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The Damnation of Theron Ware

Harold Frederic


Theron Ware is a young Methodist pastor raised in a strict religious tradition and without much of a worldly education. As his career begins, he quickly finds himself reassigned to a congregation in Octavius, a small town in the Adirondacks. As Ware and his wife settle into their new roles in small-town America, he meets Celia, a young girl fascinated by music, poetry, and literature—and he quickly finds himself struggling with both carnal temptation, and the world of experience outside of religion.

The Damnation of Theron Ware (published in the U.K. as Illumination) is Frederic’s most famous novel. Its realistic style—Frederic modeled the fictional Octavius after Utica, New York—paints a nuanced portrait of the small-town American religious life of the era. It was received very positively, becoming the fifth best-selling book in the U.S. in 1896 with outfits like the Chicago Tribune saying that “it is a book which every one must read who wishes to hold his own in popular literary discussions.” It garnered literary allusions in works like Main Street; like Main Street, The Damnation of Theron Ware skewers small-town life, but unlike Main Street, its primary focus is religion. It also earned a mention from F. Scott Fitzgerald, who in a letter wrote that he once considered it the best American novel.

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