Nurnberg blasts 'shameful' Lee claims

Nurnberg blasts 'shameful' Lee claims

Harper Lee's agent Andrew Nurnberg has issued a full and emphatic denial of claims that novelist Harper Lee has been subjected to "elder abuse" linked to the publication of her novel Go Set a Watchman, describing allegations made against her care as "shameful" and "sad".

The agent's statement came after it emerged that investigators for the State of Alabama had interviewed Lee and others in connection with a complaint of potential elder abuse, said to have been made anonymously by a doctor who knows Lee, and said he had been alarmed by reports of her frailty.

Nurnberg said "surprised" to hear of the anonymous complaint. "Having spent time with her [Harper Lee] over the last couple of years, I can categorically state that she is in full possession of her mental faculties," he said, in a statement. "We have had wonderful discussions ranging over many subjects from the state of contemporary politics to University life in England – she spent time as an undergraduate in Oxford – about literature, about writing and about specific authors: she does a fine imitation of C S Lewis whose lectures she attended at the time. 

"The fact that she is hard of hearing and suffers from some macular degeneration (entirely common for someone in their late eighties) has no bearing whatsoever on her quick wit or of speaking her mind on all manner of things. That she chose many years ago to lead a quiet life away from the world at large (the last time she spoke to the press was, I believe, in 1964) is her prerogative and should be respected."  

Nurnberg said Lee was surprised when the manuscript, which she had presumed long lost, was found last August and "both delighted and enthused" that it will now be published. "Contrary to certain press reports, it was not 'rejected' at the time: her putative editor – having read Go Set a Watchman – persuaded her to write Scout's story through the eyes of a child, and the plan was to write a short novel to act as a bridge to Go Set a Watchman," he said. "This is clear from documentation at the time, which I have seen. The bridging book was never written, but, as readers will find, it is not necessary to understand how Scout, her father, her extended family and the politics of segregation evolved."

The agent said Lee "could not be better cared for in the residential home where she lives," adding: "To suggest otherwise, anonymously and without any supporting evidence, is as shameful as it is sad. We should rather celebrate the fortuitous discovery of this long-lost novel and share the author's joy at its imminent appearance."

Nurnberg finished by quoting the Alabama Securities Commission's words on closing the investigation: "We made a determination that Ms Lee, based on our interview with her, was aware that her book was going to be published. She wanted it published. She made it quite clear that she did."