The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic, originally published by Stone and Kimball, original © 1896.
Harold Frederic, 1856-1898, photographer, journalist, and author, son of Presbyterians, practicing their religion in the churches of Methodists, growing up among immigrant Catholics in upstate New York, adopted a skeptical view of all religions in adulthood. He lived an idiosyncratic life as an unbuttoned, avant-garde individualist, stating near his untimely end in 1897, “I live wholly to myself because I like to live an unshackled life…”. In 1884 he moved to London, bringing along his wife, Grace, and their 5 children, working as a correspondent of the New York Times. He later set up a second household in London with his mistress, Kate Lyon and had 3 additional children by her. His premature death in 1898 left both families in financial difficulty.
Frederic wrote 10 novels, 23 short stories, 2 volumes of non-fiction, and countless newspaper articles over his short life time, but he did not achieve critical acclaim until the publication of his seventh novel: The Damnation of Theron Ware in 1896. Two other novels followed, Gloria Mundi and The Market Place, cementing his legacy as an accomplished author, on par with, but better known, contemporaries Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Henry James, and Stephen Crane. The posthumously published, The Market Place, was a financial success, alleviating his family’s financial duress.
The Damnation of Theron Ware, likely not autobiographical, but certainly expanding on the author’s experiences growing up in Utica, New York, is a story of a young, naive, married Methodist preacher: Theron Ware, who is posted by his bishop, to a small, conservative, poor congregation in a fictional town in the very real and ancient hills and forests of upstate New York.
Through his witnessing of an Irish worker’s fatal injury, he is innocently introduced to a beautiful, intelligent, but wild, Irish-Catholic young woman named Celia. This encounter sets off a series of faith questioning episodes with this woman and her friends: a priest and a cynical and urbane Catholic scientist; accelerating the protestant minister onto the fast, yet short, road to perdition. His ensuing infatuation with Celia separates him from his wife. His education at the hands of the Catholic trio separates him from his faith and church. His conversion to religion without god and comprehension separates him from the Catholic trio or more precisely, the Catholics separate from him.
His innocence is gone but his education is incomplete. He is damned. He concludes that his salvation lies in politics.