When a state government is asked to step in and evaluate the mental capacity of an elderly citizen, it’s usually over things like his ability to drive a car, or live on his own, or keep control over his finances. As our aging population lives longer and longer, their physical bodies are still running but their mental abilities get called into question, especially when a bizarre decision on the individual’s part is made. When outsiders feel this decision involves the senior citizen being scammed or taken advantage of, it’s time to seek outside dispute resolution to protect the individual.
That’s what an anonymous but concerned citizen was thinking when reporting famed author Nelle Harper Lee to state officials over a dubious decision to publish the long-hidden sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, the highly controversial title Go Set a Watchman.
Why the controversy? Because friends of the author and literary insiders alike don’t believe this is actually Lee’s decision. Lee’s long-time attorney Alice Lee–also the author’s sister, fifteen years older and reportedly more like a mother due to speculation about their mother’s mental illness–looked after the author’s interests until her retirement at the age of 100. Alice appointed another lawyer in her firm to take over as her sister’s attorney; about four months ago, Alice died at age 103 and the long-lost manuscript miraculously appeared.
It’s that timing issue right there that instantly had Harper’s friends (Nelle’s friends, that is, as only those close to her actually call her by her first name) up in arms. By many accounts, Watchman was actually written first, even though it falls later in Scout Finch’s life; if the author had wanted this published, she had plenty of opportunity, a willing audience, and publishers who would have fought each other to death in the arena to get their hands on it.
But an investigation into Lee’s mental state has now declared that the author is fully capable of making this decision and supports it wholeheartedly. Fans (like me) who’ve held off on pre-ordering Watchman out of respect for the author and this possibly unscrupulous situation can now rest assured that the author encourages the publication of this book and therefore aren’t taking advantage of an elderly woman by stomping on her privacy. This will hopefully put this matter to rest, as throughout the speculation two figures have been practically dragged through the mud. Critics have painted not only Lee’s attorney–Tonja Carter, a professional who was hand-picked by someone who loved Harper Lee possibly more than anyone else in the world–but also HarperCollins as being greedy charlatans who would take advantage of an elderly woman for their own gain. Hopefully this ruling will put that to rest, and we can all happily look forward to one of the most important events in publishing in the 21st century.