Harold Frederic’s novel met, for the most part, with favorable
critical reception upon its publication in 1896. A selection of
contemporaneous reviews by fellow authors, journalists, and critics
is provided below to give readers an appreciation of the literary
atmosphere in which Frederic’s novel appeared. Following
this glimpse of the late-1890s zeitgeist is a summary of the more
than four dozen reviews published in 1896 and a list of journals
in which one can find contemporaneous reviews of The Damnation
of Theron Ware. Lastly are excerpts from three 1960s reviews
of reprinted editions of the novel, which ushered in a resurgence
of popularity for Frederic’s novels.
Here, as in other portions of my project, I owe a debt of gratitude
to Thomas F. O’Donnell, Stanton Garner, and Robert H. Woodward
for their compilation of reviews in A Bibliography of Writings
By and About Harold Frederic (Boston, MA: G. K. Hall, 1975).
Howells, William Dean. “My Favorite Novelist and His Best
Book.” Munsey’s Magazine 17 (Apr. 1897):
28. Rpt. in W. D. Howells as Critic. Ed. Edwin H. Cady.
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973. 268-30.
American novelist, editor, critic, and poet William Dean Howells
lists The Damnation of Theron Ware among his favorite
books. Howells’ comment on Frederic’s novel is often
quoted by critics: “I was particularly interested in the
book, for when you get to the end, although you have carried a
hazy notion in your mind of the sort of man Ware was, you fully
realize, for the first time, that the author has never for a moment
represented him anywhere to you as a good or honest man, or as
anything but a very selfish man” (qtd. in Cady 278).
“Four New Novels.” Atlantic 78 (Aug. 1896):
The unidentified critic writes, “This minister, Theron
Ware, with his ambition and his immaturity, is partially introduced
[in the opening chapters]; at least so the reader comes to think
afterward, for on looking back, at the end of the story, he is
reminded of the rather slight intimations given of Theron’s
native character before it is brought to the test” (270).
The critic praises Frederic’s depiction of Reverend Ware
as “a task performed with unusual skill” and the depiction
of Father Forbes as convincing. However, the critic argues that
“in the half-sketch of Dr. Ledsmar there is too much left
for [. . . readers] to guess” and the characterization of
Celia Madden is a “distortion of nature.” The character
of Michael Madden, on the other hand, is “admirably drawn,”
as are the “highly entertaining” Soulsbys. “Theron
Ware damns himself,” argues the critic, while the trio “seem
to get off scot-free” (272). (For an electronic version
of this review, click
here for link.)
Peck, Harry Thurston. Bookman 3 (June 1896): 351-52.
---. “A Literary Event and its Significance.” Cosmopolitan
21 (August 1896): 438-39.
American classicist, poet, writer, and translator Harry Thurston
Peck wrote two reviews of Frederic’s novel. The first untitled
review claims The Damnation of Theron Ware “is
distinctly a great novel,” but that the author “borrowed
the theme that forms the central motive from Robert Elsmere.”
In the later review, Peck writes, Frederic’s “vivid,
strong, and masterful delineation of a corner of American life
as it actually is—the good and the bad, the fine and the
crude, the enlightened and the ignorant—in one finely drawn,
consistent picture imbued with penetrating power” makes
The Damnation of Theron Ware “a literary event
of very great importance” (qtd. in O’Donnell, et al.
Waugh, Arthur. “London Letter.” Critic N.S.
25 (2 May 1896): 316.
English publisher, editor, and critic Arthur Waugh argues that
The Damnation of Theron Ware is one of the best books
of the year: “Were it not for a few blemishes, and those
removable, [it] ought to be called a masterpiece” (qtd.
in O’Donnell, et al. 176).
Zangwill, Israel. “Men, Women and Books. Mr. Frederic’s
‘Illumination.’” Critic N.S.
26 (12 Sept. 1896): 156.
English author and Jewish leader Israel Zangwill judges Frederic’s
novel as “not only a good novel, but a good novel of the
best kind.” While Zangwill expresses slight discontent with
the depictions of Celia Madden and Alice Ware, he praises the
sketches of the Methodist society, the Soulsbys, and Jeremiah
Madden as “memorable” (qtd. in O’Donnell, et
Payne, William Morton. “Recent Fiction.” Dial
20 (1 June 1896): 336.
Critic, teacher, translator, and Associate Editor of the Chicago
Dial from 1892 to 1915, William Morton Payne describes The
Damnation of Theron Ware as “one of the most striking
and impressive novels of the year, or of several years,”
with its title character the subject of “one of the subtlest
studies of moral disintegration that have been made” (qtd.
in O’Donnell, et al. 176-77).
Hutton, Laurence. “Literary Notes.” Harper’s
93 (Sept. 1896): Supplement 3-4.
Author and critic Laurence Hutton compares The Damnation
of Theron Ware to Robert Elsmere: “Ware would have
worked out the serious problems of his life if Mr. Elsmere had
never existed.” Hutton concludes, however, that Theron Ware
is an “original creation” (qtd. in O’Donnell,
et al. 177).
Bridges, Robert [“Droch”]. “A Letter to a Gibson
Girl.” Life 27 (28 May 1896): 442.
American journalist, poet, and Scribner’s Magazine
editor Robert Bridges, who wrote under the nom de plume “Droch,”
claims, “The novel is a remarkable piece of what is called
realism, and shows the degeneration of a certain kind of flabby,
masculine mind when brought in contact with an advanced modern
woman of a rather unusual type” (qtd. in O’Donnell,
et al. 178).
Porter, Charlotte. “Notes on Recent Fiction.” Poet-lore
8 (Aug. 1896): 459-61.
Editor of Shakespeariana, Charlotte Porter characterizes
Frederic’s writing method as “impressionistic”
and “‘up-to-date’ [. . .] in that it is so shiftily
based on an element in life peculiarly appreciated by the modern
mind—relativity” (qtd. in O’Donnell, et al.
Mabie, Hamilton W. “Some Estimates of the Year’s Literary
Output.” Review of Reviews 14 (Dec. 1896): 742.
Author and critic Hamilton W. Mabie writes, The Damnation
of Theron Ware’s “popularity is easily explicable;
it is unconventional in matter, direct and forcible in style,
and it deals with material of no common kind.” While the
novel is “full of energy, vitality and originality,”
it is “not free from crudity and a certain coarseness of
method which jars the nerves of the reader” (qtd. in O’Donnell,
et al. 182).
Johnston, Charles. “The True American Spirit in Literature.”
Atlantic Monthly 86 (July 1899): 29-35.
Critic and journalist Charles Johnston criticizes American novelists
writing in Europe in general and Frederic’s novel in particular
for its “religious atmosphere” and “higher culture,”
or treatment of aristocracy. Johnston claims that there is no
place in the American spirit for such elements. He concludes,
however, that Frederic “has written one of the very best
stories in the American spirit, which one could very well use,
to show how new and how excellent that spirit is” (33).
(For an electronic version of this essay where Frederic is mentioned
only briefly, click
here for link.)
A Bibliography of Writings By and About Harold Frederic
lists 51 contemporaneous reviews of Frederic’s novel. Of
these, 55 percent are clearly favorable. Critics have judged The
Damnation of Theron Ware as “a great novel,”
“the strongest book of the year” (Bookman
[New York], June 1896; Nov. 1896), and “a literary event
of very great importance” (Critic, 25 Apr 1896).
The London Daily Chronicle describes Frederic as “a
man born to write fiction,” “a keen observer, a genuine
humorist, a thinker always original and sometimes even profound,”
and “a man who has thoroughly learned the use of his own
pen” (Third Edition, May 1896).
Another 41 percent of the reviews are either mixed or neutral.
Critics claim The Damnation of Theron Ware is “a
great novel, though inconsistent in its presentment of the principal
woman’s character” (Edinburgh Review, April
1898); not really a “good novel,” but it is a “clever
work,” “original and full of pictures of ways of life
with which [. . . readers] on this side of the Atlantic are not
familiar” (London Morning Post, 18 Apr. 1896).
Celia Madden’s characterization is “brilliant but
unconvincing,” whereas that of Sister Soulsby is a “triumph”
(London Daily News, 29 Apr. 1896).
Only 4 percent of the contemporaneous reviews are decidedly
negative in tone. The Nation’s critic complains
that the novel “leads nowhither” (3 Sept. 1896). The
Independent’s critic writes, The Damnation
of Theron Ware is “a rehash of what has become offensively
stale in recent English fiction. [. . . After] the note of illicit
love is struck, [. . .] the story is neither original nor interesting.
Theron Ware shrivels into a mere nymphomaniac, dancing a lust-dance
around a handsome and soulless Irish girl; and the whole story
becomes an insipid echo of a hundred and one French and English
novels of the past decade” (4 June 1896).
Following is a list of the journals in which Frederic’s
contemporaneous reviews can be found. Most of the reviews of The
Damnation of Theron Ware appeared in print between March
and December 1896.
Academy (4 July 1896)
Athenaeum (21 March 1896)
Atlantic (August 1896)
Beacon (date unknown)
Bookman [London] (August 1896)
Bookman [New York] (June; November 1896)
Chicago Evening Journal (18 April 1896)
Chicago Evening Post (date unknown)
Cleveland World (date unknown)
Cosmopolitan (August 1896)
Critic (25 April; 2 May; 2 May; 12 September 1896)
Current Literature (July 1896)
Dial (1 June 1896)
Edinburgh Review (April 1896)
Godey’s Lady’s Book (July 1896)
Harper’s (September 1896)
Independent (4 June 1896; 4 June 1896)
Life (28 May 1896)
Literary Digest (30 May 1896)
Literary News (May 1896)
London Daily Chronicle, Third Edition (1 May 1896; date
London Daily News (29 April 1896)
London Daily Telegraph (date unknown)
London Morning Post (18 April 1896)
Manchester Guardian (14 May 1896)
Methodist Times [London] (28 May 1896)
Munsey’s Magazine (June 1896)
Nation (3 September 1896)
Daily Picayune [New Orleans] (13 April 1896)
New York Times (26 April; 29 April 1896)
New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art (14 November;
5 December 1896; 14 January 1899
Nineteenth Century (November 1896)
Overland Monthly (August 1896)
Pall Mall Gazette (2 April 1896)
Poet-lore (August 1896)
Public Opinion (21 May 1896)
Review of Reviews (July; December 1896)
Saturday Review [London] (21 March 1896)
Spectator (4 April 1896)
St. James Gazette (date unknown)
Westminster Gazette (date unknown)
The review published in the San Francisco Sunday Chronicle
is favorable: The Damnation of Theron Ware is “one
of the ‘lost classics’ in our literature” (qtd.
in O’Donnell, et al. 183). The review published in Modern
Language Review is mixed: “The novel is much more than
a period piece, even though Celia Madden’s estheticism is
mishandled. Variants in usage between the American and English
texts provide an interesting study in language differences at
the time” (O’Donnell, et al. 183). The review published
in the San Jose Mercury-News is negative: “It seems
to us now like a novel in which innocence is too much like ignorance,
the scientific spirit too niggling, sex—however much it
shocked 1890s readers—too tepid and the church too hide-bound”
(qtd. in O’Donnell, et al. 183).
Modern Language Review (October 1961)
San Francisco Sunday Chronicle, This World (18 September
San Jose Mercury-News [California] (30 October 1960)