Unfortunately at some point today Harper Lee, the author of the incredible novel To Kill a Mockingbird and its first draft “sequel” Go Set a Watchmen, died. It is strange to feel so saddened over the death of someone that most of us have never met and now will never meet, but today I feel quite sad at knowing that such talented person that I will never meet, never see in the flesh, never hear her inhale and exhale, is now gone.
I won’t go into the whole biography of her life, Wikipedia and BBC News will probably do a substantially better job than me in summing her life moment by moment that I ever can, but I will talk about what Lee left behind.
It’s not just pages filled with a look at the world through a child’s eyes in a time when racism was rife, but it’s the memories that I associate with them. I remember getting To Kill a Mockingbird for my birthday way in 2010 from my relatives from America. They’d heard I wanted to read more of this stuff so they got me To Kill a Mockingbird. I remember initially leafing through it slightly skeptical about the praise it had gotten. Surely a novel could not deserve such plaudits from what seemed to be the entirety of the known universe? But I pressed on.
It consumed me, enveloped me within its world, put me smack bang in the centre of Monroeville, Alabama and put me in Scouts shoes so that I could walk round and see this world from her point of view. This world was immensely strange, filled with people that I initially did not understand and then, slowly but surely, was guided to seeing how they saw the world through Scout’s story and Atticus’ words. I remember reading this until the early hours of morning, abating sleep so I could press on to the next chapter, so I could find out more.
Finishing the story leaves you with several emotions. Anger at the fact that this stuff was happening in Lee’s time and to a certain extent is still happening now. Joy at having read a wonderful novel with character’s that weren’t just two-dimensional beings but people who, despite all their hatefulness or almost saint-lie demanour, were fully-formed people that I could believe existed. Sadness, knowing that I knew that this was it, this was all I would read from Harper Lee and, although Go Set a Watchman came out 5 years later, I somehow felt content with this fact. Lee had given us her best and nothing more was needed. The story was told and she would help shape the suture with her words.
I may never have met Lee, but her words have helped form me as a person, as have so many other authors, and I feel sad that I shall never know more from this reclusive yet brilliant author. The world will miss her. I will miss her. But her words live on, and it is they that will help mold our future into something greater that it would have been without her.