Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Octavius. Fictional 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...

(The entire section is 770 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Higher Criticism

The “higher criticism” that Forbes and Ledsmar are so familiar with in the novel refers to a...

(The entire section is 537 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)


Ware thinks he is becoming enlightened through his contact with Forbes and Celia, an idea that is...

(The entire section is 384 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1880s–1890s: From May to October of 1893, an estimated 27 million people attend Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition (World...

(The entire section is 228 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

When The Damnation of Theron Ware was first published in England, the title was Illumination. Based on the content of the plot...

(The entire section is 210 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Several critics have noted the close affinity between The Damnation of Theron Ware and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet...

(The entire section is 227 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)


Carter, Everett, “Introduction,” in The Damnation of Theron Ware, Harvard University Press/Belknap...

(The entire section is 356 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Briggs, 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.