Joe Nocera in the NYT lays out the story so far with regard to the “Go Set a Watchman” debacle:
The Ur-fact about Harper Lee is that after publishing her beloved novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” in 1960, she not only never published another book; for most of that time she insisted she never would. Until now, that is, when she’s 89, a frail, hearing- and sight-impaired stroke victim living in a nursing home. Perhaps just as important, her sister Alice, Lee’s longtime protector, passed away last November. Her new protector, Tonja Carter, who had worked in Alice Lee’s law office, is the one who brought the “new novel” to HarperCollins’s attention, claiming, conveniently, to have found it shortly before Alice died.
If you have been following The Times’s cleareyed coverage, you know that Carter participated in a meeting in 2011 with a Sotheby’s specialist and Lee’s former agent, in which they came across the manuscript that turned out to be “Go Set a Watchman.” In The Wall Street Journal — where else? — Carter put forth the preposterous claim that she walked out of that meeting early on and never returned, thus sticking with her story that she only discovered the manuscript in 2014.
But the others in the meeting insisted to The Times that she was there the whole time — and saw what they saw: the original manuscript that Lee turned in to Tay Hohoff, her editor. Hohoff, who appears to have been a very fine editor indeed, encouraged her to take a different tack. After much rewriting, Lee emerged with her classic novel of race relations in a small Southern town. Thus, The Times’s account suggests an alternate scenario: that Carter had been sitting on the discovery of the manuscript since 2011, waiting for the moment when she, not Alice, would be in charge of Harper Lee’s affairs.
Note also that this is a Murdoch Family Empire production. Carter went to the Murdoch-owned HarperCollins, the successor firm to J.B. Lippincott which originally published To Kill a Mockingbird, and offered up the manuscript. Favorable pieces by and about her then ran in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal. Unlike in 1960, there was no Tay Hohoff around to help Harper Lee turn an unpolished early draft into a masterpiece – and it’s debatable whether Lee — whose power of attorney is allegedly now held by Carter, who has also allegedly kept a lot of Lee’s friends from seeing her ever since she took over Harper’s care from her now-deceased sister Alice — is in any condition to do rewrites, or would have any interest in doing rewrites, especially as up until very recently she has firmly been on record as saying that she would never write nor publish another book.
It’s not as if Harper Lee doesn’t have any money. At last report she was worth $35 million, assuming none of her current assigned protectors have screwed her out of it all. There was absolutely no need for this to happen. But it’s making the Murdochs that much richer.