Community in The Damnation of Theron Ware


          Harold Frederic, in the last of his New York State novel, The Damnation of Theron Ware, presents a unique picture of Upper Mohawk Valley life in the 1870s as he remembered it from his boyhood. Although the work revolves primarily around the young Methodist minister, Theron Ware, Frederic places before the reader detailed and revealing portraits of the many subcultures within the larger community. Larzer Ziff has even suggested that Frederic’s man is by nature a communal animal who cannot be understood except in terms of community (The American 1890s 210). Although the individual may indeed be Frederic’s primary concern, an individual only has viability as he functions within a societal or community context that provides the tensions and releases that are necessary for the individual’s social and intellectual stability.

          In The Damnation, Frederic carefully chronicles the types of community that existed in the 1870s in upstate New York. As he depicts the small-town religious factions in Octavius, he captures the spiritual unrest that he had observed in and around his boyhood home. In the clash between the post-Darwinist thinkers and the primitive Methodism of the young clergyman, we glimpse what must have been one of the most gripping struggles of the age, as the destruction of historical authority created a void that could not be filled by mere scientific intellectualism. 

          Frederic also describes the breakdown of family tradition in America whereby family ties and the entire institution weakened. In the novel, we see the contrast between rural Americans and the urban community dwellers that are considered “outsiders” by the local group. Another reference to community in the novel is found in the various ethnic and socio-economic groups that Frederic found near Utica, NY, in the 1870s. Theron eventually finds himself in conflict with all these communities, and his resulting struggle becomes one of mortal combat with forces that destroy his faith in the only community he has ever known.


          We first see Theron’s religious community in the annual Nedahma Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church where the area congregations have come together to hear the ministerial appointments for the coming year. The local parishioners from Tecumseh, proud of the new church edifice that represents their “progressive” taste, reflect contentedly on their enviable achievements: their church contains far fewer poor folk than the Baptists have; they now rent the first four rows of their church pews for $100 apiece; and, their Ladies’ Aid Society’s oyster suppers are considered very fashionable by the community at large. Tecumseh’s First M.E. Church is anxious to obtain an attractive, fashionable pastor to support their drive against the fiercely competitive Presbyterian church. However, when the appointments are made, and Tecumseh learns that its choice for pastor, the Rev. Theron Ware, is going instead to the Octavius church, its interest in him quickly fades. What becomes of him now is “no earthly concern of theirs.”

          Upon hearing of his assignment to tiny Octavius, the disappointed Theron experiences first a sense of banishment, then subsequent elation at what he feels is his singular calling in the providence of God. After all, he had adroitly handled his previous situation in Tyre—one which had called for an expert tactician. Theron had been successful in raising the image of the Tyre Methodist Church after it had been abandoned by the Free Methodist secessionists and scandalized by a pastor who had dared to marry a black man to a white woman.

          Theron’s self-confidence is short-lived, however, because the Octavius trustees have their local situation well under control. Loren Pierce, Erastus Winch, and Levi Gorringe enlighten Theron so there will be no misunderstanding regarding the way things are done in their church. Brother Pierce makes it clear that they want no “new-fangled notions,” no “book-learnin’ or dictionary words” in the pulpit, and no choir or organ or other “tomfoolery.” He warns Theron, “Our folks don’t take no stock in all that pack o’ nonsense about science, such as tellin’ the age of the earth by crackin’ up stones.” Nor do the Octavius Methodists subscribe to the outlandish theory that their “grandfathers were all monkeys.”

          Pierce tells Theron that he will be sure to make a hit with the Methodists by pitching into the Irish Catholics whenever he can. According to Pierce, the Catholics are “idolaters” who will be “the ruin o’ this country, if [they] ain’t checked in time.” He says that the Catholics “ain’t got no idee of decency or fair dealin’,” but when the new pastor questions Pierce’s own business practices, he adopts a vindictively hostile attitude, which Brother Winch tries to ameliorate by telling Theron, “We never yet asked outsiders to meddle with our business here. It’s our motto.” After Theron threatens to take the matter up at the Quarterly Conference, Pierce remarks that Theron probably won’t last in Octavius “more’n a twelve-month.”

          When Theron confronts Catholic ritual for the first time at the MacEvoy home, he is overwhelmed by the strange ceremony of last rites and feels a mysterious attraction to the beauty of the priest’s Latin incantation. He later learns from Father Forbes that the poorer Catholic families usually call the priest before they think of calling a physician. When Theron admits to being impressed by the ceremony that was performed “to help MacEvoy to die,” Father Forbes explains that the rites are a very ancient ceremony, the original beginnings of which cannot really be traced.

          Religious animosity appears again when Theron and his wife Alice are discussing the performance of their new washerwoman, Alice remarks that the woman is “mortal slow” and, “of course, she’s Irish.” Although Theron exhibits relative unconcern at this revelation, Alice reminds him that because none of their “own people” did washing, they “simply had to fall back on the Irish . . . even if they do go and tell their priest everything they see and hear.” Theron tries to defend the Irish position as he understands it, but Alice maintains, “All the same, I’m afraid of them.”

          In Octavius, community opinion carries considerable weight. After Theron decides that Celia Madden should help him select a piano for Alice, he immediately wonders what “they” will think when they see the organist of the Catholic church picking out a piano for the Methodist parsonage. In any case, Celia is always a dazzling topic for local conversation. Because there are no eligible Irishmen in Octavius who approach the social and financial standard of the Maddens, people take it for granted that Celia will probably not marry because “a mixed marriage was quite out of the question in this case . . . Clearly this was not the sort of girl to take a Protestant husband.” The Protestants, particularly, watch her with furtive, unspoken suspicion that links her in an unnamable way with the Irish priest. Even though Theron has not suspected the extent of the townspeople’s interest in Celia’s associations, he senses that his merely walking her home in the dark might ruin his reputation. He believes that the Irish would eagerly jump at the chance to embroil a Protestant clergyman in a scandal.

          Theron’s own congregation does not suspect that its new pastor does not agree with many of the “rules” of the little Methodist community. Theron makes a mental resolve not to preach a sermon this year denouncing the streetcar line for operating on the Sabbath, as has been the custom. He also has made no effort to appoint a committee to censure church members who had pretended to take their children to the circus “just to see the animals,” but who had stayed to watch “with an ardent and unashamed eye” the flying act of the Rose-Queen of the Arena.

          Theron’s Octavius congregation had escaped the overt split that had occurred in the Methodist Church earlier during the 1850s, but by keeping the radical element within the congregation, they had subjected the entire group to the domination of this emotional minority. This small group had been responsible for the discontinuation of milk delivery to the parsonage on Sundays and the removal of the flowers from Alice’s sunbonnet. They “had not been able wholly to enforce its views upon the social life of the church members, but of its controlling influence upon their official and public actions there could be no doubt.”

          The relationship between the Methodist group and the rest of the community is clearly stated by Levi Gorringe during one of Theron’s visits to Levi’s law office. He says, “The point is that the Methodists here are a little set by themselves. I don’t know that they like one another specially, but I do know that they are not what you might call popular with people outside. Now a new preacher at the Presbyterian church, or even the Baptist—he might have a chance to create talk, and make a stir. But Methodist—no! People who don’t belong won’t come near the Methodist church here so long as there’s any other place with a roof on it to go to.”

          During the Quarterly Conference, from which Theron absents himself on the pretext of mental fatigue, he overhears the group singing “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.” For Theron, however, the phrase has a new meaning. “He was bound to those people, it was true, but he could never again harbor the delusion that the tie between them was blessed. There was vaguely present in his mind the consciousness that other ties were loosening as well . . . He had passed definitely beyond pretending to himself that there was anything spiritually in common between him and the Methodist Church of Octavius.”

          When the Soulsbys later arrive in Octavius to help the church get back on its feet financially, Sister Soulsby rapidly diagnoses the local situation. She tells Theron that “a church is like everything else—it’s got to have a boss, a head, an authority of some sort, that people will listen to and mind. The Catholics are different . . . Their church is chuck-full of authority—all the way from the Pope down to the priest—and accordingly they do as they’re told. But the Protestants—your Methodists most of all—they say ‘No we won’t have any authority, we won’t obey any boss.’” Sister Soulsby says that the Octavius Methodists are twenty or thirty years behind the times, mainly because they still take their religion seriously. Her own theology consists of a single hypothesis—“the time to separate the sheep from the goats is on Judgment Day, and . . . it can’t be done a minute before.”

          The annual Methodist camp meeting, a vestige of the Primitive Wesleyans, is regarded by local curiosity-seekers as one of the principal events of the year. The evening services attract many “strangers,” most of whom are young people from the surrounding countryside who come to scoff and jeer at the proceedings. To the Methodists, these detractors are physical reminders of the evil forces against which they must constantly do battle. Lately, a controversy has arisen concerning the traditional policy of admitting no strangers to the campgrounds from Saturday night to Monday morning. The majority of the laymen favor opening the gates, while the “more bigoted section” of the congregation from Octavius resists the change. “The leaders of the open-Sunday movement spoke freely of the ridiculous figure which its cranks and fanatics made poor Methodism cut in the eyes of modern go-ahead American civilization.”

          As Theron steals away to walk in the woods adjoining the campgrounds, he mentally traces his “spiritual” progress since coming to Octavius. His reading, ranging from Andover to Ingersoll, has turned his thoughts away from his congregation’s spiritual needs to “the contemplation of vast, abstract schemes of creation and the government of the universe, and it only diverted and embarrassed his mind to try to fasten it upon the details of personal salvation.” As his steps take him farther away from the camp-meeting area, Theron approaches the picnic site of the Catholics of Octavius. In contrast to the drab scene upon which he has just turned his back, the Catholic outing with its playing, dancing, and beer-drinking, suggests “universal merriment” to him. He notices that everywhere a remarkable good humor seems to prevail. When Father Forbes chides Theron for mingling with “the sinners,” the young minister replies, “I am in love with your sinners. I’ve had five days of the saints, over in another part of the woods, and they’ve bored the head off me.”

          At the picnic, a discussion of religious history ensues, during which Theron tells the priest, “It seems to me that as things are going, it doesn’t look much as if the America of the future will trouble itself about any kind of a church. The march of science must very soon produce a universal skepticism.” Father Forbes discounts this prediction, basing his argument on the historical record of mankind and man’s own nature, which demands some type of religion as its foundation.

          When Theron then questions the ability of the Catholic Church to adjust to future social and intellectual conditions because everything in the Catholic creed is so “hard and fast” with “no room for compromise,” Father Forbes explains his own view of the Church and its function. He says, “The Church is always compromising, only it does it so slowly that no one man lives long enough to quite catch it at the trick . . . The great secret of the Catholic Church is that it doesn’t debate with skeptics . . . It simply says these things are sacred mysteries, which you are quite free to accept and be saved, or reject and be damned . . . When people have grown tired of their absurd and fruitless wrangling over texts and creeds, . . . they well come back to repose pleasantly under the Catholic roof, in that restful house where things are taken for granted.”

          The Church is essential, says Forbes, “first and foremost, as a police force. It is needed, secondly, so to speak, as a fire insurance.” The Church also provides an atmosphere for the raising of children, the opportunity for meeting “the right people,” and other important social services. Forbes concludes, “There must always be a church. If one did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.”


          In addition to the religious factions apparent in the novel, specific characters represent types of intellectual communities that existed in America in the 1870s. Father Forbes represents the voice of historical authority, Dr. Ledsmar is the spokesman for the new science, and Celia Madden is the proponent of Pre-Raphaelitism, or the “Gospel of Beauty.”

          When Theron describes to his acquaintances his idea for writing a book that would take a new look at Abraham, Forbes points out a number of historical concepts of which Theron has been completely unaware. The priest is amused when Theron suggests that these theories must be new. Forbes asserts, “There is nothing new. Everything is built on the ruins of something else. Just as the material earth is made up of countless billions of dead men’s bones, so the mental world is all alive with the ghosts of dead men’s thoughts and beliefs. If we could go back . . . scores of centuries, we should find whole receding series of types of this Christ-myth of ours.”          

          Regarding Father Forbes’ priestly duties, Dr. Ledsmar remarks that people no longer want a priest who preaches to them. “What is wanted of him is that he should be the paternal, ceremonial, authoritative head and centre of his flock.” Months later, as Theron fancies himself a part of this “intellectual” community, he announces to Father Forbes that he does not intend to remain in the ministry. Because the Methodist dogma has lost its meaning for him, the rest of it has become intolerable and hideous. Forbes wisely warns Theron that such a change (viz., the rejection of his traditional beliefs) at his time of life is very serious business.

          Dr. Ledsmar’s cold scientific attitude is unattractive to Theron, who tries unsuccessfully to see the post-Darwinist’s viewpoint. The doctor expresses extreme distaste for such things as music and art, and he draws a parallel between the music-making birds, who happen to be the “lowest type of the vertebrata” and humans who insist on artistic pursuits. He says, “I am convinced that musicians stand on the very bottom rung of the ladder in the sub-cellar of human intelligence—even lower than painters and actors . . . All art is decay. When a race begins to brood on the beautiful—so called—it is a sign of rot, of getting ready to fall from the tree.”

          One of Dr. Ledsmar’s current projects is testing the probabilities for or against a Darwinian theory of plant development, the results of which may not be known for three or four hundred years. The empiricism that most offends Theron, however, is the spectacle of the doctor’s Chinese servant lying unconscious on a bench, the victim of an experiment to determine the effect of daily doses of opium on the body. Reminiscent of Hawthorne’s Dr. Rappacini, human life here is subservient to the demands of scientific knowledge.

          In addition, the enchanting dilettante, Celia Madden, exposes Theron to a new world of knowledge in which beauty in art is pursued as an end in itself. She explains her “Greek idea” to Theron, who is awed at seeing the strange and wonderful treasures of Celia’s private chamber. She tells him that Hellenism means “absolute freedom from moral bugbears, for one thing. The recognition that beauty is the only thing in life that is worthwhile. The courage to kick out of one’s life everything that isn’t worth while; and so on.”

          Later, at the Catholic picnic, Celia defends the Greek religion as having been “full of beauty and happiness and light-heartedness, and [the Greeks] weren’t frightened of death at all.” She claims that the early Catholic Church was “full of these broad and beautiful Greek ideas . . . It was only when your miserable Jeromes and Augustines and Cyrils brought in the abominable meannesses and cruelties of the Jewish Old Testament, and stamped out the sane and lovely Greek elements in the Church, that Christians became the poor, whining, cowardly egotists they are, troubling about their little tin-pot souls, and scaring themselves in their churches by skulls and crossbones.” Celia’s own theory of life, or “code” of morality, is that she rushes to gratify a wish the instant that it occurs to her.

          After experiencing Celia’s magical kiss in the forest, Theron imagines that he has become an integral member of the little community of “intellectuals,” and he lives for many days with assurance and pleasurable sense of “belonging.” This extreme self–confidence prompts him to make indiscreet remarks about the enmity, which he believes, exists between Celia and the doctor. Regarding Theron’s complete misunderstanding of the situation, Father Forbes exclaims, “It is part of the game that they should pretend to themselves that they detest each other. In reality I fancy they like each other very much. At any rate, there is nothing to be disturbed about.” Theron, bemused by these words, thinks, “Ah, if this purring pussy-cat of a priest only knew how little of an outsider he [Theron] really was!” He tells Forbes, “I should not dream of discussing Miss Madden’s confidences to me, or the doctor’s either, outside our own little group.”

          When Theron goes to the Madden home, Celia’s invalid brother tries in vain to show Theron the folly in his attempt to divorce himself from his own church community. Michael says, “It was a great misfortune that you did not keep among your own people. . . Go back to the way you were brought up in, and leave alone the people whose ways are different from yours.” The showdown comes for Theron when he follows Celia and the priest to New York City to expose their supposed liaison and assert himself as Celia’s rightful romancer. However, during the confrontation in Celia’s hotel room, Theron discovers his error. He is not, in any sense, a part of the group to which he had imagined he belonged. “They” had at first been amused with him, but they had soon become disgusted at Theron’s puerile attempts at sophistication. He is humiliated to learn that Celia has seen him all along as “the donkey trying to play lap-dog.”

          Theron’s reaction to his abasement is an overpowering feeling of estrangement. “People seemed to be about him, but in fact he was alone . . . Men closed the doors of their houses to him. The universe held him at arm’s length as a nuisance.” In his crushing defeat, Theron turns to the only friend he feels he still has. He tells Sister Soulsby, “I knew you would sympathize; I could tell it all to you. And it was so awful, to die there alone in the strange city—I couldn’t do it—with nobody near me who liked me, or thought well of me. Alice would hate me. There was no one but you. I wanted to be with you—at the last.” His demoralization is complete, and Theron collapses both physically and mentally as he realizes that he has destroyed his former associations and is unable to form new ones to replace those that have been lost.


          As one would expect, much of the community feeling in Octavius is based not only on religious affiliation, but on ethnic origin and socio-economic status. Brother Pierce makes a distinction between the Catholic Irish and the “Eyetalians” who work for him in the quarry. He says that the latter are “sensible fellows” who are satisfied with a dollar a day because they know when they are well off. Pierce maintains that his workers are different from the other Catholics in Octavius. He says, “I grant ye, the Eyetalians are some given to jabbin’ knives into each other, but they never git up strikes, an’ they don’t grumble about wages. Why, look at the way they live—jest some weeds an’ yarbs dug up on the roadside, an’ stewed in a kettle with a piece o’ fat the size o’ your finger, an’ a loaf o’ bread, an’ they’re happy as a king. There’s some sense in that; but the Irish, they’ve got to have meat an’ potatoes an’ butter jest as if—as if—.“

          Quite evident also is the discriminatory attitude that exists among Irishmen of different economic levels. After MacEvoy falls to his death while trimming a tree at Mr. Madden’s home, his body is carried by four other working men to “one of a half dozen shanties reared among the ash-heaps and debris of the town’s most bedraggled outskirts.” Theron follows the group into “a dark and ill-smelling room, the air of which was humid with steam from a boiler of clothes on the stove.” As Celia Madden enters the house, her lowered hat and silver-handled parasol indicate immediately that she is “a person of a different class.” Later, Celia admits to Theron that the only reason she had gone to the home was “because MacEvoy was one of our workmen, and really came by his death through father sending him up to trim a tree. Ann MacEvoy will never forgive us that, the longest day she lives. Did you notice her? She wouldn’t speak to me.”

           Until his contact with Celia and Father Forbes, Theron had thought of the Irish as something “sinister and repellent.” He really hadn’t known any persons of this “curiously alien race,” but he could remember the dozen or more Irish families who had lived on the outskirts of Tyre among the brickyards. “His views on this general subject were merely those common to his communion and his environment. He took it for granted, for example, that in the large cities most of the poverty and all the drunkenness, crime, and political corruption were due to the perverse qualities of this foreign people—qualities accentuated and emphasized in every evil direction by the baleful influence of a false and idolatrous religion. It is hardly too much to say that he had never encountered a dissenting opinion on this point.”

          As Theron reflects on his racial and religious prejudices, an image appears before him, which he recognizes as the embodiment of his attitudes toward the Irish. “The foundations [of the image] were ignorance, squalor, brutality, and vice. Pigs wallowed in the mire before its base, and burrowing into this base were a myriad of narrow doors, each bearing the hateful sign of a saloon, and giving forth from its recesses of night the sounds of screams and curses. Above were sculptured rows of lowering, ape-like faces from Nast’s and Keppler’s cartoons, and out of these sprang into the vague upper gloom, on the one side, lamp-posts from which Negroes hung by the neck, and on the other gibbets for dynamiters and Molly Maguires: and between the two glowed a spectral picture of some black-robed, tonsured men, with leering satanic masks, making a bonfire of the Bible in the public schools.”

          Theron is surprised to learn that Dr. Ledsmar’s servant is a Chinaman. The doctor recalls, “He used to interest Octavius a great deal when I first brought him here, ten years ago or so. He afforded occupation for all the idle boys in the village for a twelve-month at least. They used to lie in wait from him all day long, with stones or horse chestnuts or snowballs, according to the season. The Irishmen from the wagon-works nearly killed him once or twice, but he patiently lived it all down. The Chinaman has the patience to live everything down—the Caucasian races included.”


          Throughout the novel, we also see the conflict between rural community values and those of the growing urban areas. One sees a difference even in physical appearance between the two groups at the Methodist Conference. Most of those present were “a robust type, with burly shoulders, and busing beards . . . who looked for the most part like honest and prosperous farmers attired in their Sunday clothes.” The exceptions to this rule were “stray specimens of a more urban class, worthies with neatly trimmed whiskers, white neckcloths, and even indications of hair oil.”

          When he goes to visit Father Forbes for the first time, Theron searches all around for a bell pull until he discovers the little ivory button marked “Push.” “This was one of those electric bells he had heard so much of, but which had not as yet made their way to the class of homes he knew. For custodians of a mediaeval superstition and fanaticism, the Catholic clergy seemed very much up to date. This bell made him feel rather more a countryman than ever.” Theron’s meager library of sixty books, most of which have come from the Methodist publishing concern, looks paltry compared to the priest’s study, which contains great dark rows of encased and crowded bookshelves rising to the ceiling, classical engravings upon the wall, a revolving bookcase, a reading stand, and a mass of littered magazines, reviews, and papers at either end of a costly and elaborate writing desk.  

          Sister Soulsby reflects an urbanism easily identified by those unfamiliar with city manners. She uses a “brisk, direct, idiomatic manner of speech, with an intonation hinting at no section in particular. It was merely that of the city-dweller as distinguished from the rustic . . . It did not escape the attention of the Wares that she wore clothes of a more stylish cut and a livelier arrangement of hues than any Alice had ever dared own, even in the lax-minded Tyre . . . Theron explained [to Alice] that congregations would tolerate things of this sort with a stranger which would be sharply resented in the case of local folk whom they controlled.”

          When Theron reaches New York City in pursuit of Celia, he is unable to cope with city life as he discovers it for the first time. He asks the porter, “What are those folks running for? Is there a fire?” The hack men’s whips and shouts frighten him. When a police officer walks toward him with “authority in his swaying gait, and . . . urban omniscience written all over his broad, sandy face,” Theron runs away. He cowers like a criminal in doorways and secretly rejoices when he sees Celia entering the hotel by a different entrance from the one that the priest had used. “It was apparent to him that there was something underhanded about it.”

          At breakfast, Theron tucks the corner of his napkin in his neckband and orders claret, even though he does not know what claret is. He loiters in the lobby to watch the men buying cigars—an act that seems so appealing to him that he almost buys one for himself, even though he knows it would only make him sick. On the way to Celia’s room, he is fearful lest the bellhops should stop him. When he finally confronts Celia with the claims of “the kiss,” she admits that he has the right to remind her of it. She says, “You have another right too—the right to have the kiss explained to you. It was of the good-bye order. It signified that we weren’t to meet again, and that just for one little moment I permitted myself to be sorry for you.” Theron’s bewilderment turns to bitterness as he remarks, “I know so little about kisses . . . You should have had pity on my inexperience, and told me just what brand of kiss it was I was getting. Probably I ought to have been able to distinguish, but you see I was brought up in the country—on a farm. They don’t have kisses in assorted varieties there.”


          Finally, the changing function of the American family and the breakdown of traditional family ties are evident in the domestic relations of the Maddens, the Soulsbys, and the Wares.

          Jeremiah Madden and his wife share their ostentatious mansion with Michael and Celia, children of Jeremiah’s first marriage, and Theodore, the froward son of his current wife. Mr. Madden remarried before coming to Octavius mainly because the embarrassments of having a motherless family would hurt his social respectability and business prospects. The marriage has not been a fortunate one, however, because the second Mrs. Madden is “incredibly narrow-minded, ignorant, suspicious, vain, and sour-tempered.” Each member of the Madden family has his own section of the house, and each one carries on his or her own activities independently of the others. Although Celia permits no open discord, no real affection exists between her and her stepmother. “Mrs. Madden still permitted herself a certain license of hostile comment when her step-daughter was not present, and listened with gratification to what the women of her acquaintance ventured upon saying in the same spirit . . .The two rarely met, for that matter, and exchanged only the baldest and curtest forms of speech.”

          Mr. Madden’s first wife and ten of his children are buried in St. Agnes’ cemetery, which he visits every Sunday afternoon. Often he extends his walk to the old deserted Catholic burial field where the graves of early exiles from his home county in Ireland lie buried. Ironically, “he rarely had an impulse to tears in the new cemetery, where his ten children were, [but] he never left this weed-grown, forsaken old God’s-acre dry-eyed.”

          Celia, of course, has her own opinions about marriage and its traditional role in society. Theron at one point says to her, “One reads so much nowadays of American heiresses going to Europe and marrying dukes and noblemen. I suppose you will do that too. Princes would fight one another for you.” To this she replies, “That is the old-fashioned idea that women must belong to somebody, as if they were curios, or statues, or race-horses . . . I have a different view. I am myself, and I belong to myself, exactly as much as any man. The notion that any other human being could conceivably obtain the slightest property right in me is . . . preposterous.” When Theron suggests that this is not the generally accepted view, she remarks, “What on earth is it to me that other women crawl about on all-fours, and fawn like dogs on any hand that will buckle a collar onto them, and toss them the leavings of the table? I am not related to them. They cannot make any rules for me.”

          In the case of the Soulsbys, Theron is intrigued by Sister Soulsby’s story of how she and her “husband” began their partnership. She tells him, “I began life as a girl by running away from a stupid home with a man that I knew was married already. After that, I supported myself for a good many years.” Although she does not know everything about Mr. Soulsby’s past, she knows that “he was what you might call a regular bad rooster.” She admits, “We liked each other from the start. We compared notes, and we found that we had both soured on living by fakes, and that we were tired of the road, and wanted to settle down and be respectable in our old age. We had a little money—enough to see us through a year or two . . . so we took a little place in a quiet country village . . . and we started in.” Regarding the Soulsby’s current occupation—that of Methodist fund-raising—she says, “It’s a fraud, yes; but it’s a good fraud.”

          Like the other two pairs, the minister and his wife are not exactly an ideal couple. When Theron turns to intellectual and “cultural” pursuits, his marriage to Alice becomes a secondary consideration. After their move to Octavius, Theron notices a submissiveness in Alice that he cannot understand. Heretofore, they had always acted as a unit, and Theron felt that “life would be an intolerable curse if Alice were to cease sharing it with him in every conceivable phase.” The night that Theron returns home late after observing the MacEvoy rites, Alice chides him, “I’d just about begun to reckon that I was a widow.” Theron salves his conscience by arranging to purchase a new piano for the parsonage. However, he neglects to mention to Alice that he is asking Celia to help him select the instrument.

          As his relationship with Celia develops, Alice is pushed farther and farther into the background of Theron’s daily experience. After Celia tells him that he is plainly “one of them,” Theron finds it harder to tolerate Alice’s simplicity. He begins to deceive her about his activities and experiences a secret enjoyment in knowing that she is pitiably “unillumined.” As he continues routinely to perform his pastoral duties, he senses that Alice is not cooperating with him as she has always done in the past, but is accepting her share of the work only perfunctorily. She now devotes an increasing amount of time and energy to her flower garden, which Theron decides is a healthy occupation for her even though it consumes much of her time. Because Theron is wrapped up in his own world of thought, he fails to detect the threatening note in Alice’s voice regarding the plants that Levi Gorringe has sent to the parsonage. Theron also takes care to hide his newly acquired books from his wife. When he appears late for dinner because his reading has made him lose track of the time, he explains that he has been preparing for the evening’s prayer meeting. Alice’s special effort to win over the Sunday school superintendent to Theron’s side elicits nothing more than indifference from her husband, who decides to stay away from the prayer meeting after all because of “a bad headache.”

          Sister Soulsby conveniently plants seeds of discontentment in Theron’s mind when she says, “Of course as long as people will marry in their teens, the wrong people will get yoked up together.” Upon reflection, Theron asks himself, “How was it that Alice, who had started out immeasurably his superior in swiftness of apprehension and readiness in humorous quips and conceits, should have grown so dull?” He is consoled, to a degree, as he remembers that “geniuses and men of conspicuous talent had . . . all through history, contracted unfortunate marriages.” As thinks about it, Theron sees Alice as being unable to make friends, either for him or for herself. “Suddenly . . . something occurred to him. There was a curious exception to that rule of Alice’s isolation. She had made at least one friend. Levi Gorringe seemed to like her extremely.”

          During the first of the Soulsby’s revival meetings, Theron faints and is sent home to rest. Despite his discomfort, he feels that “it was much pleasanter to be ill than to be forced to attend and take part in those revival meetings.” Each time Alice enters his room, he pretends to be asleep. When he finally is able to leave his sickbed, he turns all his attention to Sister Soulsby and feels an annoyance at Alice’s occasional intervention. “There trembled in the background of his thoughts ever and again the recollection of a grievance against his wife—an offence which she had committed—but he put it aside as something to be grappled and dealt with when he felt again like taking up the serious and disagreeable things of life.”

          After the Wares have taken the departing Soulsbys to the train depot, Theron sends Alice on to the prayer meeting while he takes time to be “alone with his thoughts.” His steps take him to the Catholic church where he waits for Celia and invites himself to her home to hear her play Chopin. After his so-called “enlightenment,” he feels that he “stood forth, so to speak, in a new skin, and looked about him, with perceptions of quite an altered kind, upon what seemed in every way a fresh existence.” To Alice’s complaint that he does not tell her the least thing about his affairs any more, Theron explains, “’I am carrying big projects in my mind—big, ambitious thoughts and plans upon which great things depend. They no doubt make me seem preoccupied and absent-minded; but it is a wife’s part to understand, and make allowances, and not intrude trifles which may throw everything out of gear . . . Of course I know that you wouldn’t willingly embarrass my—my career’. . .Really, it was amazing how much wiser he had grown all at once. He had been married for years, and it was only this morning that he suddenly discovered how a wife ought to be handled.”

          When Celia leaves Theron after helping him select a new piano for the parsonage, he finds himself mechanically walking toward home, although he has no real desire to go there. “Why should he go home at all? There was no reason whatever—save that Alice would be expecting him. Upon reflection, that hardly amounted to a reason. Wives, with their limited grasp of the realities of life, were always expecting their husbands to do things which it turned out not to be feasible for them to do.” The elderly waitress who brings Theron his tea and rolls remarks, “I suppose Mrs. Ware is at the seaside?” Of course, Alice is not at the seaside, but the idea interests Theron.

          At the Catholic picnic, Theron finds himself blurting out to Celia and Father Forbes that he had married Alice before he had really known what he wanted. “The Rev. Mr. Ware had never spoken of his marriage to either of these friends before . . . He had never clearly realized before what a genuine grievance it was. The moisture at the top of his nose merged itself into tears in the corners of his eyes, as the cruel enormity of the sacrifice he had made in his youth rose before him. His whole life had been fettered and darkened by it.” Theron finally can no longer even bear to call Alice his wife. When young Harvey Semple stumbles upon Theron and Celia in the woods, Theron admits that he knows the lad. “He spades my—my wife’s garden for her. He used to bring our milk. He works in the law office of one of my trustees—the one who isn’t friendly to me, but is very friendly indeed with my—with Mrs. Ware.” After their talk, Theron leaves the woods to return to his Methodist camp meeting, saying, “I go back to my slavery—my double bondage.”

          After “the kiss,” Theron accepts the dissolution of his marriage as inevitable. He looks at Alice “with a hard glance, recalling as a fresh grievance the ten days of intolerable boredom he had spent cooped up in a ridiculous little tent with her, at the camp meeting. She must have realized at the time how odious the enforced companionship was to him . . . It came back to him now that they had spoken but rarely to each other . . . She no longer praised anything he did, and took obvious pains to preserve toward him a distant demeanor. So much the better, he felt himself thinking. If she chose to behave in that offish and unwifely fashion, she could blame no one but herself for its results.” The tension between Theron and Alice finally reaches its climax after Theron’s calculated remarks about “Brother Gorringe’s flowers.” Alice demands that Theron explain his insinuations, but he refuses to discuss the matter. Alice then retorts, “Ever since we came to this hateful Octavius, you and I have been drifting apart—or no, that doesn’t express it—simply rushing away from each other. It began last spring, and now the space between us is so wide that we are worse than complete strangers. For strangers at least don’t hate each other, and I’ve had a good many occasions lately to see that you positively do hate me--.”

          Theron calmly replies to the heart-broken Alice, “Your whole conception of me, and of what you are pleased to describe as my change toward you, is an entire and utter mistake. Of course, the married state is no more exempt from the universal law of growth, development, alteration, than any other human institution.” Theron then ignores Alice’s further explanation and exits the room, leaving her to her tears.

          In the end, as Theron’s ties to his religious, intellectual, social, and familial communities have been severed irrevocably, he turns to “the West” in search of a new community—one in which he will be a leader. “There rose before his fancy . . . a great concourse of uplifted countenances, crowded close together as far as the eye could reach . . . They were looking at him; they strained their ears to miss no cadence of his voice.” Whether or not Theron ever becomes a great political leader who is capable of moving throngs of admirers is a secondary consideration. The more vital issue is whether Theron will have the ability to re-identify himself with one or more communities that can help stabilize his life because without meaningful associations, Theron Ware is destined perpetually to be an “outsider.”