Field, Rachel Lyman

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FIELD, Rachel Lyman

Born 19 September 1894, New York, New York; died 15 March 1942, Beverly Hills, California

Wrote under: Rachel Field

Daughter of Matthew D. and Lucy Atwater Field; married Arthur S. Pederson, 1935

Descended from a distinguished family, Rachel Lyman Field was educated in public schools. She attended Radcliffe College and later wrote synopses for a silent film company. For about the first two-thirds of Field's writing career, she was primarily a writer of juvenile literature for children of varying ages. Her oneact plays (many separately published in acting versions) include farces, comedies, serious and poetic dramas, modern reinterpretations of old stories, and nostalgic period pieces. Lacking literary pretension, they are nevertheless stageworthy. Field's juvenile poems also show her versatility, for she worked in a number of forms and types, but tendencies toward sentimentality and rhythmic monotony lessen their effectiveness.

The best of Field's work for young people is to be found in three juvenile novels. Hitty: Her First Hundred Years (1929) was awarded the Newbery Medal for children's literature. Set in the 19th century, it is the history of a wooden doll, narrated by herself. The parts depicting the Maine Field loved are especially vivid and evocative. Calico Bush (1931) covers one year (1743-44) in the life of a French girl indentured to an English family who settle in Maine. Her sense of isolation, both as a foreigner and as a pioneer, is well conveyed, as are the terrors and delights of frontier life.

Hepatica Hawks (1932) has as its protagonist a fifteen-yearold girl who is 6[.minute]4[.minute] tall and a member of a freak show. The novel takes her from an early acceptance of her differentness through a period of desperate yearning for friends of her own age and participation in normal society. Eventually she finds a place (as a Wagnerian soprano) where her size is not a hindrance. Told with restraint, the novel movingly conveys its message, that it is all right to be different.

In her last years, Field turned to writing novels for adults. To See Ourselves (1937), written with her husband, is a comic Hollywood novel of little significance. More ambitious are two historical novels: Time Out of Mind (1935), set in Maine, shows the decline of a shipbuilding family as seen by a young woman intimately connected with it. It is a story of family conflict, pitting young against old and artistic against materialistic values. All This, and Heaven Too (1938) is Field's imaginative and sympathetic reconstruction of the experiences of a young Frenchwoman who was involved in a celebrated 19th-century murder trial and later came to the U.S. and married Field's great-uncle.

Less substantial is And Now Tomorrow (1942), the story of a wealthy young woman temporarily afflicted with deafness; it is played out against the contemporary background of the Depression and labor strife. The female protagonists of the three latter novels are all forced by circumstances to find in themselves strength, endurance, and breadth of sympathy and understanding. They learn, in an image Field uses several times, to become trees and not vines.

Field's work, in many genres, shows her concern for crafts-manship and her broad sympathies. The single most frequently occurring image in her work, the patchwork quilt, is indicative: peculiarly a woman's image, it suggests women's creativity, nostalgia for the past, and the creation of something new, beautiful, and useful from old and heterogeneous materials. Field tended toward sentimentality, and her three major works are all old-fashioned "romantic" novels. Nevertheless, they are mature studies of human relationships and of suffering and growth. These novels, with the best of her work for young people, should secure for her a lasting, if modest, literary reputation.

Other Works:

Six Plays (1922). The Pointed People: Verses & Silhouettes (1924). An Alphabet for Boys and Girls (1926). Eliza and the Elves (1926). Taxis and Toadstools: Verses and Decorations (1926). A Little Book of Days (1927). The Magic Pawnshop: A New Year's Eve Fantasy (1927). The Cross-Stitch Heart, and Other One-Act Plays (1928). Little Dog Toby (1928). Polly Patchwork (1928). The White Cat and Other Old French Fairy Tales by Mme. d'Aulnoy (arranged by Field, 1928). American Folk and Fairy Tales (edited by Field, 1929). Pocket-Handker-chief Park (1929). A Circus Garland (1930). Patchwork Plays (1930). Points East: Narratives of New England (1930). The Yellow Shop (1931). The Bird Began to Sing (1932). Fortune's Caravan by L. Jean-Javal (adapted by Field, 1933). Just Across the Street (1933). Branches Green (1934). God's Pocket: The Story of Captain Samuel Hadlock, Junior, of Cranberry Isles, Maine (1934). Susanna B. and William C. (1934). People from Dickens: A Presentation of Leading Characters from the Books of Charles Dickens (1935). Fear Is the Thorn (1936). All Through the Night (1940). Ave Maria: An Interpretation from Walt Disney's "Fantasia," Inspired by the Music of Franz Schubert (1940). Christmas Time (1941). Prayer for a Child (1944). Christmas in London (1946). Poems (1957). The Rachel Field Story Book (1958).


Reference works:

CB (May 1942). Junior Book of Authors (1951). NAW. Newbery Medal Books, 1922-1955 (1955). TCA, TCAS.

Other references:

NYHTB (31 May 1942). NYTBR (13 Nov. 1932, 7 April 1935, 30 Oct. 1938, 31 May 1942). SR (15 Nov. 1930, 22 Oct. 1938).