Born of illustrious New England stock, Rachel Field was a National Book Award–winning novelist, a Newbery Medal–winning children’s writer, a poet, playwright, and rising Hollywood success in the early twentieth century. Her light was abruptly extinguished at the age of forty-seven, when she died at the pinnacle of her personal happiness and professional acclaim.
Fifty years later, Robin Clifford Wood stepped onto the sagging floorboards of Rachel’s long-neglected home on the rugged shores of an island in Maine and began dredging up Rachel’s history. She was determined to answer the questions that filled the house’s every crevice: Who was this vibrant, talented artist whose very name entrances those who still remember her work? Why is that work—so richly remunerated and widely celebrated in her lifetime—so largely forgotten today? The journey into Rachel’s world took Wood further than she ever dreamed possible, unveiling a life fraught with challenge, and buried by tragedy, and yet incandescent with joy.
The Field House is a book about beauty—beauty in Maine island landscapes, in friendship, love, and heartbreak; beauty hidden beneath a woman’s woefully unbeautiful exterior; beauty in a rare, delightful spirit that still whispers from the past. Just listen.
I just finished this lovely book and feel richer for it. Meticulously researched and deeply felt, THE FIELD HOUSE is a compelling hybrid of biography and memoir. An exploration of the life and legacy of novelist-poet Rachel Field, it is interwoven with personal reflections that reveal the influence of Field’s work ethic and passion on the biographer’s life. This book is also a meditation on the nature of creativity and a love letter to a house on Sutton Island in Maine once owned by Field and now by Wood. For both writers, the house became a touchstone and a haven, a place to reflect and rejuvenate and create.
If you’ve never heard of the early 20th century author Rachel Field, kindly know that Robin Clifford Wood has just published a richly researched, hybrid-structured biography/memoir of the extraordinary woman who became a Newbery winner, novelist, playwright, and Hollywood movie script writer in the early 1900s. Field was born into a socially prominent and accomplished New England family in the late 19th century. Yet so little has been written of the highly personable woman and her work and life that, though an avid reader all my life, I’ve only just discovered her in this account of Field’s brief life of just under fifty years.
In 2008, fourteen years after the author and her husband purchased the long-abandoned Field house, Wood began to “get serious” about knowing Field more deeply, aside from the numerous, meaningful artifacts left behind when Field moved to California. Wood commenced to research in earnest, reading Field’s childhood journals, college letters, and stories of her young womanhood. She also unearthed mysteries in Field’s life and built them into the story.
The Field House: A Writer’s Life Lost and Found on an Island in Maine is a charming account of Field’s idyllic childhood on Sutton Island, where she connected so deeply with the place that it woke and nurtured her tender young psyche. In an early poem, Field writes:
Oh, you won’t know why, and you can’t say how Such change upon you came, But–once you have slept on an island You’ll never be the same.
Wood framed this deeply moving story in a hybrid fashion of biography/memoir. As she completed each chapter about Field’s life, the author penned letters to Field detailing accounts of her own life during the same time period. These alternating chapters are a lovely structure within which we learn of early common threads between Wood and Field.
Both women, for example, wanted to be writers in their early lives, although they traveled much different journeys to meet that calling. As Wood and Field matured into young women, their two different worlds began to connect in small ways. “I found your Island poem (written on Sutton Island) tacked on to a wall in my great-aunt’s cabin on a small island in Big Wolf Lake (in the Adirondacks),” Wood tells Field in an early letter. Another time Wood’s mother found a copy of Field’s novel on a shelf at Big Wolf Lake with Wood’s great grandmother’s name written inside. She gave it to Wood for a Christmas gift, knowing how meaningful it would be.
The brief letters that Wood writes after each chapter richly personalize her memoir. Notable for me was the growing respect and affection for Field evidenced in the complimentary closings. The first letter was signed “Sincerely Yours,” but as the chapters increased and their connection grew stronger, the closings revealed a growing friendship.
There are so many beautiful moments in this story that I’ll long remember. Perhaps the one that shines most brightly is the deeply personal letter Wood writes to “Rachel” as she pens the final chapter and signs it as one would to a best friend.
I suspect this extraordinary book will be one of the best you read this year. It will surely be one of mine.
Story Circle Book Reviews thanks Mary Jo Doig for this review.
I wept at the end of this book, which gripped me from the beginning. Robin, you found a muse in Rachel Field, and the way this book is written--intertwining the stories of two writers was magical for me. It reminded me of how certain people have the capacity to inspire creativity. I was left thinking about those who have inspired me-- from Scarlett O Hara to Eleanor Roosevelt -- how imbibing their essence spurred me on to do great things.
The tenderness which Robin gives to Rachel's story-- and to her own-- left me wanting to keep reading, into the night. Kudos to you Robin, a beautiful tribute to Rachel and yourself too. And I was left wanting more- wanting to know more about you and more about your relationship with your mother-- who seemed to have given you a rich legacy, so sorry for your loss.
Our book group (in Maine) read The Field House recently. It inspired a fantastic discussion that covered so many topics, from the structure of the book (did we like the author's letters to Rachel?), to Rachel's life, the Great Depression, Rachel's love of Sutton Island, early Hollywood, Rachel's physical appearance, her poetry, her death, and more. I think we had the best discussion in a long time. Whatever we thought of the structural issues and the author's choices, we all 100% agreed that we loved learning about Rachel Fields, all of us for the first time. We are grateful to Robin Wood for researching and writing this book, and for introducing us to Rachel Field and her work. I highly recommend this book - and really think it's a terrific read for book groups, even if your group is not based in Maine. I hope Robin is writing another book!
Such a lovely biography of Rachel Field, the author of “Hittie: the first hundred years”. Field’s lovely “Playhouse “ on a Maine island gives way to a life in Manhattan which leads to Hollywood. Poet, children’s author and adult literature writer, Field even sold the rights to several books to Hollywood. I was enchanted by this lovely author and her biographer.
This is a biography of a writer from the early 20th Century named Rachel Field. Despite having won the Newberry Medal and The National Book Award, I had never heard of her prior to reading this book. She came from a fairly priveleged background in New England. Oddly, she didn't learn to read until she was around 10 years old. Nevertheless, she became a prodigious writer of poetry, childrens' books, and adult fiction and nonfiction. She also kept up correspondence with many, many friends she developed throughout her life. She vacationed in coastal Maine, eventually buying a sprawling "cottage" on Sutton Island, a primitive island with no roads, which she loved deeply. Decades later, Robin Wood purchased Ruth Field's Sutton Island home. Over the years she did extensive research into Miss Field's life. Rachel had plenty of adversity: her father died when she was very young, her only surviving sister had lifelong mental health issues, and financial responsibilities for her widowed mother and aunt eventually fell to Rachel. So although she enjoyed writing, there was always looming in the background a financial need for her to be successful. Rachel had good fortune in love, finally, in early middle age, about the time her writing got really successful. She sold the movie rights to a couple of her books, which led her to leave the East Coast for good, spending her last few years in California. (I have seen "All This and Heaven Too," starring Bette Davis, but did not realize at the time that it was based on a Rachel Field novel.) Life was very good for Rachel for a few years in the late 1930's and very early 40's. Unfortunately, her life ended quite tragically, leaving her husband and very devoted long list of friends devastated.
As biographies go, it's a pleasant read and well-researched.
This book dispelled my false notion of Rachel Field being a sweet little old lady in a rocking chair knitting. Obviously I knew nothing about her, but that must be my impression of some of these Maine women writers, especially those who wrote children's books. The real Rachel Field was a sophisticated cultured woman who actually spent more time in New York City and California than on her Maine island home. And sadly, although she was sweet, she didn't live long enough to be old (and she didn't appear to be little). Now when I see one of her books, or hear the familiar phrase, "If once you have slept on an island..." I will have a different picture in my head of Rachel Field. Aside from the Maine woman writer aspect, which I always enjoy learning about, I liked this book for the dual story - the thread between Rachel and the author, with the island home of Rachel Field tying them together. What a treasure for Robin to live in the home of this author, to really absorb her history, and to be enchanted enough to feel the call to write her biography. Truly a labor of love. I liked reading Robin's letters to Rachel - you can feel the emotion. And I enjoyed reading about Robin's research and visiting sites related to Rachel. My only quibble with this book is that the chapters were way too long, and that there were too many letter excerpts. I certainly understand the temptation to include so much into a book, when it's your life's passion and you feel that everything written is of value, but in this case, less may be more. But that's my point of view, which may be in the minority. I've wanted to read this book for a long time, since I first read about it, so I'm pleased that I finally came across a copy.
Some books end up becoming a part of the reader and this is one of those books. Rachel Field as written by Robin Clifford Wood jumps fully formed right off of Chapter One's pages and continues to be a presence alive in the chapters to follow. Wood starts this book in the graveyard, but it is Rachel Field's life that defines her and weaves her into the heart of the reader. Wood brings her to life through Field's own work, letters and home where Wood and her own family end up living on Sutton Island, Maine. Though tested with trials and hardships, Rachel Field's sunny outlook, love and persistent appreciation of her surroundings wherever she lives and her ability to collect enduring friendships reflects a personality that is almost too big for this world. In addition, the letters that Wood writes to Rachel are touchingly tender and personal. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time and I am very grateful to Robin Clifford Wood for sharing Rachel with us.
How did we lose Rachel Field? Robin Wood finds her, and in her wonderful book brings this amazing and stunningly accomplished woman back to life. More than a biography of Field, this book brings together the lives of two women separated by time but sharing the same island home in Maine. As much as I loved learning about the remarkable Rachel Field, I was equally enamored with Wood's letters to Field as we move through the stories of their lives and their unique connections to each other. I highly recommend "The Field House" to you and look forward to reading it a second time.
Cried my eyes out. I fell in love with Rachel Field, with her island home, and with the author while I’m at it. I loved the way this book was written. A really beautiful and unique way of writing biography that kept it from feeling dry. I’m just so darn happy that Robin Clifford Wood brought us Field’s story. I’m forever affected.
I loved this book …. So many things to recognize and share ! I know I had her books as a child . Familiar places which are special to me …..and ideas and things loved….. feel like I now know her . And I take her with me …….
Rachel Field. I had never heard of this famous writer. Where has she hid all these years? Thank goodness Robin Wood found her. Well researched by Robin, she brings us into the fascinating life of this poet and author who was born in 1894. Rachel owned a house on Sutton Island in Maine where Robin lives. There is the connection. Two lives come together and a biography and memoir is born. This book draws you in and keeps you turning the pages. Rachel was an extraordinary person. Some of her books are still in print. Rachel wrote children’s books and adult books. I picked up Hitty, the first hundred years. Can’t wait to read it. Some of her books were made into movies as well. Thank you Robin, for writing about Rachel. Can’t wait for the book talk you’ll be giving at our library.
I had the great good fortune to read parts of this book long before it became a book, in part, because it has been my privilege and great good fortune to have known the author before she became a writer of books. Her stories have all been gifts to her readers. This book, her first, is no exception and will be much-appreciated by anyone who loves a great story.
The Field House is the story of two writers coming to success in different times and places. Robin Wood buys Field’s island retreat and becomes obsessed with the details of Rachel Field’s life in the twentieth century , as a true biography had not been written before. Most of us have never heard of Field, but she won several major awards in the 1930s and forties, and motion pictures were made from her books. Thanks to Wood, we learn the intimate details of Field’s career – what it really is like to be a writer as well as a wife, mother, and friend. Field’s stories and poems often parallel her real life with the angst of infertility and unreciprocated loves. Wood’s voice carries us along as she writes “letters” to Field, sharing her own process about being a writer in the twenty-first century, along with her extensive and fascinating research into one women’s life. I loved reading this book—congratulations to Robin Wood!
Like the Maine coast, there’s a bit of fogginess, but there’s more to it.
The author has done an excellent job of researching the life of Rachel Field. The author’s prolific writing in the areas of both adult and children’s fiction, as well as miles of poetry is noteworhy. I was drawn to the settings of central Massachusetts, Sutton Island, Manhattan, and Hollywood. Unfortunately, I felt that the letters inserted from this author to the main subject were distracting, but an interesting option. Looking forward to finding and reading Field’s novels while traveling the Maine coast.
The book was an interesting read about writer whom this author has a strong connection with due to living in her house on an island in Maine , the author is smart in writing her own letters to this writer of long ago due to a cathartic sentimental relationship wiht her research . There appears to be many similarities of this writer to the author's own life and approach. I was caught by the my own sadness about her life shortened and her love of life cut off by so many obstacles she faced during . Not to give anything away , her poetry is stunning and her love of people is inspiring as the author points out thoughout
This extraordinary book left me sorrowful, elated, inspired, and tearful as I reluctantly turned the last page. Thank you to author Robin Clifford Wood for falling in love with the inimitable and brilliant Rachel Field and for writing a biography that made me fall in love with Field, as well. This is a beautifully told and the way Wood weaves in her own story is masterful. I will never forget this book!
I love books like this that get under my skin. Rachel Field was such a fascinating woman in a multitude of ways -- her surprising career, her complicated love life, her deep connection with nature, her remarkable resilience. The author brings all this to life while also weaving in parallel stories from her own life which helped me to understand and admire Rachel even more.
Wow... this was a beautiful book. A mix of memoir/biography you can feel the research that was put into this one.
A tribute to Rachel Field a novelist poet ... who passed at the age of 47 an acclaimed award winner whose name is not well remembered... 50+ years later Rachel has found that the home she has purchased on an island in Maine belonging to the author who’s life ended to early... Robin starts to unearth the history as well as tell her story that weaves together seamlessly.
... a sting bond between the living and the dead is one I never thought about until now.
If you love... The publishing world 30’s & 40’s Hollywood And the beautiful coast of Maine Grab your self a copy and enjoy!
I’d never heard of author Rachel Field before reading “The Field House: A Writer’s Life Lost and Found on an Island in Maine.” This hybrid work (biography/memoir) by author Robin Clifford Wood is carefully researched, well-written, and, at its heart, the story of a deepening friendship between the author and Rachel Field, developed outside of the constraints of time, and made possible by a shared geography and love of place. Ms. Woods’s writing style is direct and engaging. She ends each chapter with a letter to Ms. Field. These letters create Ms. Woods’s memoir as viewed from the lens of an admired heroine’s (Ms. Fields’s) journey. The book is a treat. And if Ms. Woods’s goal was to resurrect Ms. Field for today’s reader, she did a fine job. As a poet, I particularly enjoyed Ms. Fields’s poetry which Ms. Woods shares throughout the book. She also shares some vintage photos of Rachel Field on Sutton Island, some hand drawn notes, as well as Ms. Fields’s artwork. It’s an interdisciplinary work on many levels, and I found it to be as compelling as a novel.
I picked this up in the Maine Crafts Shop at the rest area on 95 in Gardiner, Maine on our way back from a trip to Acadia and very glad I did. We'd been all over Maine except Acadia and I wish I'd known about this book before we went. I grew up with Rachel Field's children's stories (especially Hitty), and poetry and my grandfather even reviewed one of her books for the new defunct Boston Patriot Ledger. But enough about me.
What a shame it's taken so long for someone to write her biography because she did indeed lead a rich and interesting life, but how great that someone like Robin Wood with her deep connection to Rachel Field should take up the task.
Part personal memoir and part biography this is well researched and a richly told story. There were a few nit picky things I wasn't crazy about but they'd matter very little to anyone here.
Rachel Field's life was cut short at the height of her career and popularity and while it's common to wonder what she may have accomplished if she'd lived longer, all things considered, it's amazing what she accomplished in such a short time and Ms. Wood does a remarkable job telling that story. I liked this so much I'll now have to go back and re read all of Rachel Field's books and maybe even re watch some of the movies.
A profound tribute to the late Rachel Field. The author’s research is meticulous and detailed; she has left no stone left unturned. There are a series of startling coincidences connecting these two writers from the home they shared at different times to the date Rachel Field passed which was the same day Wood sadly lost her own mother—March 15th.
Every chapter is lovingly punctuated with a note from the author to Field on her reflections gathered in the course of her research. The bond between these two remarkable women is nearly inexplicable as it is undeniable. How beautifully Wood correlates her journey on becoming a writer to her discoveries of Field’s existence. What a gift to honor a fellow writer by bringing her to life on the page decades after she’s left this world. I can only imagine how humbled Rachel Field may be in seeing her story take flight through the eyes and heart of another dedicated and talented writer. This book is a triumph.
This book is different than other biographies I have read. It relies heavily on the direct written words of Rachel Field and her contemporaries. Historical context is included when her words don't provide it in enough detail. The author's own life is intertwined with Rachel's life specifically through 'letters' from the author, Robin, to Rachel, the subject of the biography. This makes this book both a biography and a memoir of 2 different yet emotionally connected people.
Personally, I was intrigued by the New England & NYC place stories. I also fondly recalled many of Rachel Field's 'juveniles' though I didn't recall her specific name as author. I also envied Rachel's writing life and her self-discipline for everything.
This story is not for everyone but it is for those who want a glimpse of the writing life of a woman in the 1st half (about) of the twentieth century.
The title and cover photo pulled me in, introducing Rachel Field; a novelist, poet, writer of children's books in the first half of the 20th century. . The story of her life was 100% fascinating throughout, thanks to the exceptional talent of the author.
The connection(s) between this author and Rachel Field provide a layer of depth that is an added bonus.