Harold Frederic's Damnation of Theron Ware

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Science and Scientists in Harold Frederic's Damnation of Theron Ware

In The Damnation of Theron Ware, Harold Frederic uses the character of Dr. Ledsmar to represent science and the modern, scientific world-view, as a counter to the other archetypal world-views in the story: that of the Church in the priest Father Forbes, a quasi-pagan Hellenistic attitude of Celia, and the unstable Protestantism of Theron Ware. Like the very unique Father Forbes, an unusual priest indeed, Dr. Ledsmar is characteristic of a certain popular image of science that is frequently found in fiction, the isolated and eccentric crank, an unfeeling and driven by a need to take some kind of truth from Nature by force, with no consideration for the ordinary human wants in life. This poor form of science was unfortunately a part of the establishment during Frederic's time, and no doubt much later as well. But it was not the only kind of science that was practiced, and many at the time understood the difference, though in this novel we only get an image of the most negative kind, in service to Frederic's dramatic and rhetorical purposes.

We first meet Dr. Ledsmar sitting down to a cordial dinner with Father Forbes, introduced by him as his "very particular friend" (Frederick, 65). They then proceed to enjoy a rich and civilized meal, far better than what Theron is used to. He wonders if he can learn how it is made, that Alice might do as well at home. Theron is realizing that there exists a world with delights greater than what he is accustomed to, and it is inhabited by an educated elite, sophisticated in traditional wisdom and modern science. This is his first taste.

But there is something funny here, in that "the conversation at th...

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...It is for similar reasons that after Theron has been driven from the house, Dr. Ledsmar performs his icky lizard act, pulling a "long, slim, yellowish-green lizard, with a coiling, sinuous tail and a pointed, evil head'' from a tank of opaque fluid, in order to name it after Theron Ware.

Frederic is very much alienated from the science of his day. He finds it obscure and frightening, involved in inhuman and ritualistic experiments, and motivated by goals that are fully detached from the needs of ordinary people. His dread and loathing of the coldness and ruthlessness of the aloof scientist come from the Gothic horror of writers like Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Shelley.

Works Cited

Frederic, Harold. The Damnation of Theron Ware. Penguin Books USA. 1986 (1896).

Gould, Stephen Jay. The Mismeasure of Man. W.W. Norton & Company. New York, London. 1981.
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