Go Sell the Mockingbird

While cataloging the latest gifts to the Carter Burden Collection of American Literature, we noticed and admired the prepublication hoopla for Go Set a Watchman, an earlier version of Harper Lee’s Civil Rights Era classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Announcements about the discovery of the manuscript, sensational revelations about the character Atticus Finch, and debates about the author’s role in allowing this long forgotten text to appear at this time have made it a bestseller even before it was available for sale. The publishers received so many pre-orders that they ordered a first printing of more than two million copies. It is a publishing sensation—but so was Mockingbird, as you can see in these two advance copies in the Carter Burden Collection. Both contain a blurb by the author’s friend and sometime neighbor Truman Capote, but one is more formal than the other, not quite so aggressive in its advertising language. Experts in the business of first editions have advised us that the typeset version was pasted over the typescript version. Sure enough, you can detect traces of the typescript version by looking through the wrappers of the typeset version in a strong light. On this basis we believe that the publishers repented of the huckstering tone of the earlier version—“This first novel has hit the jackpot!”—and covered it up. They decided to take a more confident and less mercenary approach with the remaining copies, an approach more in keeping with an inspiring account of high principles and moral courage.

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