Posted by: zhiv | August 14, 2008

More Jewett: Trip to the library, looking for Annie Fields

After minor edits and posting about my leisurely Jewett journey the other day, I went back out on the hunt.  I didn’t have the cash to buy the “Uncollected Stories” volume, so instead I bought a less expensive, more recent collection, Jewett’s Irish Stories.  This volume has a recent scholarly introduction, which I figured would quench a slight thirst for some critical perspective.

I took another look at the Annie Fields’ biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe, still not buying it, but I ended up looking at the list of Annie Fields’ other books.  There was nothing especially surprising, but somehow it started me thinking about Fields and taking a great interest in learning more about her.   I first ran into her husband, the publisher James T. Fields, during my bygone Thackeray days.  Early in my stunted graduate student career I made a shift from studying George Eliot to Thackeray.  My first-year seminar text–every new PhD student picked one text and wrote four different papers on it in the first semester–was Thackeray’s Henry Esmond, which I only chose because Virginia Woolf said somewhere that it was his best book.  I continued to plow through Thackeray, and later did a lengthy study of Thackeray’s lecture tours to America.  And that’s how I first bumped into James T. Fields.  Later, in tracking Leslie Stephen, who made his own trips to America (something his daughter, Woolf, never tried) and built close relationships with James Russell Lowell and others, Fields must have been in the background once again. 

I’ve mentioned Megan Marshall’s excellent biography of the Peabody sisters, which had the mildly sensational story (an excerpt in the New Yorker, which piqued my interest in the first place) of Hawthorne possibly dumping his brilliant benefactor, Elizabeth, for her more feminine, invalid sister Sophia.  Annie Fields, later good friends with Mrs. Hawthorne, must have been hanging about that narrative–I haven’t checked the index yet.  Studying Jewett and her world, I’ve just gotten the basics about the later life of Annie Adams Fields.   But in the same way that Elizabeth Peabody and her sisters turned out to be a great subject for an excellent book, it seemed like Mrs. Fields, with her famous literary salon and later intimate relationships with important writers like Stowe and Jewett, should be getting some careful attention.

After checking things out on the web and seeing a couple of titles, it occurred to me that I hadn’t been to my local major University research library in a few months, and this was a perfect opportunity to head back.  So now I have four bookspines staring out from my desk:

Annie Adams Fields:  The Spirit of Charles Street.   by Judith A. Roman.  Indiana UP, 1990.  “Judith A. Roman is Assistant Professor of English at IU East, where she teaches writing and literature.”

Annie Adams Fields:  Woman of Letters.  Rita K. Gollin.  Univ. of Mass Press, 2002.  A good-sized biographical note at the end of this book says that Gollin has written three books about Hawthorne and is a Distinguished Professor at SUNY Geneseo and lives in Rochester, NY.

The Cultural Work of the Late Nineteenth-Century Hostess:  Annie Adams Fields and Mary Gladstone Drew.  Susan K. Harris.  Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

A Chance Meeting:  Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists, 1854-1967.  Rachel Cohen.  Random House, 2004.   I had heard about this book awhile ago, and apparently it has Annie Fields material in it, and it looks less academic and more immediately readable than the others.

This should last for a while, and get me where I want to go pretty quickly.  I think that part of what I’m interested in is the overlap from Elizabeth Peabody to Fields to Jewett, but the whole idea of an important midcentury Boston literary salon that subsequently evolves into a literary community towards the end of the century seems interesting. 

Amongst other things, Fields has a multi-volume unpublished diary that is on microfilm and sits at the Massachusetts Historical Society.  I turned up another interesting item in looking at the availability of Fields’ works on ABEBooks.com.  She wrote one novel, called “Asphodel,” which seems to be extremely scarce and obscure.  Apparently she sent it to her good friend Sophia Hawthorne as a blind manuscript, not telling her who had written.  Sophia said that it was bad and virtually unreadable.  Their friendship was never the same.  So, more to come on that story. 

Judging by heft and basic presentation, Gollin’s book is the most substantial, and it will be interesting to compare it to The Peabody Sisters, which was being written and published around the same time.  Ostensibly, AA Fields is just as promising a topic as the Peabody sisters, if not more so.  But we’ll see how all of this plays out.

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Responses

  1. Looks like you have got a wonderful project laid out – I look forward to reading through your thoughts as you get further in. None of these figures (except the Hawthornes) is familiar to me so it will be interesting following along. I’m going to have a look for the Cohen book you mention, looks like something I might really enjoy.


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