Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2016

"Green Forest" by Nathalie Sedgwick Colby

For awhile now, my bookshelf has been host to a 1927 novel titled Green Forest by Nathalie Sedgwick Colby, my fourth cousin, four times removed. I had thought I would read it sometime, when I... well, you know, when I got around to it. It's not like I have nothing to do, you know.

So the other day I decided to look up a review of the book, see what I was in for, see if I could motivate myself, or maybe just see if I could put off reading a novel by looking up reviews on the interwebs. (I do have some finely honed avoidance techniques I can fall back on when I feel the urge to do something that requires a commitment of several hours!)

Really, what does it take to get me to read a whole novel, anyhow? Mystery? Romance? Conflict? Betrayal? International Intrigue? Scandal? Pretty much the same stuff that motivates an old genealogist to keep digging in the family history? Yes, I think so, any of the above might push me toward the couch with my reading glasses, a beverage, and a book, if I thought I'd find it between the covers.

I searched for "Green Forest" at Newspapers.com, where I came upon a full-page story in the Sunday Magazine section of The St. Louis Post Dispatch dated 15 December 1929 (the stock market had crashed only six weeks before!). It was by a "Special Correspondent" who remained unnamed--hmm, already a wee mystery, eh?--who wrote that "The Green Forest" (which, dear reader, is not the name of the book--there is no The in the title) was an ironic novel of political life. Now, you may have noticed, in my list of book lures, that politics was not mentioned. And, had that been the sum total of the Special Correspondent's article, I might have left the book on the shelf and gone to the couch with a pillow instead.

But, you will recall, this article was a full page. And as the Special Correspondent went on, pretty much all of those other items on my book lure list turned up--oddly enough, not in the form of book content, but in the form of the real life story surrounding the writing, publishing, and selling of the novel.

Politics, I suppose we could say, comes into it with the author's husband. You can read about Bainbridge Colby in Wikipedia, worth doing not only because he was an interesting character and the article is not overlong or in any way boring, but also because there's a picture and he was quite a handsome devil. I mean man.

As for the list, well, it's a Mystery as to why the Colby Romance and 30-year marriage turned to Conflict with accusations of Betrayal resulting in International Intrigue and Scandal!

Then there is Bribery. No, dear reader, Bribery was not in my list of book lures, but hey, let us not look a gift lure in the hook, shall we? Fifteen large a month in 1920 US dollars would have been a hefty sum. But maybe we should just call it hush money, and for that much hush money, you'd think there would have been a lot of hushin' goin' on. But apparently not!

According to the unnamed Special Correspondent, here's what happened. Nathalie had an article published in the May 1924 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, of which, coincidentally or not, the editor was Nathalie's cousin, Ellery Sedgwick. The article was titled, "Marriage," from which this paragraph was quoted in The Post Dispatch:

"A woman's greatest danger is marriage with an egoist. He is fatal in a home and the credit for his rapid disappearance is due to the modern woman. he must have invented the term 'wife,' deriving it from the verb 'vibrare,' to tremble. A woman's best quality is her ability to respond to demand. That is why it is so important for her to avoid an egoist, for an egoist is a smotherer. He has the heavy hand of possession and he is always molding his wife to some preconceived idea. His self-consciousness about her is abnormal; he cannot bear to see so intimate a part of himself outside his own jurisdiction."

Reader, this is where the hush money comes in. Bainbridge took "Marriage" personally, for whatever reason, and he separated from his writer-wife, and he signed an agreement whereby he would pay her $1500 a month not to write about him.

And then, in January 1927, out came Green Forest, and Bainbridge felt that one of the characters in the book was "a malicious burlesque of himself," according to the Special Correspondent. He soon went to France, where he stayed long enough to establish legal residence, and then filed for divorce, which he thought would be easy based upon the reputation of the French courts, plus he had the former president of France for his attorney.

Although there was no mention of Bainbridge himself in the novel, nor any particular unsubtle hint that the disagreeable character was based on him, Bainbridge asserted in court that it was so, and it looked like his divorce would be granted with no problem... until...

...another divorce case came up around the same time, that of a famous musical comedy star. Her case got some attention, and she publicly stated, "Paris is the easiest place in the world to get a divorce, better than Reno."

This dubious endorsement of the French judiciary didn't go over well, and to put the lie to that statement, Bainbridge's uncontested divorce was denied. He was pretty bent out of shape about that, but even moreso when he got back to the USA, where he was sued by Nathalie for $16,500 in back payments owed on the separation agreement. And then in the end, Nathalie went to Reno, where she was granted a divorce.

So, yeah, really, how could I not pick up the book and read it, huh?

My Little Book Report

First of all, I would not call Green Forest "a novel of political life in Washington, whose chief male-character is a politician and statesman," as The Post Dispatch's Special Correspondent did. In my reading of the book, I did not feel that Mr. Atwater, the character said to be based on Bainbridge Colby, was "the chief male-character." I would have called him a peripheral character. A disagreeable one, yes, but not chief.

The chief female character was Shirley, a widow who was traveling aboard a ship with her daughter. The story takes place either on the ship or in the mind of the main characters. It was written largely from Shirley's perspective. One reviewer called it stream-of-consciousness, which I think was a good description. It took me a little while at the beginning to get the hang of floating down the stream, so to speak, but I caught on soon enough and went with the flow. The stream was not always Shirley's though. The reader is treated to the thoughts of some other passengers who figure prominently in the story also. I don't recall floating down Mr. Atwater's stream at all.

I didn't watch the clock, but I would estimate it took eight hours or less to read the book.

My dog, when she finally settled down and permitted me to begin reading, fell asleep against my leg. When I got to page 6 and needed to look up a reference to something I didn't understand, she would have been awakened if I had gotten up. That would have started the battle for peace and quiet all over again, so instead I used colorful little post-it tabs to mark the item on page 6 and all subsequent items that I needed to look up. By the time I finished the book, it looked like this:


When you are reading a novel almost a hundred years old, it seems you have to look up more than a few random vocabulary words, eh? There were a number of cultural references that were lost on me, due either to time or insufficient worldliness. I could have used a glossary. And since I was going to look up all the stuff marked by those sticky tabs anyway, I decided to go ahead and make the glossary I could have used. I hope you'll click here for An Enrichment Glossary for Green Forest, because it took considerably longer to make than it took to read the book, and even if you never read the book, you'll learn some new words, read a poem, see some art, hear some music, and watch a movie, much of which you might never happen upon any other way. And if you do read the book, you'll see why "Good-bye Summer" was the song Mrs. Piggott sang best.

Here are a few short quotes I liked:

"No, that resolve is flat, Shirley thought, watching Mrs. Piggott bite an olive, handing the half (a grocery tryst) to Mr. Atwater." A grocery tryst! Such a hot little turn of phrase!

"David had said once that most oratory derived its impetus by turning greed into altruism." I find this an interesting comment in this political year.

"...technique after all was a factory, for even with painters a woman went in a woman, and came out a Gainsborough, leaving her personality behind her, and there must be cow ghosts surveying themselves slipping out of slot factories, little sausages, wondering--"  Oh, my goodness... cows in Shirley's stream... who saw that coming?

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Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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