Places: The Damnation of Theron Ware

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1896

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1890’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedOctavius

Octavius. Damnation of Theron Ware, TheFictional small town in the Mohawk Valley of New York State based loosely on Harold Frederic’s hometown of Utica in the same region. There the young Methodist minister Theron Ware is given his first congregation. Octavius proves to be both a disappointment and an opportunity for Theron Ware. He is disappointed in not being posted to the larger and more prosperous town of Tecumseh but is grateful to leave the provincial village of Tyre behind him. Octavius represents an opportunity for him to develop his talents on a bigger stage. However, in Octavius Theron confronts both an ultraconservative congregation and the unorthodox opinions of the Irish Catholic Celia Madden, the Roman Catholic priest Father Forbes, and Dr. Ledsmar. Octavius develops into a battleground for Theron’s soul, as he faces puzzling and unsettling temptations from each of his three new acquaintances.

Celia Madden’s chamber

Celia Madden’s chamber. Celia’s “sacred chamber” is her bedroom and sitting room. Furnished with nude statuary, paintings of the Madonna and Child, candles, and flowing draperies, her chamber reflects her “Greek” philosophy and sense of the exotic and beautiful. The room also intensifies the heady pleasure that Theron finds with Celia. She intoxicates him with her beauty, with her liberated philosophy of life, and with the emotional intensity of Frédéric Chopin’s music.

Forbes’s home

Forbes’s home. Roman Catholic church and rectory in Octavius. Theron compares his role as a Protestant minister with Father Forbes’s role as a Catholic priest. Forbes is a patrician autocrat, in command, living in luxury, and idolized by his female parishioners. He leaves parishioners waiting for hours while, in contrast, Theron is always at the disposal of his congregation. In his dining room, the priest sits in a circle of light, surrounded by wine, candles, and books. His erudition, sophistication, and cynicism offer Theron an appealing alternative view of religious callings.

Ledsmar’s home

Ledsmar’s home. Dr. Ledsmar’s cluttered home on the outskirts of Octavius reflects his prolific intellectual explorations, as well as his skepticism and amorality. No experiment goes beyond the purview of scientific curiosity, not even the experiment on a “Chinaman” to see how much opium he can tolerate. Ledsmar’s home on the fringes of society houses wide-ranging experiments on such subjects as plants and lizards. Like his home, Ledsmar is nonconformist and beyond the reach of the town’s constraints.

Theron Ware’s parsonage and church

Theron Ware’s parsonage and church. Small parsonage, church, and gardens in Octavius. In comparison with the homes of Celia, Father Forbes, and Dr. Ledsmar, Theron finds his home stultifying. After visiting Celia’s chamber, he sees his own home as “bare and squalid” and “offensive to the nostrils.” His home is the scene of meetings with tight-fisted trustees, an unimaginative and unsophisticated wife, a meager bookshelf, and wretched singing.

In another contrast, Alice’s garden each day grows more beautiful with flowers and plants donated by the lawyer and church trustee Levi Gorringe, whom Theron sees as competing for Alice’s affection. Even enduring the professional fundraiser with the Soulsbys in his own church makes him physically ill. Theron’s home painfully reminds him of everything he thinks is wrong with his life–his marriage, his limited scholarship, and his ministerial calling. After being exposed to the ideas of his new acquaintances, everything about his life appears desiccated and paltry.

Woods outside Octavius

Woods outside Octavius. Site of a Methodist camp meeting and a Catholic picnic. Religious fervor intensifies Theron’s emotions, and he deserts the strictures of the Methodists for a ramble in the woods. The Catholic picnic he attends, with its revelries and beer tent, contrasts with the more sober and somber festivities of his own straitlaced religion. As he meets with Celia in the privacy of the woods, high on a hill above the picnic, seemingly removed from the constraints of his life, he kisses her.

*New York City

*New York City. At the end of the novel, Theron descends into the confusing and occasionally hellish world of New York City in pursuit of Celia and Father Forbes. He is unfamiliar with the landscape and the world of trains, hack drivers, and hotels. Nevertheless, he confidently imagines that Celia loves him, that he has escaped detection, and that everyone drinks claret for breakfast. Eventually, however, Theron’s adventures in New York expose him as an inexperienced provincial minister who has deluded himself into thinking that he is a sophisticate. After Celia rejects and ridicules him, New York becomes the site of his deepest disillusionment.

BibliographyBriggs, Austin, Jr. The Novels of Harold Frederic. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969. A starting point for any discussion of the novel. While considering Frederic’s work as a whole, it considers sources for, influences on, and critical reactions to the novel.MacFarlane, Lisa Watt. “Resurrecting Man: Desire and The Damnation of Theron Ware.” Studies in American Fiction 20, no. 2 (Fall, 1992): 127-143. Focuses on “the convergence of gender and religion” in the novel and argues that Frederic uses Theron as a transitional or mediating figure for the evolving roles of women in society.Michelson, Bruce. “Theron Ware in the Wilderness of Ideas.” American Literary Realism, 1870-1910 25, no. 1 (Fall, 1992): 54-73. Focuses on the place and especially the time in which the action takes place. Argues that the novel uses Theron’s character to express the particular difficulties of maintaining identity in the turmoil of the age.O’Donnell, Thomas F., and Hoyt C. Franchere. “The Damnation of Theron Ware.” In Harold Frederic. New York: Twayne, 1961. A chapter in a standard biography of Frederic, this study places the novel in the context of the author’s life and offers a general critical analysis.Oehlschlaeger, Fritz. “Passion, Authority, and Faith in The Damnation of Theron Ware.” American Literature 58, no. 2 (May, 1986): 238-255. While emphasizing the sociological and gender themes of the novel, Oehlschlaeger argues that the novel focuses on the breakdown of traditional authorities in the late nineteenth century.
Categories: Places