FIELD DAYS: The Life, Times and Reputation of Eugene Field by Robert Conrow

FIELD DAYS: The Life, Times and Reputation of Eugene Field

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Although this study of the personality and scattered oeuvre of Eugene Field -- remembered today mainly for Little Boy Blue, Wynken, Blynken and Nod and other nursery rhymes -- is discursive and smacks of humorless doctoral toil, the author has gathered a diverting collection of material which indicates that Field was not, and never thought he was, a gentle poet of childhood. A facile, hard working, opportunistic (and probably plagiaristic) newspaper man, Field had a flair for reaching the tear duct and funny bone of mid-Western readers, from the 1870's to his early death in 1895. Edgar Lee Masters and Theodore Dreiser spoke respectfully of his Chicago Daily News column, and into it went social satire, commentary and verse both humorous and heavy. As a general rule Field's writing was fairly derivative, obvious and overstated -- even the samples of his underground pornography offer nothing new in that ever-fructive genre -- but it must have gone down happily enough with breakfast sausage. And like any good journalist his pieces had moments of immense charm and playful wit. Conrow wisely avoids serious literary criticism, but he also neglects a closer look at the contemporary scene by which Field's talents could be more easily evaluated. There are general remarks about Chicago's social and political transitions and biographical scraps, but the report is too splayed for an effective portrait of the man in his time and place. Field remains essentially a curio, still covered by that rust and dust.

Pub Date: Sept. 3rd, 1974
Publisher: Scribners