Wednesday, April 09, 2014

H is for Harper Lee

Harper Lee with 'Scout' on a set of the film
Born 1926

She’s the daughter of a former newspaper editor who practised law in the Alabama State Legislature; a perfect combination to have in a dad if you’re planning to write a book like To Kill a Mockingbird. That is Harper Lee. Did you know that this is her only published book? Some contrast to my yesterday’s favourite Georgette Heyer who was so prolific.

Her full name is Nelle Harper Lee. Nelle is her grandmother’s name spelt backward. Sweet, isn’t it? When I first read the book the only thing that stayed in my mind was Boo Radley and I gave it up midway as too scary.


Her Childhood

While her father was an attorney her mother Frances suffered from bipolar disorder. Rumour has it that she twice tried to drown Lee. As a result, Lee, grew up as a defensive and aggressive girl much like Scout in the book. She studied to become a lawyer. However even while in High School she was interested in Literature. After the first semester of her Law degree she dropped off to pursue her writing. She moved to New York where she met her childhood friend Truman Capote, a writer himself. She also made friends with Broadway composer and lyricist Michael Martin Brown and his wife Joy. In 1956, as a Christmas present, the couple offered to support Lee for one whole year while she focussed on her writing. Lee quit her job and did just that.

Life and fiction

As a child Lee observed racial discrimination in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Lee’s father once defended two black men, a father and a son, for killing a white storekeeper. The two men were hanged. Perhaps that’s where the idea germinated.

Lee modelled Scout on her own self. Both their dads were attorneys. Her friend Truman Capote, inspired the character Dill. Truman also talks about a character similar to Boo Radley who lived close by and left things in a tree just like Boo in the book.


To Kill a Mockingbird

Told from the perspective of a six-year-old girl, Scout, the book talks about her father Atticus Finch who is appointed by the court to defend a black man accused of raping a young white woman. He agrees to do so to the disapproval of the townsfolk. Even though evidence suggests otherwise the jury hold Tom guilty and he is shot dead while trying to escape from prison.

The book handles the sensitive issue of racial discrimination in a sweet and simple way. Since it’s told from a six-year-old's perspective it has to be simple, yet Scout and her brother Jem grasp the situation and staunchly stand by their father in an amazingly adult manner.

The book flows so seamlessly and seems so spontaneous that it is difficult to believe it took almost four years to be written. Lee laboured over each page. The first draft seemed like a bunch of stories rather than a novel and so Lee rewrote the book over two and a half years. It was finally published in 1960.

The book was later adapted into a film with Gregory peck
playing Atticus Finch. 
Scout and her brother Jem in a scene
from the film
 



















It was an immediate success and won her the Pulitzer prize for fiction 1961.
After the publication Lee gave no interviews and hasn’t written anything other than a few essays since then. In 2006 British librarians ranked the book ahead of the Bible as a book ‘every adult should read before they die’. How’s that for praise!

Why Harper Lee never wrote again

Though she said she was working on a  second book The Long Goodbye, she never published again. No one knows for sure why that happened but some suggest it was the huge reaction to her first book that put her off writing. Though the book got her instant fame, back home in her close-knit town people recognised her in Scout. Perhaps even Lee hadn't been aware of how much she had drawn from real life. Her liberal anti racial views didn't go down well with her townspeople and she was flooded with hate mail. Always a defensive person, that made things worse for Lee and she never did write again.
**********

It's a man on my blog tomorrow people. And a dashing one at that. His creation is, if I may use a much overused word, the 'sexiest' man ever and has been immortalised in films by some of the hottest actors of their time. I've almost given it away. 
Come now, guess!
**********


This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, 2014 for the theme AMAZING AUTHORS.


Also linking to the Ultimate Blog Challenge.





49 comments:

  1. I just love your theme...Every day a new author!

    Random Thoughts Naba

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    1. Thank you Naba... It's a fun journey.

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  2. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a classic and I remember reading it in high school for literature class. Your informative post inspires me to want to read it again because I remember now that it was such a great book! ♥

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    1. Do that Kathy.. That's what plan to do all of May.

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  3. One of my favourite American movies of all times! Gregory Peck was incredible in that role. Good to know a little bit about the author of that incredible book.

    Beauty Interprets, Expresses, Manifests the Eternal

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    1. I haven't seen the film but I find Gregory Peck's cute.

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  4. My current read!!! <3 "To Kill a Mockingbird" <3 I am telling you we are connected somehow!! Same tastes

    ~S(t)ri
    Participant|AtoZ Challenge 2014
    Smile, it makes (y)our day!

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    1. What a coincidence. Don't you think we should form a book club?

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  5. Love this book!! I found Boo scary too, at first. I never realized how much depth there was in the book till later. I think I'm enjoying your A to Z theme the most!!

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    1. Thank you beingFab for that happy compliment.

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  6. Wow! I should have guessed that!! I read the book only last year and loved it.
    Loved reading so much more about the author. Esp the fact about her name .. very sweet indeed!!

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    1. Isn't it? There are facts even I found out while doing this series. Such fun this has been.

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  7. This is my favourite book.. and you have done full justice to Harper Lee in your review... I feel it is must growing up book all of us must read

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  8. Sad to read about the hate mail she received. And for one who wrote so well, what a loss to the literary world that she never wrote again. Thank you for this insight, Tulika.

    And tomorrow has to be I.Fleming? ;)

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    1. Well people who choose the untrodden path fates have to face disapproval. The sad thing is that she stopped writing. I read somewhere that even now when she meets people she says, 'don't mention the book'.

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  9. That's informative. I'm halfway through the book. Somehow every time I read it something goes wrong and it goes back to the shelf. I need to finish it now!

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  10. To Kill a Mockingbird is again a classic fav! Like many I picked it up as a kid, abandoned it midway not understanding, picked it up again in teens, loved it and again revisited this love a year back. Never knew about Lee's history, sad that she didn't write again...I would love to read her essays!

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    1. Ditto, ditto, ditto.... I did the same.

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  11. Now this is a book I have read and as my son studied this one for literature at school a couple of years ago, I kind of read it again then.

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  12. I remember reading it in school.Your post is compelling me read it again. Was just adding it in my wishlist on Flipkart and saw that it is already there. Thanks for a reminder and a push to read a fab classic! :)

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    1. Lol... Happens to me too. I put stuff on my wishlist too, forget and then get back to see it already there.

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  13. Your posts are very informative and interesting and I love reading all about the authors, some known and some not so familiar but great nonetheless. Thanks for another gem today.

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  14. It's sad she didn't wrote more. I loved the background you shared.

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  15. One of my favourite books. Brilliantly written and a fantastic story. Very interesting to find out more about the author.

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    1. Thanks Jacqui and thanks for stopping by.

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  16. Very informative post. I read the book long ago. Your post reminded me of those days.

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  17. Another gem, Tulika. I have cried over this book each time I've read it.Sad that she didn't get around to publishing or writing any more. It must have been tough for her to stick to her views in the era she lived in.
    Can't wait for Ian Fleming tomorrow!

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    1. Very sad indeed. That she wrote the book is a big deal in itself.

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  18. Great timing - we are just reading this one in my bookclub, and now I got some extra input:-) Lovely Tulika:-) Im thinking Bond - James Bond for your hot actors - Ian Flemming.. ? If so I will definitely pop by tomorrow dear:-)

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    1. Fleming it is Eli. Looking forward to what you think of him.

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  19. Superb, what a book and what a writer n what a post :) I didn't know she wrote just the one book. Those were tough times.
    Ian Fleming- James Bond brings to mind Sean Connery, THE Bond :D

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    1. Thank you Sunila. Must have been hard for her.

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  20. Lovely write! I so love the book!!! :) Thanks for sharing...

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  21. I love this theme--I was thinking of doing favorite books this year but ended up doing the As to Zs of my city. Have you read Mockingbird, the biography of Harper Lee (http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/2011/10/mockingbird-portrait-of-harper-lee.html)? I reread To Kill a Mockingbird a few years ago before reading Mockingbird (http://mariesbookgarden.blogspot.com/2011/10/to-kill-mockingbird.html).

    I will be back! :)

    Marie at www.marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com

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    1. Hey thanks Marie. Nope I haven't. Well pick it up after the April madness ends.

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  22. I also found To Kill A Mockingbird too scary on my first read (I was 11ish) and finally convinced myself to reread it as an adult. Thanks for an excellent review.

    Visiting from the A to Z Challenge.

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  23. So the bird is here ! I'm reading the book on my system these days :)

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    1. Hey that's a good idea. Finally I've come around to reading on my iPad... And I'm finding it more convenient that a proper book specially while I'm travelling.

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  24. I have not read this..the blurb put me off the book... I can't bring myself to read tragedies or sad tales...
    If I read one..I will be down and depressed for long.. :(

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