June 8, 2015
More new/old stuff from Harper Lee available for purchase
by Taylor Sperry
The discovery of an “exceptionally rare” collection of letters from Harper Lee marks another occasion to celebrate the beloved and famously private author of To Kill a Mockingbird.
On June 12th, Christie’s will auction off six typed letters (valued at $250,000) that Lee wrote to a close friend, the New York architect Harold Caufield, between 1956 and 1961. Christie’s describes the correspondence as both intimate and “poignant,” and notes, “no other material of this early date—and certainly not with such revealing personal content—has come to auction in the last 40 years.”
From the Christie’s overview:
The first four letters date from before the publication of Mockingbird, as Lee is back in Monroeville, caring for her ailing father, the model for Atticus Finch. In one dated “Sunday,” she writes: “Daddy is sitting beside me at the kitchen table . . . I found myself staring at his handsome old face, and a sudden wave of panic flashed through me, which I think was an echo of the fear and desolation that filled me when he was nearly dead. It has been years since I have lived with him on a day-to-day basis . . . ”
In a “Sunday” letter from ca. 1956 she expresses her “longing to get back [to New York]” . . . Five months of the “ecclesiastical gloom of Monroeville at present is really too much. Sitting & listening to people you went to school with is excruciating for an hour—to hear the same conversation day in & day out is better than the Chinese Torture method. It’s enough to make you give up.”
A 1960 letter shows her reaction to the amazing success of To Kill A Mockingbird. 12 Dec. 1960: “We were surprised, stunned & dazed by the Princeton review . . . The procurator of Judea is breathing heavily down my neck—all that lovely, lovely money is going straight to the Bureau of Internal Revenue tomorrow . . . Must stop and take my rock-and-roll Aunt Alice to the show. Elvis is on.”
We reported earlier this year on the controversy surrounding Lee’s forthcoming novel Go Set a Watchman, the To Kill a Mockingbird prequel / sequel that HarperCollins plans to publish in July. Allegations that Lee was the victim of “elder abuse”—the author is widely considered to be senile; her agent, who “discovered” the lost manuscript, acknowledged that Lee “often doesn’t understand the contracts that she signs”—were officially dismissed in April.
Meanwhile, Go Set a Watchman is the most preordered book in HarperCollins’s history. Robert Thomson, chief executive at the publisher’s parent company, News Corp, “declined to make a sales forecast for the book, saying it would need little in the way of marketing.”
Taylor Sperry is an editor at Melville House.