In February, I noted how announcements regarding Harper Lee’s novel Go Set a Watchman provided a glimpse of an editor’s role in creating To Kill a Mockingbird. Now that Watchman has been released, Lee’s editor is getting even more attention.
I have not read Watchman yet, but multiple reviewers have noted that it is nowhere near the masterpiece Lee created in Mockingbird. “Comparing Mockingbird—the result of two years of arduous revisions—with Watchman demonstrates clearly just how important a good editor can be,” wrote Heller McAlpin in a book review posted on the SFGate website.
The New York Times published an article about Lee’s editor, who first read the manuscript for Watchman and worked with the author to reconsider and reshape and rewrite until Mockingbird took the shape so familiar to so many millions of people today.
That editor, according to the Times story, was Therese von Hohoff Torrey—known professionally as Tay Hohoff—at the now-defunct J. B. Lippincott Company. Times writer Jonathan Mahler said, “this week’s publication of Go Set a Watchman offers a rare glimpse at the before and after of a book widely regarded as a masterpiece.”
And no matter what you think about Watchman or Mockingbird, that glimpse can be a revelation about the work—and worth—of a good editor. I know a lot of Mockingbird fans who don’t plan to read Watchman, but I’m looking at it as professional research. Where else can I get such an insider’s view at what can happen when a talented writer teams up with a talented editor?