The Slatest

Lawyer: Harper Lee Is “Hurt and Humiliated” Over Claims She Was Pressured to Publish

Allegedly not all smiles anymore.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Harper Lee’s lawyer is offended. And so is Harper Lee, apparently. In an interview with the New York Times, Tonja B. Carter, Lee’s lawyer and friend, said she was flabbergasted at the suggestion that she was exploiting Lee into releasing a new novel. “Nothing can describe how I feel” about those claims, she told the Times. When she was asked why she didn’t provide more details about the discovery of the book to quell suspicions, she insisted that her role in this story is irrelevant. “I am a lawyer, not a celebrity,” she said. “The focus should be on the gift Harper Lee is giving the world.”

Carter said she came upon the old manuscript when she was doing some work for Lee. At first she assumed it was just an old copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. After all, the characters were familiar. But then she realized it didn’t quite add up. “I was so stunned. At the time I didn’t know if it was finished,” Carter said. She rushed to Lee, who was shocked to hear the news and asked Carter to repeat herself. But Lee had apparently never forgotten about the book, because she even corrected her lawyer on the name, noting it was Go Set a Watchman rather than Go Set the Watchman, as Carter was calling it. Carter asked whether the book was finished. “She said, ‘Complete? I guess so. It was the parent of Mockingbird.’ ” 

While some have raised questions about Lee’s mental health, some who are close to her say that is nonsense. Two unnamed friends who visited her over the weekend say she is excited about the book. Others, however, still have doubts, and the interview with the lawyer who many see as part of the problem is unlikely to resolve anything. Slate’s Katy Waldman, for example, recently wrote:

The only way Lee’s publisher can convince us that Lee wants Watchman unveiled, that is, is to force her to violate her own long-held principles and mutilate her carefully tended seclusion. With another author, one whose whole life wasn’t an argument against publicity, self-promotion, the careless release of half-baked writing, we might be willing to take a publisher’s word for it. But not this author, and not this story.