Authors: Harold Frederic

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist, short-story writer, and journalist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Seth’s Brother’s Wife: A Study of Life in the Greater New York, 1887

In the Valley, 1890

The Lawton Girl, 1890

The Return of the O’Mahony, 1892

The Copperhead, 1893

Mrs. Albert Grundy: Observations in Philistia, 1896

The Damnation of Theron Ware, 1896

March Hares, 1896 (as George Forth)

Gloria Mundi, 1898

The Market Place, 1899

Short Fiction:

The Copperhead, and Other Stories of the North During the American War, 1894

Marsena, and Other Stories of the Wartime, 1894

In the Sixties, 1897

The Deserter, and Other Stories: A Book of Two Wars, 1898

Stories of York State, 1966 (Thomas F. O’Donnell, editor)


The Young Emperor William II of Germany: A Study in Character Development on a Throne, 1891

The New Exodus: A Study of Israel in Russia, 1892


If, as Harold Frederic scholar Thomas F. O’Donnell points out, Pulitzer Prizes had been awarded in the late 1880’s and 1890’s, Frederic would certainly have been a strong contender for at least three of them. One of America’s first and most successful foreign correspondents, he would not have been impressed to be honored for reportage, but he would have warmed to recognition as the author of The Damnation of Theron Ware, which was hailed as the novel of the year 1896 by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Frederic never won a prize for his journalism or his novels, however, and despite the bold marks he left on both Gilded Age America and late nineteenth century Europe–which he knew better than any other American of his generation–he was all but forgotten soon after his death at the age of forty-two.{$I[AN]9810000219}{$I[A]Frederic, Harold}{$S[A]Forth, George;Frederic, Harold}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Frederic, Harold}{$I[tim]1856;Frederic, Harold}

Harold Frederic

(Library of Congress)

Frederic was the son of Henry deMotte Frederic, who died when his son was only eighteen months old. Young Frederic experienced a poverty-stricken boyhood. Starting as an office boy for the Utica Observer, however, he progressed rapidly in the newspaper world and became editor-in-chief of the Albany Evening Journal in 1882. Two years later he joined the staff of The New York Times as London correspondent and never returned to the United States. Although Frederic remained typically American, not caring greatly for European culture and never bothering to learn a foreign language, he became an extremely efficient European reporter. He made a trip through the cholera-stricken areas of southern France and Italy, in which he wrote extensively on what he saw, and in 1891 he went to Russia to investigate the persecution of the Jews. The result of that trip was The New Exodus: A Study of Israel in Russia. The bitterness with which he reported the situation caused him thereafter to be virtually excluded from Russia. Like other journalists of the period, he became interested in the personality of William II and wrote a study of that controversial monarch.

In addition to his journalistic reporting, Frederic produced ten volumes of fiction. He wrote carelessly and hurriedly, sometimes as much as four thousand words a day. His early books were local color novels of the Mohawk Valley region; he then turned to historical novels of the American Revolution and the Civil War (The Copperhead), treating his materials with more realism than was common at the time.

His one important novel, and the only one that continues to be read, is The Damnation of Theron Ware, which had considerable influence on subsequent American fiction, particularly on the work of Sinclair Lewis, who refers to it in Main Street as a favorite of his heroine. In this novel Frederic incorporated two themes that were further developed by later writers: the cultural barrenness of the American small town and the hypocrisy of much of American Protestantism. The novel is an ancestor of both Main Street and Elmer Gantry. Frederic shocked many readers when he made his pathetic hero a Methodist minister, but he shrewdly grasped the weakness of a large segment of the American Protestantism of his time, its narrow-mindedness and its lip service to moral platitudes. Theron Ware, a product of this starved environment, catches, through the Roman Catholic members of his community, a glimpse of a world beyond that of the American small town, yet his heritage debars him from entering this world and brings him to ruin when he tries to do so. In this study of the last stages of Puritanism, Frederic took an important step away from the popular romantic fiction of his day toward a more realistic treatment of American life.

After decades of neglect, a new period of reassessment of Frederic’s work began in the 1960’s. In 1963 Stanton Garner began organizing the Harold Frederic Edition, which began to produce scholarly texts of Frederic’s novels, correspondence, and other writings.

BibliographyBennett, Bridget. The Damnation of Harold Frederic: His Lives and Works. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1997. A scholarly biography with a separate chapter on The Damnation of Theron Ware. Includes a chronology, detailed notes, and extensive bibliography.Briggs, Austin, Jr. The Novels of Harold Frederic. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969. A thorough study of Frederic’s novels, this book is mostly literary criticism, with a chapter on each of the major novels, a bibliography, and an index.Garner, Stanton. Harold Frederic. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. This short pamphlet is a good general introduction, touching on biography and major works, but has no room for details.Myers, Robert M. Reluctant Expatriate: The Life of Harold Frederic. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. The preface provides a succinct overview of the state of Frederic’s reputation. Includes very useful notes and bibliography.O’Donnell, Thomas F., and Hoyt C. Franchere. Harold Frederic. New York: Twayne, 1961. The first book-length study of Frederic, this book is valuable for its annotated bibliography, a chronology of his life and writings, and an index.O’Donnell, Thomas F., Stanton Garner, and Robert H. Woodward, eds. A Bibliography of Writings by and About Harold Frederic. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1975. A comprehensive listing of material on Frederic, this bibliography is the place for all students of Frederic to begin their research. Lists all of his works as well as articles and books, both popular and scholarly, about his works.
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