Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook

By Denise D. Knight | Go to book overview
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SARAH PRATT McLEAN GREENE (1856-1935)

Karen L. Kilcup


BIOGRAPHY

"He knew, of course, that the names were real . . . but he said that the names were good and the place remote, and he was sure no trouble would follow, and I believe that he was as magnificently innocent and undesigning in the matter as we" ( Book News37). In an 1893 interview, Sarah Pratt McLean Greene made this observation about her publisher and the lawsuit that followed the 1881 publication of her first novel, Cape Cod Folks. This suit, the first libel action for fiction in the United States, brought the young author immediate national fame.

The book itself was the result of a term teaching in Cedarville, a village of Plymouth, Massachusetts, after Greene's departure from Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, which she attended in 1871-1872 and 1873-1874. Living with a local family, the Fishers, in their house called the "Ark," Greene was immersed in the life and personalities of the local community. When she left the community and returned to her Simsbury, Connecticut, home, she wrote down her semiautobiographical recollections of the experience. Her brother-in-law, delighting in her letters to him, convinced Greene to send her manuscript to an editor friend of his in Boston; after staying up all night reading the novel, the editor persuaded her to let him publish it immediately. When news of the book reached the "remote" Cape Cod community, several of the characters portrayed in the novel filed libel suits against both the author and her publisher, A. Williams & Co., which published a formal apology, averring its ignorance of the author's use of real names for some of her characters. In spite of this apology and the publisher's change of the characters' names in subsequent editions, the plaintiffs pursued their suit; one, Lorenzo Leonard Nightingale, sought the sum of $10,000

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