A general theory is developed to identify the influence of local dipole fields on fluorescence and intermolecular electronic excitation transfer. The analysis, based on electrodynamical principles, identifies the fundamental quantum mechanisms and delivers full analytical results. The aim is to afford new physical insights, assisting the interpretation of measurements on the specific effects of local molecular dipoles on direct fluorescence and on fluorescence resonance energy transfer. Dipole field effects, which include those originating from intrinsically polar chromophores and surface field gradients, also prove to be manifest in electronic transitions of quadrupole symmetry character. The results have particular significance for fluorescence studies of cell membrane biophysics.