I’ve now read Go Set a Watchman and recommend it highly. I don’t know, of course, if Harper Lee really wanted to publish it, or what she thought in the 1950s and 1960s or later or thinks now about it and To Kill a Mockingbird and their overlapping characters. I do know that Watchman has a strong plot, gripping writing, and really important ideas to consider about race, constitutional law, Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court, etc. It’s a book for general readers, including Mockingbird lovers – assuming that Miss Lee thinks this is a finished book and wanted it published, she really aimed it at Mockingbird lovers, with concern to assist their growing up. (And note that she published this more complicated, adult portrait of “Atticus Finch,” a character that obviously is based on her father Amasa Coleman Lee, long after his death in 1962; she published Mockingbird, with its earlier, simpler and (maybe) heroic Atticus, in 1960, while her father was living.) Watchman is, in addition to literature that I think is great and will last, a book for anyone who is interested in U.S. history. And, yes, it’s a book for lawyers, law students and law professors. (Nuggets: it has a great wisecrack about Eleanor Roosevelt and mentions Alger Hiss and – a first in fiction? – Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts.) [Hat tip: Brad Snyder, who got to that late page mentioning OJR before I did.] So very seriously, buy the book and read it.
In used book stores, I have the habit of looking for books with inscriptions that others might not notice, decipher or appreciate.
In The Strand last weekend, I found and bought a copy of Walter Lippmann and His Times, a great collection of essays edited by Marquis Childs and James Reston, published by Harcourt, Brace in 1959.
The book, a hardback in good condition, has this inscription on the flyleaf:
For Marietta and Ronny
Having known Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a little bit and having received some of his typed but signed letters, I recognized his handwriting. His cursive “Arthur,” not entirely legible in this book, was distinctive. (He authored, in the book, an essay, “Walter Lippmann: The Intellectual v. Politics.”)
My indirect benefactors are Marietta Tree (1917-1991) and her husband Ronald (1897-1976).
Marietta Tree and Arthur Schlesinger were close friends. For wonderful traces of that and many other treasures, I highly recommend The Letters of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., edited by his sons Andrew and Stephen and published late last year.
For details on Marietta Tree’s full and accomplished life, see, in addition to the Schlesinger letters, her New York Times obituary. It includes this great, and typically striking, quotation from Arthur Schlesinger:
Her ambition was to be a combination of Mrs. Roosevelt and Carole Lombard. And that is what she was.