First peek at new Harper Lee novel shows Scout as grown, liberated woman

A 2007 file photo shows Lee (right) with television executive Brian Lamb.
A 2007 file photo shows Lee (right) with television executive Brian Lamb.AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The first chapter of Harper Lee's eagerly-awaited second novel Go Set A Watchman was released on Friday, showing her beloved To Kill A Mockingbird character Scout Finch as a sexually-liberated young woman and her father Atticus Finch battling rheumatoid arthritis.

The Wall Street Journal and Britain's Guardian newspaper published the first chapter of the book, which is to be published in full on Tuesday, 55 years after Lee's classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird novel about racism and injustice in the American South.

It introduces six year-old tomboy Scout from Mockingbird some 20 years after the events of the first novel.

Now called Jean Louise Finch, she travels from New York back to her Alabama home town to visit her father and to consider a marriage proposal from a childhood friend.

The chapter also reveals that Scout's older brother Jem, died some years ago, and that Atticus, now 72 years old, has crippling arthritis and has handed over much of his legal business to his unconventional daughter's suitor.

Go Set A Watchman was written in the 1950s before Lee, now 89 and in an assisted-living facility in her home state of Alabama, penned her 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece.

She then largely retired from public life. Publishing house Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, astonished the literary world in February when it announced it would publish a book that only a few people knew existed.

Harper has ordered an initial US print run of two million for Go Set A Watchman and the book is already the most pre-ordered book on Amazon.com since J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows in 2007 - the seventh and final novel about the British boy wizard.

In an early commentary on the first chapter of Watchman, Lynda Hawryluk, senior lecturer in writing at the Southern Cross University in Australia, said it bears faith to Lee's abilities as a novelist.

Writing for CNN's segment The Conversation on Friday, Hawryluk said the opening lines have "a familiar and comforting cadence, like the voice of a loved aunt after a long absence".