The moment it was announced renowned author Harper Lee had decided to publish another work, the literary community cheered. Almost simultaneously, questions about her ability to make such a decision began surfacing. For fans, we all hoped it wasn’t true. We love Harper Lee. We grew up on Harper Lee, despite her having published just one award winning work, To Kill a Mockingbird. The fact that she was an introvert and loathed the public eye was only endearing to her fans. Now, though, those questions about her mental capacity to make such a decision about Go Set a Watchman have evolved into an investigation by her home state, Alabama, for potential elder abuse.
In Monroeville, AL, the 88 year old author is protected by the citizens in that small town. They too love her and sadly, the publicists, lawyers and literary agents are doing their level best to remove what they say is “noise”. They’re questioning whether she really understands that she’s about to publish a novel, written more than half a century ago, with all that comes with the event. The community says no way; she wants to live the remainder of her life the same way she’s lived the majority of her life: in peace, out of the spotlight and without the bright lights of the literary world. But is there anything there that would justify an elder abuse investigation for Harper Lee?
Responding to at least one complaint (and many say there are more to follow) of potential elder abuse related to the publication of “Watchman,” Alabama investigators interviewed Ms. Lee last month at the assisted living facility where she resides in Alabama. They have also interviewed employees at the facility, called the Meadows, as well as several friends and acquaintances.
One person who was in attendance during the interviews agreed to comment, provided anonymity was respected due to the ongoing inquiry. She said Ms Lee “appeared capable of understanding questions and provided cogent answers to investigators. Others have given different stories, with some stating that she could have dementia considering the level of confusion and depression that’s often exhibited. Both are common with dementia and other neurological disorders. Several people noted that her condition varied depending on the day.
What the investigation might uncover is unknown. It’s also unknown as to whether there are other open investigations with other agencies. The elder abuse case is now more than a month old. For Alabama to open an investigation – and make it public – serves as a reminder of just how important these issues are and it also shows that no one is immune from this type of abuse, if it’s proven. There’s much at stake for all the players and certainly Ms Lee’s legacy. Watchman was first rejected by her publishers in the 1950s. It was shelved and rewritten and what we had was To Kill a Mockingbird.
Philip Sanchez, a lawyer who was a pallbearer at the funeral for Ms. Lee’s older sister, Alice, last year, and visits Ms. Lee regularly, said he is not prepared to judge whether Ms. Lee is capable of consenting to publish the book. “It’s a call only God or a doctor can make,” he said. “I am more concerned that Nelle is content than the discussion of her cognizance.”
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