Sarah Anne Kuczynski, “Acquisitive Liaisons: Collecting and Alternative Valuing in Harold Frederic’s The Damnation of Theron Ware” (pp. 82–109)
This essay reads Harold Frederic’s The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896) as an attempt to reimagine human relationships amid the unsettling of traditional, effortful methods for establishing personal value amid the socioeconomic stratification of Gilded Age America. Foregrounding the novel’s imbrication within late-nineteenth-century America’s “collecting mania,” this study contends that the relationship that forms between the Octavius elite and the title character closely resembles that between collector and recent acquisition. The idea that Theron is treated as an object by Celia and her friends might appear to lend support to the prevailing reading of the novel as a tale about a naive young minister who is used and abused by the worldly figures he idolizes. However, I offer a contrarian challenge to this dominant interpretation by demonstrating that Theron, in fact, consistently pursues objecthood and the fate of acquisition over the course of the novel—not in a masochistic sense but because, as this essay argues, within the Gilded Age social world of The Damnation of Theron Ware, the life of a prized possession has the potential to be a fulfilling one. Theron may talk of his grand plans for renovating his character but in reality he seizes every opportunity to retreat to a space where passivity is encouraged, where personal value is assigned rather than earned or enacted.