Harper Lee: Introduction to Harper Lee

Early Life

Born in Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926, Nelle Harper Lee
is the youngest of three children of Amassa Coleman Lee and
Francis Lee. Before his death, Miss Lee\'s father and her older
sister, Alice, practiced law together in Monroeville. When one
considers the theme of honor that runs throughout Miss Lee\'s
novel, it is perhaps significant to note that her family is
related to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a man especially
noted for his devotion to that virtue.

Miss Lee received her early education in the Monroeville public
schools. Following this, she entered the University of Alabama to
study law. She left there to spend a year in England as an
exchange student. Returning to the university, she continued her
studies, but left in 1950 without having completed the
requirements for her law degree. She moved to New York and worked
as an airline reservation clerk.

It is said that Miss Lee personally resembles the tomboy she
describes in the character of Scout. Her dark straight hair is
worn cut in a short style. Her main interests, she says, are
"collecting the memoirs of nineteenth century clergymen, golf,
crime, and music." She is a Whig in political thought and believes
in "Catholic emancipation and the repeal of the corn laws."

Sources Of To Kill A Mockingbird
Among the sources for Miss Lee\'s novel are the following:

(1) National events: This novel focuses on the role of the
Negro in Southern life, a life with which Miss Lee has been
intimately associated. Although it does not deal with civil
rights as such - for example, the right to vote - it is greatly
concerned with the problem of human dignity - dignity based on
individual merit, not racial origin. The bigotry of the
characters in this novel greatly resembles that of the people in
the South today, where the fictional Maycomb County is located.

(2) Specific Persons: Atticus Finch is the principal character
in this novel. He bears a close resemblance to Harper Lee\'s
father, whose middle name was Finch. In addition to both being
lawyers, they are similar in character and personality - humble,
intelligent and hard-working.

(3) Personal Experience: Boo Radley\'s house has an aura of
fantasy, superstition, and curiosity for the Finch children.
There was a similar house in Harper Lee\'s childhood.
Furthermore, Miss Lee grew up amid the Negro prejudice and
violence in Alabama. In addition, she studied law and visited
her father\'s law offices as a child, just as Scout visits
Atticus\' office and briefly considers a career as a lawyer.

Writing Career
Harper Lee began to develop an interest in writing at the age of
seven. Her law studies proved to be good training for a writing
career: they promote logical thinking, and legal cases are an
excellent source of story ideas. After she came to New York, she
approached a literary agent with a manuscript of two essays and
three short stories. Miss Lee followed his suggestion that she
expand one of the stories into a novel. This eventually became To
Kill A Mockingbird.

After the success of her first novel, Miss Lee returned to
Monroeville to begin work on a second one. She learned quickly
that privacy was not one of the prizes of a best-selling novelist.
"These southern people are southern people," she said, "and if
they know you are working at home, they think nothing of walking
in for coffee." Miss Lee also has said that her second novel will
be about the South, for she is convinced that her section of the
country is "the refuge of genuine eccentrics."

Miss Lee thinks of herself as a journeyman writer, and of writing
as the most difficult work in the world. Her workday begins at
noon and continues until early evening. At the end of this time,
she may have completed a page or two. Before rewriting, she always
allows some time to elapse, for a fresh viewpoint on what she has

Besides her prize-winning novel, Miss Lee has had several essays
published. For example, "Christmas to Me" appeared in the
December, 1961, issue of McCalls, and "Love - In other Words"
appeared in the April 15, 1961, edition of Vogue. These essays
display the same easy, sympathetic style of her novel.

Success Of To Kill A Mockingbird
The success of Harper Lee\'s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, can be
assessed from its appearance on the bestseller lists for a period
of over eighty weeks. Also the book was chosen as a Literary Guild
selection; a Book-of-the-Month book; and a Reader\'s Digest