Who Was Atticus Finch?

Answers may lie in the letters of Harper Lee

Meaningful revelations Harper Lee's letters shed new light on her literary characters.
Courtesy of Rose Library

A collection of personal correspondence and memorabilia of renowned novelist Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, has been acquired by the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

The letters, written between 1956 and 1961, are from Lee to New York architect and close personal friend Harold Caufield and his circle of friends, which included Michael and Joy Brown, the couple who financially supported Lee for a year while she drafted Go Set a Watchman and began work on what would become To Kill a Mockingbird.

“This correspondence of Harper Lee offers meaningful revelations into her life and her love of words,” says Rosemary Magee, former director of the Rose Library. “We find her candid and insightful, modest yet full of life, thankful for the love and support of friends.”

Emory acquired the letters from retired attorney Paul Kennerson of La Jolla, California, who said he approached the university after having met and talked with Emory historian Joseph Crespino. Crespino contacted Kennerson while researching his book, Atticus Finch: The Biography.

Lee’s letters “provide a window into her life and her views during a period of tumultuous change in Southern political life. Read with other historical sources, they offer clues as to why the character of Atticus seems to diverge so sharply between the two novels,” says Crespino, Jimmy Carter Professor of History.

The archive is available to the public.

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