Just as lesbians Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas had their sophisticated salon, so too did Annie Adams Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett. Both Fields and Jewett were lovely ladies, well educated in the classics and literature. If anything, Fields was the better educated and, in many respects, the better poet. Fields did not, however, write a great deal, fewer than 100 poems, so she is just not as well known.
Annie Adams Fields – Mrs. Fields, the Literary Agent’s Wife
Annie Fields and Sarah Jewett met because Annie’s husband was the literary editor for Atlantic magazine, which published many of Sarah Orne Jewett’s stories. Since Mr. Fields relied heavily on Mrs. Field’s instinct for literature, it is possible that Annie Adams Fields is the one who truly discovered Sarah Jewett.
At any rate, after the death of Mr. Fields, Annie and Sarah became inseparable, living, playing, entertaining as a pair, creating what is termed a “Boston marriage”. It was likely Annie’s influence that created their literary salon and brought in such luminaries as Willa Cather, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Greenleaf Whittier.
Their sexual relationship was never made explicit; it simply seemed to be the accepted practice that two ladies might live together. That love existed is not in doubt. While Annie no doubt had feelings of love for Jewett, and for women in general, by all outside appearances she was a proper Victorian lady.
Annie Fields – The Poet
Annie Field’s poems are gentle, as were Jewett’s. She draws a good deal from her classical knowledge and appreciation for natural beauty, as in this poem titled “A Falling Star”:
Behold, she said, a falling star!
I followed where her vision led,
And saw no meteor near or far,
So swiftly sank the lustre dead.
In silvery moonlight stood she there,
Whiter than silver gleamed her hand,
And gleaming shone her yellow hair,
While dusky shadows filled the land.
She seemed a slender flickering shape,
Framed in the blackness of the porch:
How should a child of night escape,
A foolish moth that loves the torch!
Out of my dusk I came to her;
Voices were stilled anear, afar;
I stood there lost, her worshiper:
She only saw the falling star.
There is another very lovely poem describing how she came upon the statue of Aphrodite, alone in a cave by the ocean. It is called “Aphrodite of Melos”. Here is a small section from that poem:
He, the god, had gone!
Long ago dead and gone!
But near where he had lain,
Above his head,
There stood the marble form
Of Aphrodite the victorious;
Safe from all storm,
Safe from earth’s pain,
Supreme and glorious!
Fearful I gazed, then whispered,
“Sleep is fled!
Why did she vanish not with the ancient world,
Where love and beauty lie with garlands furled,
Floating together down oblivion’s tide!
How useless are they all, what joy or pride
Lives now for us in antique god or fame!”
Long, long I gazed upon that wondrous shape;
I could not sleep, she would not let me stay,
But ever whispered to my soul, “Away,
New heights for thee to climb;
Linger not thus to ape
The longing and the honey-dropping tones
Of that forgotten time!
What a beautiful encounter — the striking figure of Aphrodite (aka Venus de Milo), alone, in a cave, with a message for her guest.
I wish that Annie Adams Fields had written more love poetry. She was really quite good. More typically her time was devoted to biographicals and editing. She even edited Jewett’s work. But pure Annie Fields is a delight.