Monday, February 22, 2016

In Memory of Harper Lee

Most of you (all of you) have heard that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, died last week. I almost said "beloved author" but that isn't exactly true. It would be truer to say that her book was beloved, because Lee preferred to stay out of it almost entirely. Only rarely would Lee submit to an interview, and even then she preferred to be selective in what she showed of herself. I don't fault her for that - I think by the sheer fact that she gave us so little of herself and, really, so little of her talents, makes what we do have that much more precious. For so long we only had To Kill a Mockingbird. Recently added to that is Go Set a Watchman. I've read the former many times. I enjoyed the latter. At times like these, I wonder: how did Harper Lee manage to do what she did in her debut novel? Atticus Finch...I mean honestly. Can you imagine a fuller, more admirable, richer character than that? I can't. I love the world of Maycomb. It's tiny and limited and specific. It could be everywhere but it can't just be anywhere. It's the American South and Harper Lee wrote about it as only a true American Southerner could.
I don't read much "modern" American fiction, actually. My earliest diet was the classic set written in the eighteen-hundreds. You know, the usual Anne of Green Gables, all of Louisa May Alcott, and so forth. From there I jumped to Lewis and Tolkien, bashed through half of Dickens' novels, and took three tries (and, finally, success) fording through Les Miserables. The Brontes, Austen, Gaskell, and Sir Walter Scott have each had their share of space on my shelves. Wodehouse, Henry James, Dorothy Sayers, and James Herriot have had their say. I'm the veritable property of the Brits and pre-modernity Americans at this point. So to say that I'm well-versed in American fiction would be a straight-forward lie. I don't pretend to be up on my American fiction. I don't think you have to be up on your American fiction to appreciate what Harper Lee did with To Kill a Mockingbird. If writers only improve with time and practice, I'm sorry Lee didn't write more. Almost sorry, though. Because if she was going to be a one-shot wonder, she used her chance well. She gave Americans a novel to conjure with, and influenced so many, many people with her story. What more could you want as a writer?

I hope you'll all join me in remembering Harper Lee and the fine legacy she left American fiction. If you'd like, leave your favorite To Kill A Mockingbird or Go Set a Watchman quote in the comments below as a little memorial to the author who left us Atticus, Scout, Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, and the rest. Rest in peace, Harper Lee.


Naomi Pitts said...

"Atticus was right" and "Hey, Boo" are two of my many favourite TKAM quotes. It's so classic. :-)

Elizabeth said...

"Atticus, he was real nice." "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them." I like this one.

Skye Hoffert said...

I sadly haven't gotten around to reading either of those books. I feel bad that I waited so long.

Danielle Carlson said...

I read this book for the first time last year and it is one of my favorites, the kind of book I can take out and re-read at a moment's notice. I feel as though Harper Lee must have known an "Atticus" in real life.

Hmm...a favorite "To Kill a Mockingbird" quote? That's hard. But here is a good one.

"First of all," he said, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Dani xoxo
a vapor in the wind