Is This the Title of Harper Lee’s Third Novel?


In a post this morning, we wrote that the revelation of Atticus Finch’s racism in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman supports the publisher’s claim that Lee was working on a trilogy, one that would feature a “bridge novel” connecting Mockingbird and Watchman. Why? Given the opposition between Scout’s idealized childhood in Mockingbird and her alienated adulthood in Watchman, a third novel would seem to make sense. The polarity of Scout’s world begs for an intervention, either by a slightly younger, less alienated Scout, or by an older, more reflective Jean Louise.

This morning brought news that the third book in the trilogy may exist after all. Harper Lee’s attorney Tonja Carter, the protégé of her sister Alice, ended a bout of silence today with a defense of her role in the discovery of Go Set a Watchman. But Carter’s Wall Street Journal piece contains a more newsworthy revelation. Incredibly, as of last week, a third novel — one completing a trilogy — may have been discovered in a “partially opened mailer from Lippincott that the publisher had sent to Alice Lee in 1961[.]” The discovery is all the more surprising considering the novel was said to never have been written.

“What we found was extraordinary and surprised even me,” Carter writes. “[M]y colleague very carefully removed its contents, which were about 300 pages of typed manuscript. It was clear to us that what was in the package had not been removed since it was first mailed.”

Carter goes on to speculate on whether the manuscript might be “an earlier draft of Watchman, or of Mockingbird, or even, as early correspondence indicates it might be, a third book bridging the two.” Her conclusion: “I don’t know.”

Carter’s hypothesis reveals a disconnect between parties involved in the publication of Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, or at least it hints at a plan to leak information to the reading public in a slow, tactical way. In February, Andrew Nurnberg, Lee’s foreign-rights agent, unveiled the publisher’s original plan for a trilogy: “They discussed publishing Mockingbird first, Watchman last, and a shorter connecting novel between the two.” But then he claimed that the “bridge novel” — the novel possibly found last week — never existed.

“It would appear,” Nurnberg said, “she never wrote or finished the middle novel, but it is clear that Lippincott was planning on publishing Watchman,” he told the Guardian.

Was Nurnberg wrong? According to Carter, the book may have just been found. But, then again, Carter also claims not to have known of Go Set a Watchman‘s existence until last year, when she heard about it at a family gathering.

But this information contradicts biographer Charles J. Shields’ account of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. In Shields’ 2006 biography Mockingbird, the novel Go Set a Watchman is a known and named entity. “Liberated from having to work nine to five,” Shields writes [Lee] returned to [her agent’s] office in January 1957 with both a short story, ‘The Cat’s Meow,’ and the first 50 pages of a novel, Go Set a Watchman.”

Did Carter fail to read Shields’ biography? If she had read it, she would have known about the existence of Watchman. She would have known, too, about the tantalizing existence of a third book, another submission Harper Lee made to her agent, Maurice Crain:

In the meantime, Nelle — not wanting to waste a day of her writing sabbatical — surprised Crain at the end of May with 111 pages of a second novel, The Long Goodbye. Days later, he phoned her with good news: Lippincott had requested to meet with her about Atticus. Her pen froze.

The third manuscript may well be an earlier version of Atticus or Go Set a Watchman or To Kill a Mockingbird, but it could also be the rumored bridge novel. And, according to her best (if unofficial) biography, Harper Lee may have appropriately titled this third novel The Long Goodbye.