Harold Frederic Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207080-Frederic.jpg Harold Frederic Published by Salem Press, Inc.

If, as Harold Frederic scholar Thomas F. O’Donnell points out, Pulitzer Prizes had been awarded in the late 1880’s and 1890’s, Frederic would certainly have been a strong contender for at least three of them. One of America’s first and most successful foreign correspondents, he would not have been impressed to be honored for reportage, but he would have warmed to recognition as the author of The Damnation of Theron Ware, which was hailed as the novel of the year 1896 by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Frederic never won a prize for his journalism or his novels, however, and despite the bold marks he left on both Gilded Age America and late nineteenth century Europe—which he knew better than any other American of his generation—he was all but forgotten soon after his death at the age of forty-two.{$S[A]Forth, George;Frederic, Harold}

Frederic was the son of Henry deMotte Frederic, who died when his son was only eighteen months old. Young Frederic experienced a poverty-stricken boyhood. Starting as an office boy for the Utica Observer, however, he progressed rapidly in the newspaper world and became editor-in-chief of the Albany Evening Journal in 1882. Two years later he joined the staff of The New York Times as London correspondent and never returned to the United States. Although Frederic remained typically American, not caring greatly for European culture and never bothering to learn a foreign language, he became an extremely efficient European reporter. He made a trip through the cholera-stricken areas of southern France...

(The entire section is 652 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Harold Frederic was born on August 19, 1856, in Utica, a small city of then about twenty thousand people, situated in the picturesque Mohawk Valley of upstate New York. His family tree reached far back into colonial times to Dutch and German farmers and artisans, and he could proudly point out that all four of his great-grandfathers had fought in the Revolutionary War. When Frederic was only a year and a half old, his father died in a train derailment; his mother, however, was energetic and capable and kept the family above water until she remarried. She was a somewhat severe woman, not given to spoiling her children, and Frederic always remembered the early-morning chores he had to do in the family milk and wood businesses before setting out for school. He also remembered the Methodist upbringing he received and the unseemly bickerings among the parishioners of his neighborhood church.

Like many children at the time, Frederic did not receive extensive schooling and graduated from Utica’s Advanced School at the age of fourteen. For the next two years, he worked for local photographers, slowly progressing from errand-boy to retoucher. He then tried his luck in Boston, dabbling in art and working for a photographer, but in 1875, he returned to Utica and changed his career by becoming a proofreader for the town’s Republican morning paper, shortly afterward switching to its Democratic afternoon counterpart. By this time, Utica had almost doubled its population and had become a political center of the first order, giving the state a governor in Horatio Seymour and the country two senators in Roscoe Conkling and Francis Kernan (it would later add a vice president in James Sherman). Frederic became a firm Democrat and took a lively interest in politics. He soon became a reporter for his paper and also began writing fiction; it was sentimental and imitative beginner’s work, but enough of it was published to encourage him.

The centennial celebration of the Battle of Oriskany in 1877 proved to be an intellectual milestone in Frederic’s life. He helped prepare the occasion, convinced that the battle had been a turning point of the war and not merely a minor skirmish away from the major battlefields. As he listened to Horatio Seymour’s call for a greater awareness on the part of the living of their proud and important history, Frederic resolved to write a historical novel that would give the Mohawk Valley its due and its present inhabitants the historical connectedness Seymour demanded. The regionalist Harold Frederic had come into being, even though In the Valley was not published until 1890, respectively and affectionately dedicated to the memory of the late governor....

(The entire section is 1103 words.)