examination of their views.
My blog on the two publications can be found here.