(Note: This is a draft, with some mispunctuations and typos, as well as too many clotted clauses. The “final” version is somewhere else.)

As nearly everyone knows by now, Atticus Finch, that steadfast attorney from Maycomb, Alabama, led the local Citizens’ Council in the 1950s.  When agitators from the NAACP and Communist Party came south to stir up trouble after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision, he fought the good fight for segregation. Atticus had even joined the KKK once upon a time, but that was in, like, 1919. You know, back when the Klan was a respectable organization, like the Masons. Something professionals and gentlemen could belong to.

Or so goes the Atticus we are given in the newly published, long-suppressed novel Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, author of that phenomenal early-60s bestseller To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s the publishing succès de scandale of the season. Because while Watchman is not a very good book (let’s get that out of the way right now), it depicts Atticus as a crusading segregationist. The Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird is quite another thing entirely.

Remember the Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel or (better yet) the 1962 Academy Award-winning film? That Atticus is a god-like hero to the local Negro community, a 1960s-styles civil-rights liberal living in 1935. Well, Go Set a Watchman‘s Atticus, written slightly earlier and based more immediately on Harper Lee’s elderly attorney father, A.C. Lee, is a hero of a different sort. He keeps anti-mongrelization pamphlets about the house, and argues that the Negro has not sufficiently “evolved” to be given social equality.

It is not likely that a professional Hollywood liberal like Gregory Peck (Atticus in the Oscar-sweeping movie version of TKAM) would ever care to play or meet this Atticus. The great climactic scene in the story is a conversational showdown with his daughter (and stand-in for the author), in which he lectures her, patiently and at length,  about the Negro problem.

“Jean Louise,” he said. “Have you ever considered that you can’t have a set of backward people living among people advanced in one kind of civilization and have a social Arcadia?” . . . “Let’s look at it this way. . . You realize that our Negro population is backward, don’t you? You will concede that? You realize the full implications of the word ‘backward,’ don’t you? . . . You realize that the vast majority of them here in the South are unable to share fully in the responsibilities of citizenship, and why?”

A couple of pages later, Atticus prophesies what doom and corruption would ensue if we had a Black-Run Government:

“Now think about this. What would happen if all the Negroes in the South were suddenly given full civil rights? I’ll tell you. There’d be another Reconstruction. Would you want your state governments run by people who won’t know how to run ’em? Do you want this town run by—now wait a minute—Willoughby’s a crook, we know that, but do you know of any Negro who knows as much as Willoughby? Zeebo’d probably be Mayor of Maycomb. Would you want someone of Zeebo’s capability to handle the town’s money? We’re outnumbered, you know. . .

“[T]he Negroes down here are still in their childhood as a people. . . The NAACP doesn’t care whether a Negro . . . tries to learn a trade and stand on his own two feet—oh no, all the NAACP  cares about is that man’s vote.”

Finally his daughter, Jean Louise Finch (the “Scout” from TKAM) gets in a spluttering rebuttal, and it’s a doozy.

“I know it’s [civil-rights progress] got to be slow, Atticus, I know that full well. But I know it’s got to be. I wonder what would happen if the South had a ‘Be Kind to the Niggers Week’? If just for one week the South would show them some simple, impartial courtesy. I wonder what would happen. . .”

Then her temper suddenly flares, she calls her father names, and drives off in his car, swearing she’ll never speak to a family member again. [1]

By now you will have some notion of why this “lost” novel was kept buried deep in the Harper Lee archives for over a half-century. It is incredibly un-PC and a little too spot-on in its predictions. Moreover it’s a terribly talky book, one in which little occurs except petty disputations about politics and family relations. The characters spend most of their time talking about obscuranta such as church hymns and Lord Melbourne. Yes, Lord Melbourne—you know, the feather-blowing early-Victorian Prime Minister. But why oh why? He is repeatedly invoked here, and also made a guest appearance in TKAM, for some reason known but to God and Harper Lee.

*   *   *

Watchman has a number of odd stylistic curlicues. The lead character is given to a lot of interior monologue, some of it stream-of-consciousness-y and difficult to disentangle from the outside conversations. She likes to quote Gilbert & Sullivan lyrics to herself. I first spotted something from Trial by Jury, then The Mikado . . . finally, when I came across a Mad Margaret song from Ruddigore, I realized that the narrative routine of Go Set a Watchman is in fact very much like bad W. S. Gilbert. An eccentric character comes on stage, tells why he is eccentric, sings a song—and departs! That’s pretty much how it goes with Watchman. We get a gallery of static characters, many of them mildly eccentric, but none of them eccentric enough to be interesting. Harper Lee no doubt saw this problem, and that’s why she filled TKAM with a whole menagerie of Southern Gothic crazies.

Additionally, and unlike TKAM, Watchman lacks excitement. There are no murders, no rapes. There is no sex or even romance to speak of. Jean Louise Finch has a sad-sack boyfriend, Hank, a young attorney of white-trash origins who works for her father; but Hank is not marriage material for a Finch; so like most of the subplots, this one’s a dud.

There is however one shining episode of a gynecological nature. This is a long flashback to childhood and the schoolyard. The setting makes it a kind of foreshadowing of TKAM even though it occurs a couple of years later than its time-scheme. Jean Louise, still the tomboy known as Scout, is now eleven or twelve years old. One day she gets her period, and high comedy ensues.

Now, Scout’s mother is long dead, so of course Scout doesn’t know about menarche and such like . . . because although Scout’s been reading since she was a baby, supposedly (we learn this in TKAM), somehow she hasn’t learned anything of a practical nature. Finally Scout gets clued in by the Finches’ black housekeeper, Calpurnia. She goes back to school next day, very unhappy, since she’s become a woman and all that. She’s all harnessed up under her school dress with a Kotex pad the size of a brick and a sanitary napkin belt. (The modern reader is probably unfamiliar with the aforementioned contraption, and I expect this passage will puzzle many readers. In brief, sanitary-napkin belts were standard-issue female gear till about mid-century, though they continued to be listed at least through the 1960s on what-to-pack checklists for boarding schools, summer camps, and insane asylums.)

Anyhow, here is Scout, and she’s walking funny. The white-trash girls from up-county know the score and laugh at her. They make jokes about the Curse, and fill her full of schoolyard misinformation.

A boy French-kisses Scout; she’s learned from her white-trash friends that once you start ministratin‘, a tongue-kiss will make you pregnant! Scout thinks she’s in a fambly way and there’s only one way out of her shame. She must go to the edge of town and jump off the water tower. Of course the whole town gathers ’round . . . and young Scout finally learns the Facts of Life.

Here at last is the author in full flower. This episode shows the kind of book she should have written. A black comedy full of menstruation and French-kissing gags would make a fine addition to any publisher’s Young Adult backlist.

*   *   *

Some peculiar and wrongheaded notions have attended the publication of this novel, errors we are going to hear repeated for years to come. One is that it is somehow a rough draft or “prequel” for TKAM. [2]  It is neither, although the setting and characters are similar. Nor, of course, is it a sequel, though it is set twenty years later.

Nor was its existence much of a surprise. Anyone who knew much about Harper Lee understood that TKAM had gone through many revisions before publication, and that she had even written a complete novel with some of the same characters a few years earlier.  According to biographer Charles Shields it was Go Set a Watchman that first brought Lee to the attention of her publishers (Lippincott) in 1957 [3]. But the editors wanted a lot of changes. They hated the title. They wanted to rename it Atticus.[4] They wanted a tighter, leaner narrative line, instead of a meandering string of barely connected episodes. Eventually Lee gave up and cobbled together a new novel out of short stories she’d written about her hometown of Monroeville (Maycomb), Alabama, bits of which stories had been also been repurposed in Watchman. As the new novel was set in the 1930s, out went references to the Second World War, the Brown decision, Emmett Till, the Citizens’ Councils. No longer set in the contemporary 1950s, the new novel would be instead hearken back to the misty watercolored memories of old Alabammy. (As I noted last year, this second novel had similar continuity/plot problems in its early form, which Lee and her editors solved by gluing on a lurid subplot about interracial rape.)

There was a cultural shift between 1957 and the early 1960s that made Watchman a much less attractive property than it had been originally. For much of the Fifties you could still joke, if nervously, about race relations and the Ku Klux Klan. Top model Suzy Parker, statuesque redhead on the cover of LIFE in 1957 and eye-candy in three big feature movies that year, could joke that “I come from an average Ku Klux Klan family,” without causing too much fuss (although her highly respectable kinfolk were slightly embarrassed)[5]. And of course there were still plenty of old Klansmen serving in Congress or the Supreme Court. Why, even Harry S Truman had nearly signed up with his local Kleagle, back in the 1920s. The KKK was just a reality of political history. As for Citizens’ Councils and the John Birch Society [6], they had not yet been tarred with the brush of “extremism” and bigotry as they would be in the 60s.

By the time To Kill a Mockingbird had spent two years on the bestseller list and been made into a landmark film, racial segregation was no longer a tenable argument for mainstream news outlets, or for politicians outside the Deep South states that went for Barry Goldwater 1964. So there were very good reasons for Harper Lee to bury Go Set a Watchman under a mound of personal papers, and never mention it again.


1. Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman, published 2015. The section quoted and described is in the hardbound edition’s pages 246-257.

2. See for example, Alexandra Petri’s recent column on it in the Washington Post:

3. Charles J. Shields, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. 2006.

4. This has given rise to the misconception among some book reviewers that Atticus aka Watchman was in fact an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird.

5. Bérénice de la Salle, Beautiful Riddle: The Strange Case of Suzy Parker. 2011.

6. The JBS is wispily alluded to in Watchman, even though it would not come into existence for another year. Atticus suggests that the hot-headed speaker at the Citizens’ Council meeting is secretly being subvented (as Revilo Oliver would say) by an outfit in Massachusetts, which would seem to point to Belmont’s own Robert Welch, who was getting some ink in 1957.

I was sketching out a piece on Orwell in the 1930s, and how he had to get along with the Commies to preserve his literary viability. So he posed as a man of the Left without quite being a full Fellow Traveler to the Reds. This took some ruses and finesse. When he went to fight in Spain he joined one of most obscure, ill-equipped factions fighting for the “Republican” side. That was the POUM, an affiliate of the Independent Labour Party in Britain (and another low-efficacy operation, although one of its founders had been Keir Hardie, and such luminaries as Aneurin Bevan had belonged). POUM and ILP were known in those as “anarcho-syndicalist” in orientation. That is, eccentrically leftist. They provided a refuge for people like Orwell who didn’t like the Stalinists but didn’t wish to be in open opposition to them. While batting these ideas around, I recalled a piece that I read in The New Yorker years ago, a very funny memoir by the (now late) poet Elizabeth Bishop. After Vassar, in the early 30s, she worked for some low-rent “literary” operation (actually a writing school) near Columbus Circle. A co-worker was a brash obnoxious Jewess who was always trying to get her to join the Party. Elizabeth begged off, saying she was an anarchist, actually. So they had political arguments, and Elizabeth found herself going down to the NYPL main branch in the evening, reading up on anarchism so as to preserve her cover. This was a story very much in parallel with Orwell’s experience, at least to my way of thinking. But I wasn’t sure when I’d read this piece, and I certainly didn’t remember its name. All I could remember were the broad outlines of the story, that it was in The New Yorker, and it was more than ten years ago. I had a distinct image of myself reading the story at the kitchen counter in the apartment I shared at 53rd and 8th, probably in 1983. But my memories are sometimes jumbled and unreliable, and 1983 seems impossibly distant now. Mildly curious, I went to The New Yorker online archive today and found the piece. July 18, 1983 issue, “The U.S.A. School of Writing.” It’s extremely funny, better than I remembered, especially the first half.
First I had an interview at the school with its head, or president, as he described himself, Mr. Black. His opening remark was that the U.S.A. School of Writing stood for “The United States of America School of Writing,” and my pleasure in that explanation trapped me immediately.
This is a proposed draft for the foreword of the regurgitated Teentime book. A Note to the Reader This is a memoir, and therefore somewhat fictionalized, like most memoirs. The action takes place more than forty years ago, but as most of the players were pretty young them, most of them are still alive. They will give me no end of trouble if don’t disguise them. And they would be absolutely right, because my recollections are pretty nasty.* So I’ve changed everyone’s name—with the obvious exception of a few public figures—and invented new backgrounds for some people. Some trifling characters are made into “composites.” The major alteration to the story is the time-scheme. Events that played out over four or five years are squeezed into the year or so of the book’s action (1973-1974). This compression gives the story a semblance of narrative drive and, I hope, a kind of plot. Place names and businesses are real, for the most part. The unnamed “educational TV” stations in New York and Boston are WNET and WGBH. I don’t name them because they like to call themselves Public Television, which in the context of this story would be confusing. Forty to fifty years ago people said Educational Television. A few kiddy shows (Zoom, Sesame Street, The Electric Company) are given their real names. Otherwise most of the television programs in this book are renamed or completely made up. The subplot about Sal Mineo and his lurid screenplay, Sacred Bubblegum, is almost entirely true. It was a real script, and I lugged a bound copy around for a while in the summer of ’73. His agent wanted a treatment (i.e., synopsis) of it, and somehow that task got passed on to me. I did write something, but I wasn’t in Nantucket when I did it. The business about the Jackson Whites, on the other hand, is pure invention. Putting a segment about Jackson Whites on an “educational” kiddy show is exactly the kind of daff’y, unbalanced idea that Mr. Hornblower liked to come up with. But he didn’t really visit the Jackson Whites.   ________ *I’ve been at the receiving end of this procedure. About ten years ago a bumptious, lame-brained acquaintance of my youth wrote a kinky sex memoir that got a lot of media play. He wanted to put me in it, and sent me few pages of draft. It was really bad. His expository style had become thoroughly corrupted by years of writing juvenile paperbacks full of indistinguishable 14-year-olds. As a result of this, his delineation of “me” was inept and malformed (“Whoa!” she said, “Cut me some slack!”). So I told him to kill the whole section. That peeved him greatly. He took revenge on me by rewriting the section with a repellent new character. She was presented as a composite of me and some other girls and women he had known, though she was pure fiction, and badly done fiction at that. Suffice it to say we haven’t spoken since. If this shallow scribbler had simply disguised the memoir’s characters and not begged for approval from the putative originals, this whole kerfuffle could have been avoided.
Margot Best-Chetwynd
Somehow I kept reading or hearing about Heidegger, and when I hear the name Heidegger I always think of Heisenberg. And that started the ball rolling: There is a high-school philosophy teacher who is given to cyclical mood swings. The condition is one of those affective disorders in the bipolar family. Except instead of having only two or three bad episodes in his life, he gets these wild, lurching manias and crashes every year or two. One of these days he’s going to kill himself. He just knows it. A parent and an uncle committed suicide. It runs in the family, as with the Hemingways. But he’s got a couple kids and wants to provide for his family. He watches Breaking Bad and sees a parallel, but since he’s not a chemist he can’t make a fortune manufacturing blue meth. What can he do? He decides that the only get-rich-quick scheme he can come up is to create a quasi-religious cult, something that specifically preys on the rich and wayward, like Scientology. Except because he’s a philosopher he can spin his cult as a New School of Philosophy rather than a religion. He remains in the background, very private. Almost no one’s ever met him. That’s part of the attraction. Nobody knows his real name, they just know he travels under the handle, Heidegger. This is a shaggy-dog story, I’ll grant you, but the basic premise could be the skeletal plot set-up for a nice satire or farce. Something like Nightmare Alley, except the guy’s afraid of his next mood-swing instead of fearing that he’ll end up as a circus geek.
(Cannibalized by Popular Request. This appears in one of my older blogs, and is dated April 22nd, 2007. Still makes me laugh. Oboy oboy!)   How many chillun you got? That’s the important thing. That’s what all primitive people really want to know about you. savagesThey get to the point where they’ve figured out that you’re either male or female (even though they can’t see either a penis gourd or pendulous dugs), and they know your approximate age (somewhere between adolescence and total decrepitude). Now they’re happily puffing away on your Philip Morris Commanders (king-size, unfiltered, good for jungle bugs) and they’re ready to move into the small-talk stage of your acquaintanceship. And here it is. “Hey you! You got chillun? How many chillun?” Go ahead and tell them. Anything you like. One kid, six kids, sixteen kids. It’s not like the little savages are going to write down your children’s birthdays so they can send them something nice (just imagine!). No, they’re just being innocently nosy. It’s something they ask of all strangers, and no one’s ever smacked them down for this rudeness so they keep on asking. 1961-philip-morris-cigarettes-ad-tasty-newcomerSometimes the questions get detailed—”You have a boy? How old? Is he warrior? You have girl—how much you sell her for?” It is always best to be prepared for this. Along with the Philip Morris Commanders in the left side pocket of your photo-vest, bring a fact sheet about your kids. Maybe even some fuzzy snapshots. My own prepared script goes basically like this. “Oh yes I have four children. Two girls, two boys. Between five and fifteen. Evenly spaced. Their names are Mary, Joan, John, and Robert. They live with their other parent, as I am usually away on business. The boys play baseball [a game formerly very popular in America] and the girls do ballet [this is a kind of theater-dance some people do in my country]. Who is oldest? Oh, that would be John. Then Mary. Then…” Even a savage has limited attention for this sort of thing, and by this point my new friend is probably waving and nodding and inviting me into his hut to look at the shrunken heads.
Is Sacre-Coeur really ugly? I always used to think so, coming into town on the Roissy Bus from CDG. Then I found out this is a common reaction. Adolf Hitler thought it hideous, a “mosque.” (Der Führer was of course an architect manqué.) Google the question and complaints are all over. Go ahead. carte-basilique-sacre-coeur-02Here is a good whingey tourist page: The second or third time I went to Sacre-Coeur was in May 2002. I was with a couple of friends from Oxfordshire, Alma and Julia. Alma was baffled by the place. She knew it was a stop on the tourist itinerary, but didn’t understand its purpose. I started to explain the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune, and the popular belief that France had degraded itself since 1789 and needed to atone for its sins and reconsecrate itself, and Léon Bloy, and Therese Martin of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus… But I held my tongue, more or less. I held my tongue and listened for the nugget of Alma’s confusion. “I mean, why do they have this?” she asked. Why do they need this, in addition to Notre Dame?” Alma was born in Manchester, but her parents were refugees from Poland (Catholic) and the Ukraine (Orthodox) and she had no significant religious upbringing. She also has lactase deficiency. I decided she probably couldn’t digest my Bellocian explanations of this or that. So I just said, very smoothly, “Oh well you see, this one is a basilica.” And left it at that.
If you don’t know who Felicia Day is, you are probably over twenty years in age, and/or spend fewer than ten hours per day on the Inter-Webs. So, for you underprivileged minds: Felicia Day is a minor actress in her early 30s who has appeared in a couple of TV shows and feature films, as well as some internet-based video dramas that supposedly were very popular with people who like that sort of thing. She is originally from Huntsville, Alabama (which doesn’t mean anything at all, as we all know), went to University of Texas in Austin (ditto) and now lives in or around Los Angeles. She has dark red hair, helped along with various artificial colorings. Six months ago she cut it from waist-length to pixie-bob, which deeply distressed some of her male fans (because what’s the point of being a girl if you’re going to have boy-length hair?).  But her current claim to fame is that she does a lot of self-produced, professional-looking videos, and they’re all over YouTube. felicia-chainsawWhen you get to see her, you’ll notice that her persona is highly artificial. I suspect Felicia does not fully realize this. She is a late-model chirper, too young to remember the pre-chirper era, and as no one has yet written a book about chirpers and chirper-culture, she has no reference text to consult. Even Wikipedia lacks an article on chirpers. Therefore she is left with the vague presumption that youngish women have always spoken in chirpy voices and ended every statement on a rising tone, as though it were an inquiry. Felicia doesn’t remember the early chirpers from the 70s and early 80s, mainly lower-middle-class frails who went around saying things like “ehhww” and “grody to the max,” generally uttered in a register one or two levels higher than their natural speaking voices. The first persons to notice the chirper phenomenon (without giving it a name) were male homosexuals of the ribbon-clerk caste, e.g., retail associates at Bullock’s or Bonwit’s. They took note because half their coworkers were women of the chirper class, and these young gals were so unlike those distaff titans of the silver screen whom these boys always professed to adore. (Lauren Bacall, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Lizabeth Scott …they never chirped!) Then Frank Zappa and his daughter Moon Unit made a novelty record about this vocal style in 1982 (Valley Girl), and thereafter the weird locutions were widely acknowledged, although they became known as “Valley Speak,” despite the fact that they were not unique to the San Fernando Valley and they probably didn’t even originate there. Girls grew up hearing a lot of chirper-speak in the 80s and 90s, so by 2000 you actually had young women in the aspiring professional class talking like this. I remember being astonished in 1998 when I met a new 22-year-old analyst at Salomon Smith Barney. Tiffany, let’s call her, had just emerged from Penn, and yet her speech was extreme chirperese. It was hard not to think it was all a put-on. Perhaps Tiffany had Bad Companions during her adolescent years, I considered. Or it could just be that she was Jewish; Jews have a noticeable predilection toward the most extreme versions of accents—e.g., Chicago, Brooklyn, London. They affect accents as camouflage, but often overdo it. It’s like you’re wearing cammie fatigues but they’re printed in day-glo colors. I could think up a dozen other reasons, but a few years later I wouldn’t have have bothered. Tiffany the Chirper may have been a rara avis in the investment banking set in 1998, but by 2005 her locutions were the going thing.
Greta Brawner: no chirper she.
Pay attention when you see a youngish female professor, writer, or lawyer being interviewed on television. If she’s between 25 and 40, there is a high likelihood she is a chirper. The main exceptions to this rule are women who are trained news presenters, for chirping cannot coexist with gravitas. One of the most attractive women on television is Greta Wodele Brawner of C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, and Greta is a thoroughgoing non-chirper. She talks the way most American women did thirty years ago. Actresses, by and large, are also exceptions, because theatrical people are required to be hyper-aware of their speech and self-presentation. An actress who chirped would be doing so intentionally, trying to stay “in character.” This is what makes Felicia Day such a curiosity. Most of the time she plays a character called Felicia Day, a stripped-down, reconstituted caricature of her own self, and this character is a chirper. It’s a character similar to dramatic roles she’s had on TV (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and internet comedies, but considering that she’s playing a character with her own name, this chirrupy chirper is just a little too much. It’s annoyingly unclear where the character ends and the real Felicia Day begins. It’s as though Larry David were to play the Larry David character in Curb Your Enthusiasm as a broad impersonation of his earlier avatar, George Costanza on the Seinfeld program. felicia-leatherWhich brings me back to my earlier intuition. Felicia Day doesn’t really know she’s chirping. She has typecast herself, locked herself into a comic turn. It’s been suitable for internet videos aimed at millennials, but it’s about to become a liability. The chirper act is on the way out; fads of mannerism have a half-life of about twenty years. You don’t encounter “wild and crazy guys” anymore, or “peace-and-love” hippies; not without a heavy helping of irony or nostalgia, anyway. Females in their teens and early twenties do not chirp anymore, not the ones I meet, anyway. Very soon, anyone who talks and acts like Felicia Day will be presumed to be doing a teenage-girl riff from 1993. It’s been easy for her to hold onto the chirper persona because those vocal memes became so commonplace that many people ceased to notice them. You could be a chirper and still be respectable (though perhaps too lightweight to anchor the nightly news). Chirpers are no longer confused with Valley Girls, they don’t say “gag me with a spoon.” Their mannerisms are not regarded as hopelessly low-class and ugly. But as the fad fades away, people will forget there were respectable chirpers. The legacy of movies and TV shows will inform us all that chirping was mainly characteristic of ditzy, not-too-bright teenage girls in the closing decades of the 20th century.  modelTcoupeIt’s like the Model T. Say “Model T” to most people, and they think of a rattletrap flivver from about 1910. But T’s were produced until 1927 and the last few designs, particularly the two-seater coupes, were cute and stylish. Nice to be seen in and fun to tool around the campus in. People in the 1920s and 30s knew this, remembered this. But then the first-hand memories faded and we were fed endless media images of the early flivvers and old Henry Ford driving his first production model around Dearborn. The nice Model T’s were forgotten, and we only have the silly ones in our mental slideshow.