Friday, July 24, 2015
To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite novels and there's no denying that its tone and tenor have influenced the way I write. This novel is a masterpiece of fluid first-person prose and sublime story-telling. Therefore, when word came out that a "lost" manuscript by Harper Lee had been found and was going to be published, I was dubious. How would this book compare to Miss Lee's only published novel to date? Was it a sequel, as rumored? Or was it an early draft of To Kill A Mockingbird, which was the more official explanation?
The fact that the story in Go Set A Watchman takes place some twenty years after the events of To Kill A Mockingbird would tend to favor the sequel theory. And indeed, some reviews are already out calling the book a messy, unedited sequel. However, one intrepid blogger has done a word analysis of the texts of Mockingbird and Watchman, and the findings should put to rest this issue for good: Watchman is indeed an early (probably first) draft of the story that would become Mockingbird. Click here to see how many word for word passages from Mockingbird can be found in Watchman.
So how can the story (and the writing) have changed so much from Watchman to Mockingbird? Any writer of fiction who has gone through multiple drafts of a novel, usually working with one or more editors, will not be surprised at the transformation that took place as Miss Lee's early effort evolved into To Kill A Mockingbird. Watchman shows all the tell-tale signs of a novice writer from a craft standpoint, but Miss Lee's remarkable story-telling ability still shines through. No doubt the publisher who accepted this manuscript back in the 50s, and the editor who was assigned to work on it, saw the potential and guided Harper Lee to rework and rewrite what she had into a masterpiece.
Should Watchman have been published? It's not for me to say. Supposedly, Miss Lee gave her approval with the caveat that the manuscript be published unedited. If for no other reason, having Go Set A Watchman in print provides a case study in how much a first draft can be transmogrified before its deemed worthy of publication.