Narrative Summary of Eugene Field, a Study in Heredity and Contradictions — Volume 1

Overview: I am fascinated by the life and work of Eugene Field. This book reveals a man who was far more than just a writer. It delves into his unconventional personality, his love for his family, his relationships with famous stage folk, and his later embrace of the world of books and literature. While Field was a master of humor and a lover of life, he faced many challenges, including financial struggles and ill-health. However, his resilience and his unwavering devotion to bringing joy to the world shine through in this captivating biographical study.

Main Parts:

  • Early Life and Family: The book begins by exploring Eugene’s lineage, tracing his ancestry back to early New England settlers. It recounts the story of his father’s first love affair and subsequent annulment, providing insight into the family’s complex history. The narrative then delves into Eugene’s childhood, marked by the early loss of his mother and his upbringing in a loving but strict environment in New England.
  • Education and Early Career: Eugene’s academic experiences are explored, revealing his lack of interest in conventional schooling and his preference for pursuing his own passions. He dabbles in different professions, including acting and journalism, before settling into a career as a reporter in St. Louis and Kansas City.
  • Life in Denver: This section focuses on Field’s time as managing editor of the Denver Tribune, where he fully embraces the wild and boisterous life of the frontier. The book details numerous anecdotes highlighting his love of mischief and practical jokes, his friendships with prominent figures of the time, and his clashes with the established order.
  • Coming to Chicago: Field’s arrival in Chicago marks a significant turning point in his life and career. It’s here that he begins to develop his unique literary voice and style. The book explores his interactions with prominent Chicagoans, his social life, and his growing interest in literature and the world of books.
  • The Influence of Horace and Father Prout: A crucial part of the story involves Field’s meeting with Dr. Frank W. Reilly, a close friend who introduces him to the works of Horace and Father Prout. This encounter sparks Field’s love for classical literature and influences his writing style.

View on Life:

  • The Importance of Laughter: Field deeply believed in the power of laughter and humor to illuminate life’s complexities. He saw it as a vital tool for exposing pretension, challenging authority, and finding joy in the ordinary.
  • A Love for Humanity: Field possessed a deep affection for all people, especially children. He believed in celebrating the simple things in life, recognizing the beauty and wonder that exists even in the mundane. His work reflects a genuine interest in understanding the human experience, with all its contradictions and complexities.
  • Embracing the Contradictions of Life: Field embraced the contradictions of life, both in his personal life and in his writing. He saw humor as a way to reconcile seemingly opposing views and to create a deeper understanding of the human condition.


  • The Annulment of Eugene Field’s Father’s Marriage: The story of his father’s hasty marriage and its subsequent annulment provides a glimpse into the passionate and often unpredictable nature of relationships and family dynamics.
  • Field’s Escape from the Sabbath: Eugene’s childhood experiences with the strict observance of the Sabbath in New England left a lasting impression on him, shaping his views on religion and societal norms.
  • His European Adventure: Field’s journey across Europe was a whirlwind of travel and extravagance, revealing his impulsive nature and his struggle with money management.
  • His Time in Denver: Field’s life in Denver was a riot of fun, mischief, and social encounters, offering an illuminating portrait of the frontier spirit and its clash with the complexities of modern life.


  • Financial Struggles: Field’s carefree and generous spirit often left him in a precarious financial position. He had a difficult time managing money and frequently found himself facing debts and financial pressures.
  • Ill-Health: Chronic dyspepsia and other health issues plagued Field throughout his life. These challenges forced him to make changes to his lifestyle and sometimes limited his ability to fully enjoy life.
  • The Pursuit of Literary Recognition: Field struggled to gain recognition as a serious writer during his early career. He was often overshadowed by his reputation as a prankster and a humorist.


  • Field’s Conflict with the Established Order: Field frequently challenged the status quo, mocking those in positions of power and authority and celebrating the quirks of everyday life. He sought to expose hypocrisy and to elevate the ordinary over the pretentious.


The book is a chronological exploration of Eugene Field’s life, starting with his lineage and following his journey through childhood, education, early career, and his eventual rise to literary success in Chicago. Key milestones include:

  • The annulment of his father’s first marriage
  • His early exposure to the strictures of Puritan life
  • His adventures in Europe and his struggles with money
  • His time as managing editor of the Denver Tribune
  • His move to Chicago and his friendship with Dr. Frank W. Reilly
  • His embrace of Horace and Father Prout
  • His eventual literary success with the publication of “A Little Book of Western Verse” and “A Little Book of Profitable Tales”

Point of View:

The author presents a first-person perspective, sharing his own personal memories of Field and his time working with him in Chicago. The text also includes numerous anecdotes and insights from other individuals who knew Field. This multi-faceted point of view provides a rich and textured portrait of Eugene Field, revealing his multifaceted personality and the diverse opinions people had of him.

How It’s Written:

The book is written in a conversational and engaging style, filled with anecdotes and humor. The author utilizes a blend of historical accounts, personal reminiscences, and carefully crafted stories to bring Eugene Field to life. An example of Field’s writing style is seen in his description of a Welsh rabbit: “a staying quality as well as the pleasing aspect of a Welsh rabbit”. This witty description reflects his ability to find humor in the ordinary and his knack for turning a simple phrase into something memorable.


The tone of the book is largely celebratory and appreciative, but also includes moments of critical analysis and reflection. The author seems to admire Field’s unique personality and his achievements as a writer, while also acknowledging his flaws and complexities.

Life Choices:

  • Field’s unconventional choice to embrace humor and mischief: He actively chose to make life into a grand spectacle, even if that meant defying societal norms and challenging expectations. He found joy in the simple things and believed that life was meant to be enjoyed, not just endured.
  • Field’s dedication to his family: Despite his financial struggles and his own personal challenges, Field was deeply devoted to his wife and children. His writing is filled with tenderness and affection, showcasing his love for his family.


  • The Power of Laughter: Field’s life and work remind us that laughter can be a powerful force for good. It can heal wounds, expose hypocrisy, and bring people together. He shows us that finding humor in even the most difficult situations can make life more bearable and more meaningful.
  • Embracing the Joy of Simple Things: Field teaches us to appreciate the simple pleasures of life, like spending time with loved ones, finding beauty in nature, and indulging in a good book. He reminds us that true joy can often be found in the ordinary moments of life, not just in the grand events.


  • Eugene Field: A brilliant and unconventional writer, poet, and journalist. He was known for his sharp wit, his love for practical jokes, his devotion to his family, and his fondness for children. He had a deep appreciation for laughter and believed in finding joy in the every day.
  • Roswell Martin Field: Eugene’s father, a highly regarded lawyer and a prominent figure in St. Louis. He was a man of great intellect and a staunch believer in social justice.
  • Melvin L. Gray: Eugene’s guardian and a close family friend, providing guidance and support throughout his life.
  • Julia Sutherland Comstock: Eugene’s wife, a loving and patient partner who supported his unconventional ways.
  • Dr. Frank W. Reilly: A close friend and confidant, introducing Field to the works of Horace and Father Prout.
  • John F. Ballantyne: The managing editor of the Chicago Morning News, known for his strict editorial standards.


  • The Importance of Family: Family bonds and relationships are a central theme in Field’s life and work. His writing often explores themes of childhood, parenthood, and the special connection between parents and children.
  • Finding Joy in the Ordinary: Field celebrates the small, everyday things in life, showcasing the beauty and wonder that can be found in the mundane. He encourages readers to appreciate the simple things and to find joy in the simple acts of living.
  • The Power of Humor: Humor is not just a tool for entertainment; Field uses it as a way to challenge authority, to expose hypocrisy, and to connect with readers on a deeper level. He demonstrates the importance of laughter as a means to navigate the complexities of life.


  • Living an Authentic Life: Field lived a life guided by his own passions and convictions, defying social expectations and embracing his true self.
  • Celebrating the Human Spirit: He believed in the inherent goodness and resilience of humanity. He valued the unique qualities of individuals and cherished the diversity of human experiences.


  • Eugene Field: Field’s intention as a writer was to bring joy and laughter to the world. He wanted to entertain, to inspire, and to make people think in new ways.
  • The Author: The author’s intention is to provide a balanced and insightful portrait of Eugene Field, revealing his complexity and depth beyond his published work.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “The Good Knight”: Field frequently used this title to refer to himself, often in humorous and self-deprecating ways.
  • “Sawing Wood”: He used this phrase to describe his daily newspaper work, often with a playful sense of self-deprecation.
  • “Special Rates”: This phrase is used in reference to Field’s practice of charging his friends reduced rates for his books and manuscripts.


  • The Story of the “Awful Bugaboo”: Field’s use of the Bugaboo as a playful character in his writings reflects his fascination with children’s imaginations and his skill in creating memorable characters.
  • The Story of “‘Possum Jim”: This anecdote highlights Field’s ability to find humor in everyday situations and his genuine affection for those less fortunate.
  • The Story of the “Good Fellow and a Thoroughbred”: This story portrays Field’s willingness to challenge authority and his love for a good prank.


  • The importance of finding joy in life: Field believed that life was meant to be enjoyed, not just endured. His work reflects his belief that laughter and humor can play a vital role in helping us to navigate the complexities of life.
  • The power of literature: Field recognized the transformative power of books and literature. He believed that literature could inspire, educate, and broaden our understanding of the world.
  • The beauty of childhood: Field saw children as a source of wonder and innocence. He sought to capture the magic of childhood in his writing and to remind adults of the simple joys of life.

Facts and Findings:

  • Field’s ancestry: The book provides detailed information about Eugene Field’s family history, tracing his lineage back to early New England settlers.
  • Field’s education: The book explores Field’s experiences at three different universities, showcasing his lack of interest in conventional schooling and his pursuit of his own unique path.
  • Field’s financial struggles: The book offers a candid look at Field’s financial difficulties, highlighting his struggles with managing money and his frequent reliance on the generosity of others.


  • The book provides statistics about the size of Chicago and the number of cattle and hogs received in the city in the 1880s. These statistics help to contextualize the time period and Field’s experience living in a rapidly growing city.

Points of View:

The book is written from the perspective of the author, a journalist who worked with Eugene Field in Chicago. The author offers his personal insights into Field’s personality and work, as well as those of others who knew Field. This multi-faceted point of view provides a rich and nuanced portrait of Eugene Field.


The book offers a unique perspective on Eugene Field, revealing him as more than just a humorist or a journalist. The author explores Field’s complexity, his struggles, and his triumphs, showcasing his true genius and his lasting legacy.

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