To Kill a Mockingbird sequel: Authorities investigating whether Harper Lee was bullied into releasing Go Set a Watchman

It remains unknown whether Ms Lee, 88, who is in a nursing home, is in fact alert or something far short of it

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

As the myriad fans of Harper Lee, the ageing and reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird, pant impatiently for the publication of a prequel to that novel this July, a formal investigation has been opened by the State of Alabama into whether she may have been bullied into agreeing to its release.

The exact status of the probe, reported yesterday by the New York Times, has not been disclosed and there are conflicting indications from some of those who have been interviewed by state officials over whether Ms Lee, who is 88 and in a nursing home, is in fact alert or something far short of it.

But the mere fact that two state agencies, the Human Resources Department and the Alabama Securities Commission, have become involved is certain to rekindle passionate debate about her mental wherewithal that blew up almost as soon as news of the publication of the prequel, Go Set a Watchman, by HarperCollins first broke last month.

Sceptics quickly questioned why Ms Lee who had for over five decades been so adamant about not publishing the book would change her mind suddenly now unless she had been coerced.


“It’s a call only God or a doctor can make,” Philip Sanchez, a lawyer, family friend and frequent visitor with Ms Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007 and lives in a nursing home in her hometown of Monroeville, told the Times. “I am more concerned that [she] is content than the discussion of her cognizance.”

The publisher at HarperCollins, Michael Morrison, and Jonathan Burnham, publisher at Harper, visited Ms Lee soon after the announcement of the book’s release. “She was in great spirits, and we talked about how much we love Go Set a Watchman and the details of the publication,” Mr. Morrison told the Times. “It was a great meeting, and as expected, she was humorous, intelligent and gracious.”

But among those who have been interviewed by the state is Marja Mills, who wrote a book about living next door for 18 months to Ms Lee and her elder sister, Alice, who has since passed away.  She has shared with investigators a transcript of a conversation she had with Alice about her sister’s medical condition.

“[Harper] doesn’t know from minute to the other what she’s told anybody,” Alice said, according to the transcript. “She’s surprised at anything she hears because she doesn’t remember anything that’s ever been said about it.” Last month, Ms Mills told the Washington Post of her concerns about Ms Harper’s state.

“My feeling is that Alice’s statement in Alice’s words is a pretty concise snapshot of what the concerns are,” she said. ”From what I’ve heard, [Harper Lee] can sound okay in conversation but not remember that somebody has come to see her the day before.”