Friday, March 13, 2015

Mockingbird Uncaged?

"Nelle Harper Lee" by Unknown - ebay posting. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
This is mostly my speculation,  based on the recent reports regarding the investigation into possible elder abuse of Harper Lee, of which one part has now been completed and closed.

 I am starting to see the publishing of 'Go Set a Watchman' as not a caging of the mockingbird, but rather, its release. A couple of reader comments on the NY Times story set off this train of thought.

In the comments, Rebekah from Birmingham wrote:
"In 1972 while discussing casting calls that had been or were to be held at town and gown theater by James Hatcher(he did the casting for the mockingbird )was told by stage crew who worked there and also at at Birmimgham Children's Theater that Harper Lee had written another book .However she was waiting to publish until after her older sister died.Supposedly this was because the book was extremely critical of Monroeville and certain recognizable people there at that time but also had negative things to say about Atticus.The later reason was the one her sister invested on a delayed publication as she felt it would embarrass the family.Hearsay from many years ago but it seems to fit." 

and Michael Currier:
"A lot of people hold back publishing letters until after family members die and are beyond being hurt. I always wondered about if Harper Lee's sister dominated her but was hurt by To Kill A Mockingbird (the sister and the mother are left out of the book!). Was Harper Lee unable to publish it until after her sister's death?
On one hand she never published it, but she also never threw it away and kept it in a secure bank box.

Was it Harper Lee that dis-liked the public attention, or was it the sister who disliked it?"

Would this account for the gleeful and thrilled demeanour of Harper Lee, as described by her lawyer and publishing agent? A final chance to see in print what a possibly over-domineering elder sister had prevented from being published?
Maybe the new novel will push Atticus off his pedestal ,and possibly reflect uncharitably on A.C.Lee, Harper Lee's father, who was considered to have been the inspiration for Atticus in some ways, and Alice Lee herself, who had been inspiration for Jem.

The new book becomes a must-read, not only for the eyes to be opened about old literary heroes, but the new light cast on Harper Lee, in all her glee at having finally outwitted her elder sister by the simple act of outliving her, and getting out the book that Alice insisted was never to be printed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Treasure Trove

The question is, to whom does it belong? To the descendants of the Jewish dealers who were forced to sell it at a reduced price to the Nazi government, or the German state, that contends that fair compensation was paid to the dealers?

In today's news about the Guelph treasure or 'der Welfenschatz' :
"Two claimants to a collection of medieval ecclesiastical treasure valued at $276 million and known as the Guelph Treasure, filed a lawsuit against the German government at a US District Court in Washington on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The claimants, Alan Philipp and Gerald Stiebel, allege that their Jewish ancestors sold the collection under duress for much less than what it was worth to Hermann Göring, the second-most powerful man in Nazi Germany. Göring later presented the treasure to Adolf Hitler as a gift. Today the treasure is on display in the Bode Museum in Berlin.
However, officials at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which manages Berlin's state museums, maintain that the transaction was consensual and that the collection was acquired at a fair market price at the time."
Much more detail about the Guelph treasure is here in a carefully chronicled document of the various pieces that constitute it, along with the provenance and historical background, and the various locations it resided in till c. 1930.

In 1929, Prince Ernest Augustus, created Duke of Brunswick, of the house of Hanover, had a sudden need for hard cold cash. He sold the Guelph treasure, of which the house of Brunswick had been 'guardians' for several centuries, collected from various sources starting in about the 11th century AD, for 7.5 million marks to a consortium of Jewish art dealers.

The art dealers successfully sold assorted pieces from the collection in the years prior to the rise of the Nazis, for around 2.5 million marks. At some point, they were apparently 'forced to sell' the remaining part of the treasure to the Nazi government for an amount of 4.25 million marks c. 1935, estimated by a major auction house to be only about 35% of their value at that time.

It wasn't till 2008 that descendants of the art-dealers came to know about the Guelph treasure pieces, which are now exhibited in the Bode museum in Germany, from statements of their relatives about having had those pieces in their home before they left Germany. And so they investigated it and believe now that they are the rightful owners of the Guelph treasure, and are suing to get it back.

Both sides have marshaled their arguments and seem to have persuasive evidence to back their assertions, as seen in this article. The courts will decide, and the final destination of these artifacts will be determined, in due course.

I'm curious though about whether any descendants of Ernest Augustus of Brunswick could stake a claim to the reliquaries. Or maybe even the Vatican. After all, the chain of custody had to start somewhere with someone being cheated of a fair price for their treasure.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cabin Fever

I don't suppose that I have it.

I'm bored of all the pictures of gleaming piles of snow on the denizens of the deck. 8 inch snow-cake on the table, check. 8 inch snow liner on the deck railings, check. 8 inch snow pile on the chairs, check... You get the idea. It's pretty, and it's cold enough (-6 Fahrenheit just a couple of nights ago).

Instead, I have whipped out the knitting needles and am getting tremendous amounts of knitting done. I sit and knit while surfing the internet .Don't ask me how it's done... it involves watching speed knitting contests and 'technique improvement' videos that I really didn't need to watch while click-clacking away busily through another 6 rows on my latest project. It's a hoodie with a pretty variegated yarn that is pretty rough on the fingers. A soft yummy yarn it's not.

Before that, it was a grey beanie for my husband, with a soft shiny yarn that felt very nice as I worked with it. Except when the stitches slipped off the needle halfway into the knitting (Double pointed needles, I hate you!) and I struggled for a few days to recover, stitch by painstaking dropped stitch. Luckily, the pattern was a very forgiving textured one, so the 'recovery' is almost unnoticeable, now in the finished beanie.

Before the grey beanie, I made my first cabled project, a pale purple girl's 'sweetheart hat' that M promised to wear at least a couple of times. " I'm not a beanie kind of person," she said. But she did keep her promise, and wore it a couple of times, maybe even a few more times in the future.

In January, it was a race against time to finish a dark blue vest that I had started making last year. I was determined to get it ready by S's birthday, and finished it off just on the morning of his birthday. (Thank goodness that he is a late-riser on holidays).

Enough with the words, and now for the pictures.

Friday, February 6, 2015

To Cage a Mockingbird

..and try to turn it into a goose that lays golden eggs. (Sorry for the mixed metaphors.)
John James Audubon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

That's what this whole episode of the announcement of the publishing of a new 'sequel' to Harper Lee's iconic To Kill a Mockingbird smacks of.

The picture on the right seems oddly apropos of the current story of Harper Lee and her 'new old book' due to come out in July this year, already a bestseller well ahead of its publication.

A group of mockingbirds trying to defend the nest against a predatory snake bring to mind the familial barriers protecting Harper Lee against the media onslaught and unscrupulous agents and others who tried to get her to publish 'just another novel', even after she decided not to attempt it after the adulation received by "To Kill a Mockingbird." Her elder sister Alice, who died last November, was her fierce protector, till she grew too frail herself.

I had, many years ago, blogged about the dirty underbelly of the publishing industry, and how they specialize in ghostwritten polishes of mediocre follow-ups to massively popular first books. Or what should have been single or dual books being drawn out into three or four with filler ghostwritten material, just to 'string them along' longer and make more money from the readers and massive audience for blockbuster movies based on blockbuster book series.

As I mentioned to my friend Ruchira, of erstwhile Accidental Blogger, after reading these:  Guardian article1 and Guardian article 2,  I'm starting to wonder if, rather than a full-fledged novel manuscript for Go Set a Watchman, there is a faint outline by Harper Lee  which is going to be edited to resemble the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' stylistically by persons unknown, who stand to benefit more by its publication than Harper Lee herself.

This New York Times article avers that Harper Lee has authorized the publication of the new book, in a signed comment, drafted undoubtedly by her lawyer, Tonja Brooks Carter, who took over purporting to represent Harper Lee's interests after Harper's elder sister Alice Lee,a sharp-as-a-tack lawyer herself, who retired only at the age of 98, passed away three months ago at the age of 103.

Historian Wayne Flynt opines that, far from the fragile mental and physical condition portrayed of Harper Lee in the media in the more recent years (these not-too-complimentary articles insist that she was in failing shape), she is in great shape mentally, lucid and cogent whenever she met him.In addition he is thrilled at the prospect of  more sequels. Which makes me wonder how much of a cut of the proceeds from the sales of the new book he was promised.  Maybe I am being too cynical, but  statements like the one he made (see below) make me suspicious.
"Flynt said that if the new book is successful, maybe it won't be the last.
"It does make you hope that we won't have just one reprise of the book," he said. "Maybe there are several more."

If this becomes a blockbuster, watch out for the miraculous discovery of the long-lost 'Atticus' manuscript, probably timed to release when the hype over Go Set a Watchman fades away.

This also raises the question as to what happened when Ms.Lee had episodes of being less lucid and cogent. Could someone sneak documents and statements to her that she might sign without question? What of the mysterious (criminal defense background primarily) lawyer who is calling all the shots, releasing Harper Lee's purported statements about how humbled and amazed she is at the publishing of her book (rather contrary to the reclusiveness and bluntness which characterized Lee in earlier times) Here is an interesting blog post about Carter's lawyering  from Pam Dae,a blogger who has been trying to get more information about her.

As far as conflict of interest and monetary remuneration goes, Carter stands to gain a lot of money from the process of representing Harper Lee in these dealings, maybe even enough to recoup her investment from the now-closed restaurant that Carter and her husband opened in Monroeville, Alabama a few years ago.

Mockingbirds shouldn't be killed, nor should they be caged and made to sing sad songs of captivity.

 Nor should the lesser music of other birds be passed of as the song of the caged mockingbird.

P.S: And all this may yet turn out to be a tempest in a teapot, but short of actually having Ms.Lee come out and speak about her consent to all this in public, suppositions of 'elder-exploitation' are not going to be laid to rest.

 The state of Alabama is quietly investigating allegations of elder abuse with regards to Harper Lee. See this NYTimes article.

A DHR investigation continues, but a State Security commission investigation has been closed based on 'satisfactory answers' from Harper Lee to the investigators.

An intrepid reporter who attempted to get a direct interview with Harper Lee a little over a month ago got a precious response, a handwritten "Go away" missive signed by her.

See a change to my thoughts and suspicions regarding the whole affair here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Ordinary Life of a Maharani

A couple of months ago, I came across this striking photograph on
 and wondered about the lovely Indian lady in formal Victorian court attire. The short description below the photo indicated that this was Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch-Behar, in a photo dated to 1902 when she travelled to England and was presented at the court of Queen Victoria.
Curious to read more about her, I looked for the Wikipedia entry and also came across her autobiography which can be either read online or downloaded.

She started with a fairly ordinary life as a child, till her father, Brahmo luminary Keshab Chandra Sen, decided to take off on his own tangent and start his own variant of the Brahmos and a school for young women. His daughters were well educated, and consequently sought after as brides for leading princes, of whom the Maharaja of Cooch-Behar Nripendranarayan was one. Suniti was married to him at a young age and went to live with him after she came of age.
An unremarkable person, made remarkable by the circumstances, she describes a life of conjugal happiness, much love and lightness, a large family with many children, a faithful and loving husband. She dwells at large upon her stays in England and seems to have been the toast of the English court. She has never a cross or unkind word for the majority of her acquaintances, life sailed a smooth keel till the passing of her husband, followed by the shock of losing the beloved son who briefly took over the kingship.
Life went on, and she passed on in due course, but not before taking the time to author her own story as well as another booklet of Grandma's tales.
Here she is in widows weeds, as photographed shortly after her husband passed away. Her hair is greyed, but her eyes still have the clear serenity that they had in her heyday, despite the sorrow that now shades them.

(Photo credits:"Her Highness Maharani Suniti Devi of Cooch Behar" by Pinewood Studios - V&A Picture Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
"Suniti Devi, Maharani of Cooch Behar" by Photographs from the Lafayette Studio Archive of the V&A, London - Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)