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Joseph Crespino

Forfatter af Atticus Finch: The Biography

3 Works 151 Members 6 Reviews

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Joseph Crespino is the Jimmy Carter Professor of History at Emory University. He is the author of In Search of Another Country, winner of the 2008 Lillian Smith Book Award, and Strom Thurmond's America. He lives in Decatur, Georgia.

Includes the name: Joseph H. Crespino

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c. 1973
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A very useful contextualization, with reference to Harper Lee's own life, her father, and the historical circumstances, of the character of Atticus Finch as depicted in both "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Go Set A Watchman". The book goes some way to elucidating the complicated question whether the racist views he utters in "Watchman" are also to be imputed to him in "Mockingbird". My conclusion is that by scrapping her novel set in the early civil rights era, in which the Jean Louise of "Watchman" is set straight as to Atticus' need to join the Citizens Council so as to prevent more extremist leaders raising havoc, and writing a second novel set in the thirties, Lee was perhaps giving herself a cop-out. The Atticus of "Mockingbird" does not have to deal with the challenge of black demands for full social equality nor Lee declare her hand in the politics of her present day. Atticus is presented as a man of integrity who treats everybody as worthy of respect, Tom Robinson as entitled to a fair trial, but he does not have to state his position on school integration. At the same time, his character is almost entirely stripped of racism. Almost: in his climactic speech he says:

"One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious..."

Although I included enough of the quotation to show that Atticus is not speaking in an explicitly racist way, what else can the reader take implicitly from the line about Yankees hurling in Southern faces the words "all men are created equal", other than that Atticus objects to Northern criticism of segregation? The Atticus of "Mockingbird" may well be similarly to the Atticus of "Watchman" in believing to some extent in the necessity, whether permanent or for reasons of political practicality, of segregation. Lee is able to depict him as a moral hero facing what is indeed a potentially serious threat from the white people around him who don't like his advocacy for the defendant, but at the same time she let him duck the issues of the day, when not just personal behavior but the system as a whole was at stake. It's hard not to think, when Lee placed this statement at the critical moment of the novel, that she was not telling us that one can be both a good person of integrity, and an opponent of racial liberalism: not perhaps the message her book ended up communicating.
… (mere)
 
Markeret
fji65hj7 | 3 andre anmeldelser | May 14, 2023 |
Instead of what could have been an enlightening and valuable insight into one of the United States Senate's most intriguing characters — the good, the bad, and the very ugly — Mr. Crespino has provided us with little more than a paint-by-numbers political portrait, such as a student might receive in a community college course on Politics 101.

The book is not (and, in fairness, does not purport to be) an actual biography of James Strom Thurmond. Rather, its theme could be summarized as, "How a reactionary fossil attempted to remake the Republican Party, and the nation as a whole, in his own image." The only surprise in Mr. Crespino's work is that he does not identify racism (as vile as it was) as Thurmond's primary motivating force. That force, according to Crespino, would have been a naked, o'erweening ambition worthy of Macbeth. Thurmond's alleged zeal for the inside track, according to this book, explains his embrace of Richard Nixon in 1968 (instead of George Wallace), and his endorsement of John Connally (instead of Reagan) in 1980. Superficially, Thurmond would seem to have had more in common with Wallace or Reagan, but he didn't perceive them as "winners," and he wanted to maintain his position of influence. One wonders if (like Wallace) Thurmond helped legitimize racism, or if he took a racist stance because it was already popular.

Along the way, Mr. Crespino does make an effort to take note of Thurmond's "non-racial" positions, such as his fierce, consistent crusading on behalf of Vietnam veterans during the 1970s; his enmity toward organized labor; and his opposition to the Panama Canal treaty of 1977. He also credits Thurmond, almost comically, as being one of the chief architects of the "New Right/Moral Majority," which he was not. (Thurmond was acquainted with such men as Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones Jr., and others, but as any student of politics knows, acquaintance does not imply influence.) Again, Mr. Crespino is painting by numbers, filling in blanks. But, after all is said and done, Thurmond will always be associated primarily with race. As recently as 2019, then-candidate Joseph Biden experienced a firestorm of criticism because he had given a eulogy at Thurmond's funeral in 2003.

Thurmond could justly be seen as a villain by many people, for many reasons. But he was also a genuine patriot and a man of deep conviction, and was one of the true lions of the Senate. Such men, whether conservative like Thurmond, liberal like Ted Kennedy, or moderate like Everett Dirksen, deserve much more than a smirking dismissal.

Not recommended. For a more balanced view of Thurmond's place in history, one might read "Ol' Strom: An Unauthorized Biography of Strom Thurmond" (2001) by Jack Bass, or "Strom Thurmond and the Politics of Southern Change" (1993) by Nadine Cohadas.
… (mere)
½
 
Markeret
WilliamMelden | Jul 1, 2022 |
I was in two minds whether or not to buy this 'biography' of one of my favourite characters, not least because of the price of the hardback, but the completist in me won over the purist. I also consider this to be a compromise, because I refuse to buy or read Go Set A Watchman, the controversial 2015 publication of Harper Lee's first draft which Joseph Crespino's study is based heavily upon. Not from a fear that Atticus is suddenly revealed to be heavily racist - the inference that he's at least a conservative southerner is there in Mockingbird, and Watchman is not a sequel to Harper Lee's story anyway - but because I don't believe Lee wanted her awkward first attempt at a novel to be published at all, or she would have done so years before.

There are three parts to this biography, and I found all interesting, but really wanted to read the section on the making of the film version with Gregory Peck. Now I'm not so sure! I always thought Horton Foote's script and Peck's performance presented the perfect screen version of the novel, but Crespino seems to imply that Peck went on some kind of ego drive, boosting Atticus' role to the detriment of the story. Yes, the novel has more depth and complexity, but isn't that always the case? I still love Peck as Atticus, and dread the day Hollywood decides a remake is in order (particularly if based on Aaron Sorkin's smug play). The first section, about Harper Lee's father, A.C. Lee, who inspired the character of Atticus of course - and Harper gave Peck her father's watch, because his portrayal of Atticus was so reminiscent of him - provides useful historical background, but seemed weighted in favour of defending Watchman over Mockingbird to me. I understand more about the childish 'can't make me' reaction of the South to the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown vs Board of Education now, and the defiance of men like A.C. Lee/Atticus, but that doesn't make Jean Louise Finch's screaming reaction to her father's hypocrisy in Watchman any more effective than Scout's subtle observations in Mockingbird. Like A.C. Lee, Atticus is 'of his time and of his place, yet still aspires to worthy ideals and noble values' - readers just have to dig a little deeper for Atticus' failings, unlike in the immature Watchman, where Jean Louise smacks the reader in the face with her daddy issues.

Part two - 'Atticus imagined' - describes the plot of Go Set A Watchman, convincing me that I really don't need to read the book for myself, but also explaining the changing small town politics of Monroeville in the 1950s and 1960s. Part three looks at Peck's portrayal of Atticus on screen, and how this Hollywood ideal is the version that everyone - including Sorkin - associates with the character. I definitely learned a lot about the social and historical background to Harper Lee's novel (singular), but at times, I felt like I was reading a history of the civil rights era with references to Mockingbird tacked on.
… (mere)
 
Markeret
AdonisGuilfoyle | 3 andre anmeldelser | May 18, 2019 |
A very useful contextualization, with reference to Harper Lee's own life, her father, and the historical circumstances, of the character of Atticus Finch as depicted in both "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Go Set A Watchman". The book goes some way to elucidating the complicated question whether the racist views he utters in "Watchman" are also to be imputed to him in "Mockingbird". My conclusion is that by scrapping her novel set in the early civil rights era, in which the Jean Louise of "Watchman" is set straight as to Atticus' need to join the Citizens Council so as to prevent more extremist leaders raising havoc, and writing a second novel set in the thirties, Lee was perhaps giving herself a cop-out. The Atticus of "Mockingbird" does not have to deal with the challenge of black demands for full social equality nor Lee declare her hand in the politics of her present day. Atticus is presented as a man of integrity who treats everybody as worthy of respect, Tom Robinson as entitled to a fair trial, but he does not have to state his position on school integration. At the same time, his character is almost entirely stripped of racism. Almost: in his climactic speech he says:

"One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious..."

Although I included enough of the quotation to show that Atticus is not speaking in an explicitly racist way, what else can the reader take implicitly from the line about Yankees hurling in Southern faces the words "all men are created equal", other than that Atticus objects to Northern criticism of segregation? The Atticus of "Mockingbird" may well be similarly to the Atticus of "Watchman" in believing to some extent in the necessity, whether permanent or for reasons of political practicality, of segregation. Lee is able to depict him as a moral hero facing what is indeed a potentially serious threat from the white people around him who don't like his advocacy for the defendant, but at the same time she let him duck the issues of the day, when not just personal behavior but the system as a whole was at stake. It's hard not to think, when Lee placed this statement at the critical moment of the novel, that she was not telling us that one can be both a good person of integrity, and an opponent of racial liberalism: not perhaps the message her book ended up communicating.
… (mere)
 
Markeret
wa233 | 3 andre anmeldelser | Oct 26, 2018 |

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