19th February 2016
I was asked to write a tribute to Harper Lee, whose death was announced today, as a legal writer. It looks like it is not going to be used by who asked for it, so here it is (based on my 2012 New Statesman piece):
“Harper Lee created the best fictional trial narrative in the English language, and she made a literary hero out of a fictional lawyer.
Both were innovations.
The fictional trial was not a literary mainstay when Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird – people then preferred books about real trials, and the usual depiction of fictional lawyers was more-or-less just as Charles Dickens had left it a century before.
(The Perry Mason stories were really pulp detective stories.)
But Harper Lee made a literary hero out of a lawyer, and one who lost the case – a lawyer who despite their great ability and noble intentions could make no difference to the final verdict.
And she somehow made the trial exciting even though the hero lost.
Atticus Finch will remain an inspiration to generations of idealistic lawyers, notwithstanding the (shall we say) unexpected sequel which Lee’s publishers came out with.”
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