Friday, April 3, 2009

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird

For some reason, I have run across mention of this book numerous times in the last few weeks and decided that since it is my favorite book of all time, maybe I should look it up. I was even thinking about re-reading it, even tho I have read it twice and have watched the movie probably as many times as it's been shown.

I couldn't find the book on-line. All kinds of summaries but not the actual book. I wanted to tell Jackie that I read a whole book in one day (one of her last questions on her blog), but alas, it was not to be.

Instead, I found a write up on Harper Lee, the Author. There was so much information about her that I didn't know, I wondered if you knew... so I decided to post it here. Hope you enjoy reading about her.

First of all... her childhood neighbor was Truman Capote. They became friends in the early 1930s as kindergarteners in Monroeville, Alabama. They lived next door to each other. Although Capote moved to New York City in the third grade to join his mother and stepfather, he returned to Monroeville most summers, eventually providing the inspiration for Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Harper was given the name Nelle Harper Lee. Nelle -her first name is her grandmother's spelled backward. She opted for the name "Harper Lee" as an author, because she didn't want to be misidentified as "Nellie." Her father, A.C. Lee became a title lawyer, and despite her father's hopes that she would become a local attorney, Lee went to New York to pursue her writing.

As a child, Harper Lee was an unruly tomboy. She fought on the playground. She talked back to teachers. She was bored with school and resisted any sort of conformity. The character of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird would have liked her.

To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 to highly favorable reviews and quickly climbed the bestseller lists, where it remained for eighty-eight weeks. In 1961, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize.

Though fans of the book waited for a second novel, it never came. Lee later researched a book, similar to Capote's In Cold Blood (1966), about a part-time minister in Alexander City, Alabama, accused of killing five people for their insurance money and later himself murdered by a victim's relative. However, she dropped the project in the 1990s.

In the meantime, To Kill a Mockingbird has sold more than thirty million copies in eighteen languages. Lee was unprepared for the amount of personal attention associated with writing a bestseller. Ever since, she has led a quiet and guardedly private life. As Sheriff Tate says of Boo Radley, "draggin' him with his shy ways into the limelight-to me, that's a sin." So it would be with Harper Lee. From her, To Kill a Mockingbird is gift enough.

The Friendship of Harper Lee and Truman Capote

In 1948 Capote published his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms. Around that time, Lee quit law school and joined Capote in New York to work at becoming a writer, too. Years of menial jobs followed until To Kill a Mockingbird was ready for publication. Capote read the manuscript and made editorial suggestions. She, in her turn, accompanied him to Kansas to help research In Cold Blood.

After To Kill a Mockingbird was published, Capote resented Lee's success. He allowed baseless rumors that the novel was as much his work as hers. Their friendship continued during the 1960s and '70s, but Capote's drug and alcohol abuse strained the relationship. When Capote died in 1984, Lee confided to friends that she hadn't heard from him in years.

How the Novel Came to Be Written

The novel had its origins in Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama-the small, Southern town that the fictional Maycomb is based upon. Her father's unsuccessful defense of a black man and his son accused of murder, in addition to the Scottsboro Boys trials and another notorious interracial rape case, helped to shape Lee's budding social conscience and sense of a dramatic story.

For a long time, Lee called her work in progress Atticus, basing this character on her own father. Once she came up with the title, To Kill a Mockingbird, she never looked back!

Eighty weeks later, the novel still perched on the hardcover bestseller list. During that time, it had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the hearts of American readers, mine included!

To think, at one time during the writing of the novel, she opened her apartment window and threw all 500 pages of the manuscript out into the wind driven snow. I, along with millions of other people, am so happy she retrieved it before it was lost forever.


Sydney said...

I loved seeing the person who played her in one of the recent Capote movies -- It looked like she was a very interesting cookie, and she and Truman had a fascinating dynamic to their relationship. Thanks for posting this here. I've never read the book but now am adding it to my long list... which someday I can get to!

Cher said...

Interesting. But one thing really caught my attention - Nelle with her backwards name. My sister and I both have my father's name spelled backwards - Alan to Nala. Nelle is the only other example of this I've ever seen, unless of course you and your father had the name of BOB!

The Texas Woman

sizzie said...

Thank you Meb !

Sydney said...

Amazing she only wrote one book too! Must have made enough dough from that and the movie to live off forever, apparently.

Laurie said...

Funny, I learned about Harper Lee by reading about Truman Capote. Interesting how that dovetails to your post. When I was younger and read TKAMB I thought Harper Lee was a man and that idea just stuck in my head. I don't know when I learned I was wrong about that but I do remember being very surprised.

bindu said...

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my absolutely most favourite books of all time. I have a copy at home. When I read this book the first time, I read very, very slowly, savoring the characters and their lives, unwilling to let it pass by too soon. When the last page was read, I was so sad for a few days, as if I'd lost a good friend. The movie didn't make the same impression on me, though I do adore Gregory Peck (so handsome!!). I also went online and read all about Harper Lee after reading the book for the second time, when the internet made all the information more available. Thanks for reminding me of this book.

meb said...

Sydney... After 88 weeks on the best seller list and over 30 million copies sold in 18 different languages, I'd venture a guess she was rolling in the dough.

Cher... that is interesting that you and your sister took your father's name spelled backwards. Upon reading Nelle was backwards for Lee's grandmother, it also caught my attention for its ingenuity. Having just gone over to your blog and caught up on some of your posts, I'm not surprised that your names are clever also.

Laurie... I guess you would take the name Harper as a man's unless you already knew Lee was a she.

bindu... I knew we had something in common... math and TKAMB... you know what they say... well they would say it about you any way! Great mind(s)! Smile...