It has been nearly three years since the publication of Harper Lee’s once long-dormant first novel, Go Set a Watchman, and its surrounding controversy in relation to its successor, To Kill a Mockingbird, the most beloved novel of modern American literature. Both books, says Crespino, “became a kind of Rorschach test for the politics of race in the period that they were published.” Three years is time enough for the issue to have dissipated somewhat, and also time for historian Joseph Crespino to complete research on Harper Lee’s central character, “…the orienting figure of both novels, that touchstone of decency and goodness itself, Atticus Finch,” who was based on Lee's father. Crespino’s previous books on Southern politics and race, combined with his discovery of much unused or unknown research material, bring tremendous scholarship and insight to our understanding of Harper Lee and Atticus Finch.
In Atticus Finch, historian Joseph Crespino draws on exclusive sources to reveal how Harper Lee's father provided the central inspiration for each of her books. A lawyer and newspaperman, A. C. Lee was a principled opponent of mob rule, yet he was also a racial paternalist. Harper Lee created the Atticus of Watchman out of the ambivalence she felt toward white southerners like him. But when a militant segregationist movement arose that mocked his values, she revised the character in To Kill a Mockingbird to defend her father and to remind the South of its best traditions. A story of family and literature amid the upheavals of the twentieth century, Atticus Finchis essential to understanding Harper Lee, her novels, and her times.
About the Author
Joseph Crespino is the Jimmy Carter Professor of history at Emory University. He is the author of In Search of Another Country, winner of the 2008 Lillian Smith Book Award from the Southern Regional Council, and Strom Thurmond's America. He lives in Decatur, Georgia.