May 25, 2010

"One of the things that I find really cool about her is what I consider her caginess."

"And I think maybe the mystery surrounding her, and that sort of silence that she decided to maintain with the media, that becomes part of the legend of the book."

So said Wally Lamb, about Harper Lee. Both Lamb and Lee liken Lee to Boo Radley, a character in Lee's book "To Kill a Mockingbird," which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.


I blogged about "Mockingbird"
back in 2005, noting: 1. the Law Review essay I wrote defending Atticus Finch from a feminist attack and 2. the controversy about whether Truman Capote actually wrote the book. That last link goes to a blog post where I participate in the comments thread:
I actually think "Mockingbird" isn't a good enough work of art to be Capote's. People love it, but... it's rather cartoonish artistically. It's didactic and lacks complexity. He could have helped her, but it doesn't seem to represent his mind.
It's a funny thread, with Jeremy (the blogger) at one point saying:
... I just finished spending the last five hours reading In Cold Blood from cover-to-cover. I was skeptical of the idea that this was the same author who had written To Kill a Mockingbird, until at the end where they are going to hang one of the killers and they dress him in a giant ham costume.


Richard Dolan said...

It's always been a good fit for freshman high school English classes. "Artistically cartoonish" and morally two-dimensional is what they want, and what that book delivers. The victims and villains also follow the approved script, so that the kids can tell easily whom to root for and whom to hiss at.

reader_iam said...

Althouse: Maybe it's just my phone, but the link to your 2005 post isn't working for me. I think there might be an extra "http//" bit there?

reader_iam said...

Yep. Broken on my laptop, too. In case Althouse and Meade have gone off to dinner or something, here's a hyperlink to use:

[Althouse] blogged about "Mockingbird

SMGalbraith said...

Lee lives about 45 minutes from where I live and is notorious for rejecting interviews. There have been several stories about reporters showing up on her porch and politely - but firmly - being told to go away. Well, not always politely.

She's not a complete recluse (never married, still lives with her family - or what's left of it) a la the late Salinger but she simply won't do interviews. She did do one about 3 years ago when she went to talk to a college class.

I'm less sure it's caginess than simply being ornery.

Alan Dershowitz had an interesting point: he said that if he had written Mockingbird he would have made Tom guilty and then had Finch defend him.

Typical lawyer, I guess. Lee make's Tom guilty and she has no book.

Trooper York said...

Jeez you really love boring sanctimonious high school fiction.

Ralph L said...

It is a story that resonates with those of us of a certain age from the [S]outh.

I guess I got it by proxy. My mother was born in 1926 to a Tobacco Road lawyer. He was county Clerk and Judge of juvenile court for 35 years, so I doubt he was a liberal like Finch, but I've heard he was a stickler for accuracy and honesty.

Mom found a copy of a letter he'd sent to Esso in 1932 or 33 saying he couldn't pay his gas bill because the county couldn't collect enough taxes to pay its employees. We've got a long way to go to get to the Depression.

Kirby Olson said...

The story is too good for Capote who never understood the structure of stories but his strength was getting a certain vernacular into his prose. He may have either added that, or inspired that. But he never wrote anything half as good.

"White trash" are the last repository of evil for the PC elite.

That's what really happens in the story. Everybody scapegoats the white trash and feels sanctimonious about those poor people.

Ann Althouse said...

"Jeez you really love boring sanctimonious high school fiction."

Can you give an example?

I don't like "To Kill a Mockingbird." Read the essay, and you'll see.

Ann Althouse said...

Bad linked fixed.

Thanks for pointing it out.

John Burgess said...

Althouse has it backwards. It wasn't that Capote wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, it was that Harper Lee wrote In Cold Blood, or so substantially edited it that it might as well have been hers.

That's why she remained coy.

Ralph L said...

Can you give an example?
Bob Dylan

reader_iam said...

"[S]econd-best-selling back title" after "The Kite Runner" over the past five years? Good lord, that really is an ineresting little factoid.

TVUStudent said...

Nice post, very informative.

Ann said...

Here in Bryan-College Station, Texas, 35 seersucker-clad lawyers gathered at the county administration building to drink lemonade and take turns reading from "To Kill A Mockingbird" and discussing its significance.

Excerpt from the local newspaper article:
Phelps and Banks organized the first event a year ago after they coincidentally both wore seersucker to a trial in which they were opposing each other. On that day, the pair had a tense argument over a legal issue. Phelps said he felt that he and his fellow lawyers could use a yearly reminder of how they should behave.

"We all give lip service that Atticus Finch is our ideal, and it falls short," Phelps said. "How about once a year we get together and pledge ourselves to do everything we can to be consistent with that idea and treat each other better?"

Michael said...

Real writers live in NY and get drunk and lead emotionally charged self destructive lives. A quiet life lived in a town in Alabama cannot produce a real writer and so any book alleged to be written by someone living such a quiet life must be written by the real writer. Such are the beliefs of the knowing class.

Trooper York said...

"Jeez you really love boring sanctimonious high school fiction."

Can you give an example?"

Well your posts about JD and that piece of crap "Cather in the Rye." I mean this broad didn't even croak yet.

I don't see any post extolling the virtues of true artists such as Jackie Collins and Mickey Spillane.
Or the great Robert B. Parker who recently passed. Jeeez.

HT said...

Lack of complexity does not mean Truman Capote could not have written it. He didn't write it though.

HT said...

And Sixty Grit is right. For southerners, it is extremely evocative. I know it's not great, but it captures the essence of a lot of things for me.

reader_iam said...

Great or not, it meant a lot to me when I read it, proximate within a couple of years as it was to the boycotting of a childhood sleepover-party meant to celebrate my birthday in a very small town in the Midwest in the 1960s.

reader_iam said...

That is, I read it later, and it helped me to understand in part what had happened earier.