Gina Vaynshteyn
March 12, 2015 12:07 pm

A little over a month ago, the world happily learned that Harper Lee is to publish a “sequel” to her brilliant first (and only) novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. But our joy quickly turned into concern and our concern turned into suspicion. Why is the novel, Go Set a Watchman, being published 60 years after it had been originally written? How was the manuscript magically “discovered”? Why was Harper Lee, very much known for her reclusiveness and fear of the media, suddenly OK with this novel being published?

Many started wondering if Lee’s publishing house—with much to gain from the book’s release—was taking advantage of the 88-year-old author, who now resides in an assisted living facility. Her sister, who passed away recently, wrote in 2011, “Harper can’t see and can’t hear, and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” One journalist even sent her a letter, hoping to find truth. Instead, he received his letter in the mail with “Go away! —Harper Lee” written on it.

But even Lee’s friend, a doctor (who has not treated Lee), is concerned enough to launch an inquiry into the situation. According to WTNH, the anonymous friend got in touch with the Alabama Human Resources Department and “requested an investigation to see if Lee, in a nursing home and suffering from deafness, blindness, and dementia, was being taken advantage of by parties anxious to reap the scores of millions of dollars one final novel by the great Harper Lee would produce.”

Now the state of Alabama is getting involved in the investigation, according to the New York Times, conducting interviews with friends, employees at Lee’s facility and Lee herself. The question of her competence—she suffered a stroke in 2007 that impaired her vision and hearing—remains debatable.

“With an investigation involving Monroeville’s most famous resident underway, friends and acquaintances who have come forward in recent weeks have offered conflicting accounts of Ms. Lee’s mental state, with some describing her as engaging, lively and sharp, and others painting her as childlike, ornery, depressed and often confused,” notes the Times. “Several people said that her condition varied depending on the day.”

Both Lee’s publisher, HarperCollins, and her agent have dismissed claims that she’s being taken advantage of. In fact, HarperCollins’ president and publisher, Michael Morrison, states he visited Lee last month and said she was in “good spirits” when they discussed details of the upcoming book. “It was a great meeting,” he told the Times, “and as expected, she was humorous, intelligent and gracious.”

Still, it’s concerning that an investigation of this nature is taking place. We just hope that Lee’s decision to publish Go Set a Watchman is her own, and no one else’s.

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