Claims have been made that the manuscript for Harper Lee’s forthcoming Go Set a Watchman (William Heinemann) was originally discovered more than three years ago, and not last autumn as previously said.
Go Set a Watchman was written by Lee, called Nelle by friends, in the mid-1950s before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and features that book's narrator, Scout, as an adult. It is to be released on 14th July.
Lee’s publishers as well as her agent Andrew Nurnberg and lawyer Tonja B Carter, have said the manuscript was found last year by Carter as she went through a box of papers.
Carter discovered it affixed to a manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird.
But the New York Times has reported that the manuscript was first found in October 2011, when Justin Caldwell, a rare books expert from Sotheby’s auction house, flew to Alabama to meet with Carter and Lee’s then literary agent Samuel Pinkus to appraise some documents.
The New York Times said Caldwell looked at two documents presented to him from a safe-deposit box at a bank in Monroeville. One was a publisher’s proof of To Kill a Mockingbird, but the second was a “typescript of a story that, like Mockingbird, was set in the fictional town of Maycomb and inhabited by the same people”, a person briefed on Caldwell’s account told the newspaper.
“After reading about 20 pages and comparing passages to a published copy of Mockingbird for nearly an hour, Mr Caldwell is said to have realized the differences and told the others in the room that it seemed to be an early version of the novel,” said the New York Times.
In a statement, Carter said she was not in the room while Caldwell examined the papers, and added: “If Sam discovered the Go Set a Watchman manuscript at that time, he told neither me nor Miss Alice [Lee’s sister] nor Nelle.”
But Pinkus, who has since been fired and sued by Lee, and Sotheby’s said she was there at the time of the review, with Pinkus saying Carter read the manuscript pages.
Sotheby’s said in a statement: “On October 12, 2011, Sotheby’s specialist Justin Caldwell traveled to Monroeville, Alabama to look at a number of items at the request of Harper Lee’s literary agent, Samuel Pinkus. Present at the meeting, which took place in the viewing room of a bank below the law offices of Barnett, Bugg, Lee & Carter, L.L.C., were Tonja Carter and Samuel Pinkus.”
HarperCollins, Lee’s US publisher, said: “HarperCollins was first informed of the discovery of the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman by Tonja Carter and Andrew Nurnberg in 2014. We were not aware of the 2011 meeting, however we have no reason not to believe Tonja Carter’s account.”
This is not the first negative story about the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman. Shortly after news of its discovery was announced, doubts were raised about Lee’s health, with the state of Alabama opening an investigation after complaints were made. The investigation was quickly closed, with Nurnberg saying the allegations made were “shameful”.