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Harper Lee’s ‘Go Set a Watchman’ offers surprising shift

The first surprise was the manuscript itself: an unpublished novel by Harper Lee that predated "To Kill a Mockingbird." The existence and subsequent publication of "Go Set a Watchman" has spurred huge national interest, as well as record book orders. But the second surprise came as people began to read the actual book -- a beloved character now changed. Jeffrey Brown reports.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    It has been treated as one of the major literary events of the year: the publication of Harper Lee's second novel.

    Jeffrey Brown has the story.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The first surprise was the existence of the book itself. That brought huge national interest. And bookstores across the country have fielded record pre-orders and many are planning release parties.

    It also raised questions along the way about whether longtime reclusive author Harper Lee, now 89, had the mental acuity to approve publication.

  • MICHAEL MORRISON, HarperCollins:

    In a film that aired on PBS' American Masters, her publisher, Michael Morrison, described the moment he was first given the manuscript. I didn't tell anybody about it. I locked it in my drawer. At the end of the day, I put it in an interoffice envelope and carried it home and kept thinking, please God, don't let this be the day I get hit by a bus or mugged. Went home that night, read the whole thing, and just fell in love with it from the first sentence. JEFFREY BROWN: Now, with its release comes a new surprise: the portrayal of Atticus Finch, beloved in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and indelibly played by Gregory Peck in the film, as a lawyer defending a black man from false rape allegations in a deeply segregated Alabama town in the 1930s.

    In "Go Set a Watchman," the character Atticus, now 72 years old, is a man who's attended Klan meetings and says to his daughter: "Do you want Negroes by the carload in our schools and churches and theaters? Do you want them in our world?"

    "Watchman," while set 20 years after "Mockingbird," was actually written first. Lee's editors encouraged her to transform the story about the adult Jean Louise Finch into one narrated by the character's younger self, known as Scout.

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