In Glasgow and Edinburgh, this weekend, I kept seeing copies of “Go Set A Watchman” (Harper Lee) Well to be fair, I spent a lot of time in Waterstones, WH Smith and other bookshops. That might explain it.
The publication of the book and the book itself , are two different stories.
I have not really followed either in detail.
But it seems simple enough. “Go, Set A Watchman” is set twenty years after “To Kill A Mockingbird” but it was written BEFORE “Mockingbird”. And now published six decades after “Mockingbird”
“Mockingbird” is a classic of both American Literature and American Cinema. And I suppose Harper Lee is living proof (she is now frail and elderly) that there is a “book inside all of us”. In material terms, she had no need to ever write another book.
There ARE issues. Is “Watchman” (written first) a draft of “Mockingbird”? Is “Watchman” the intended third part ofa Trilogy?….Is the intended canon….”Mockingbird”, a second novel and rounded off by “Watchman”?
As the premise of the recently published “Watchman” is 35 year old Scout returning to Alabama to visit her father and discuss issues arising from a period decades before…the discovery that Atticus Finch was not so liberal minded after all…it suggests that the young Harper Lee had a foresight beyond her years.
I am always wary of making too much of the parallel between the American Civil Rights movement and the Norn Iron Civil Rights movement.
But I do recognise a LetsGetAlongerist when I see one. And I suspect Atticus Finch Was at heart…a LetsGetAlongerist. A lawyer who did his best for his clients against a background of a set of laws, he would like to change…but not radically.
The Law Library in Belfast was full of such people….so-called “liberal unionists” in the 1960s. Richard Ferguson was one. So arguably was Robert Porter. So arguably was Basil McIvor. But ultimately an alleged sense of “British” decency did not prevent Ferguson being a Unionist MP before defecting to Alliance. Nor did it prevent Porter being a Unionist Stormont MP who was Minister for Home Affairs. Nor did it prevent McIvor from serving as a Minister under Brian Faulkner before 1972.
Ferguson went to London to further his legal career. Porter and McIvor left Politics to become Judges.
But Ferguson, Porter and McIvor are usually described as “liberal unionists” and no doubt would have wanted to see Norn Iron develop along non-sectarian and British lines….but at a controlled pace.
And no doubt that there were decent, white lawyers who would have wanted to see Alabama adopt a non-racist and mainstream American way of life. But most were lukewarm about radical change. Yet I think this truth….that most “liberals” have limits to their “liberalism” is unlikely to have been known by a young Harper Lee.
There is a generational factor. And I think that Harper Lee would have been unaware of this. I dont necessarily believe in a cliché that radicals and liberals become more conservative as they…we …getolder. Every journey is different. Maybe most people get less motivated by ideas and are guided by pragmatism. I never believed there was an End to History (that was an idea that came with the end of the Cold War and went with the Twin Towers).
But ten years ago, I might have believed there was an End of Politics. I was wrong. The Collapse of the Economy in 2008, Israel-Palestine, Ferguson (Missouri), Greece, the Confederate Flag, Angela
Merkel, ISIL, Taliban, Migrants drowning in European Waters, Cameron’s Tory Government, Bush-Obama-Clinton…Sanders!!!….Donald Trump.
I was very wrong. I am more politically motivated in 2015 than at any time in my life.
So Atticus Finch? Aside from the first draft, the fifty years of silence, the controversy around the publication itself…..has a more accurate version of Finch been unwittingly revealed in “Watchman”?
On balance…I am iinclined to think he was a decent lawyer with a desire to do the right thing legally. He might have wanted a fairer society but as Saint Agustine might have said “not yet”.