Harold Frederic Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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

Harold Frederic was a journalist by profession, so it is no surprise that he wrote a considerable amount of nonfiction. A large portion of his copy for The New York Times was essayistic and well researched and developed. Extended pieces also appeared regularly in English and American magazines. Two sizable groups of dispatches were brought out in book format, The Young Emperor William II of Germany: A Study in Character Development on a Throne (1891) and The New Exodus: A Study of Israel in Russia (1892). The first of these is not a notable work, despite the fact that its subject became one of the crucial figures of the early twentieth century—and despite the fact that, like almost all of Frederic’s fiction, it is a character study. The second work, however—a series of reports on pogroms under Czar Alexander III—was so effective that Frederic became persona non grata in Russia. One is tempted to add to his list of nonfiction the novel Mrs. Albert Grundy, a book that hangs by a narrative thread and is precisely what its subtitle proclaims: Observations in Philistia, that is, satiric sketches of the London bourgeoisie.

Also not surprising for a journalist, Frederic tried his hand at short fiction. His output ranges from poorly written juvenile beginnings to very readable stories about Ireland to a number of short novels and short stories about the Civil War. These latter pieces are his best; they are collected in variously arranged editions and attracted the attention of writers such as Stephen Crane. In them, Frederic examines the effect of the war on the people at home in central New York through insightful and striking situations and through a skillful handling of description, dialogue, and point of view.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Writing a preface for a uniform edition for Scribner’s 1897 edition of his Civil War stories, In the Sixties, Harold Frederic remarks about the upstate New York places and people in his fiction that “no exact counterparts exist for them in real life, and no map of the district has as yet been drawn, even in my own mind.” This statement was written at a time when Frederic had left his American fiction behind and turned his attention to English matters; the journalist who desired fame as a serious writer did not wish to be taken for someone who merely transcribed the personal experiences of his youth. Although Frederic’s fiction is almost evenly divided between American subject matter on one hand and English and Irish on the other, the influence of America is felt even in the non-American works, and Frederic’s acknowledged masterpiece, The Damnation of Theron Ware, is thoroughly American.

Thomas F. O’Donnell has argued that Frederic is upstate New York’s greatest writer since James Fenimore Cooper. In his regional novels, Frederic studies politics (Seth’s Brother’s Wife), history (In the Valley), socioeconomics (The Lawton Girl), and religion (The Damnation of Theron Ware), and thus gives a comprehensive view of his part of the world. Just as Gustave Flaubert anchors his sweeping presentation of human passions in Madame Bovary (1857) in the Caux, a rural district of Normandy that easily matches the provinciality of the Mohawk Valley, so, too, does Frederic derive the Jamesian solidity of specification so central to the art of the novel from the authoritatively detailed depiction of his native region.

Although his first model was the successful popular French combination of Erckmann-Chatrian, Frederic grew into a major writer because of his keen observation (sharpened by his reportorial work), his Howellsian sympathy with the common person, and above all, his Hawthornian understanding of the truth of the human heart and the complexity of the American Adam. Hence, Frederic is partly a realist, like Flaubert, and partly a romancer, like Nathaniel Hawthorne, but also, like both of these, a writer with universal themes that are embedded in regional actuality. Were it not for his premature death, he might well have duplicated the achievement of his American fiction with his English fiction. As it is, his reputation will stand on his American works.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bennett, Bridget. The Damnation of Harold Frederic: His Lives and Works. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1997. A scholarly biography with a separate chapter on The Damnation of Theron Ware. Includes a chronology, detailed notes, and extensive bibliography.

Briggs, Austin, Jr. The Novels of Harold Frederic. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1969. A thorough study of Frederic’s novels, this book is mostly literary criticism, with a chapter on each of the major novels, a bibliography, and an index.

Garner, Stanton. Harold Frederic. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969. This short pamphlet is a good general introduction, touching on biography and major works, but has no room for details.

Myers, Robert M. Reluctant Expatriate: The Life of Harold Frederic. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. The preface provides a succinct overview of the state of Frederic’s reputation. Includes very useful notes and bibliography.

O’Donnell, Thomas F., and Hoyt C. Franchere. Harold Frederic. New York: Twayne, 1961. The first book-length study of Frederic, this book is valuable for its annotated bibliography, a chronology of his life and writings, and an index.

O’Donnell, Thomas F., Stanton Garner, and Robert H. Woodward, eds. A Bibliography of Writings by and About Harold Frederic. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1975. A comprehensive listing of material on Frederic, this bibliography is the place for all students of Frederic to begin their research. Lists all of his works as well as articles and books, both popular and scholarly, about his works.