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RESURRECTING MAN: DESIRE AND THE DAMNATION OF THERON WARE Lisa Watt MacFarlane University of New Hampshire She unlocked still another door as she spoke—a door which was also concealed behind a curtain. "Now," she said, holding up the candle so that its reddish flare rounded with warmth the creamy fulness of her chin and throat, and glowed upon her hair in a flame of orange light— "Now . . . now I will show you what is my very own."1 With this invitation, the "New Woman" Celia Madden begins her seduction of Harold Frederic's young minister Theron Ware. Theron struggles barely a moment with his Methodist training before the scene climaxes with his confused arousal: "I want to get as close to you—to your ideal, that is, as I can" (p. 202). Frederic, of course, who once called sex "the mainspring of all activity," knows what Theron wants to get close to.2 But critics often suppress a full treatment of the sexual politics in the novel as successfully as Theron does; indeed, except when dealing with some notable exceptions— the erotics of Puritan poetry, for example, or The Scarlet Letter— scholars have tended to repress much of the erotic dimension, even the blatant sexuality, represented in many American works that focus on religion. Yet the conflation between sexuality and religious belief and practice is surely commonplace; from the seventeenth-century confrontation between Anne Hutchinson and her ministerial brethren to the contemporary scandals of Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert, religious fervor, sexual potency and political power have coexisted in an explosive symbiosis. In The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896), the convergence of gender and religion illuminates three related topics. First, focusing on gender resurrects a too often forgotten but stunning novel that confronts regional and cosmopolitan cultures and bridges realist and modernist aesthetics. Second, The Damnation illustrates how flexible a convention the minister as a feminized man can be; the novel highlights his centrality to questions of cultural authority in nineteenthcentury America by revealing the ambiguity and discomfort with which American writers and readers have viewed men of the cloth. Finally, Frederic's handling of Theron Ware as a feminized man implicitly deconstructs the idea of a monolithic masculinity, especially in its binary opposition to an equally uncomplicated femaleness; rather, the ministerial convention reveals the constructedness, malleability, and plurality of gender, even as the character himself may struggle 128Lisa Watt MacFarlane to retain a rigid and socially orthodox masculinity throughout the novel. For all this discomfort, however, the feminized hero himself hardly challenges traditional notions of masculinity; indeed, in this and similar novels, established gender and power relations are reinforced , as women become either traditional tokens of exchange among men, or repulsed threats to an allied patriarchal establishment that includes both clerical and secular men. In short, the feminized minister in American letters focuses attention upon a network of homosocial bonds that reinforces patriarchy even as it apparently challenges patriarchal power.3 The Damnation fits nicely into a group of novels from this period that focuses on the place of denominational or sectarian faith in a larger social context, either by examining the religious practices of a particular community, as in William Dean Howells' The Leatherwood God (1916), or by following an individual whose religious values are challenged by the secular pressures of married life, politics, or capitalism, as in Margaret Deland's John Ward, Preacher (1886), Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' The Gates Ajar (1868), or Henry Adams' Esther (1884). Even a historical religious novel like Lew Wallace's Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1880) provides an implicit commentary on how the late nineteenth century confronted the related crises of spiritual life and gender identity.4 In works by both canonical and lesser-known authors, in recognized classics and in examples of popular culture, in works that are explicitly meant to foster certain religious values as well as in works that use religious situations as occasions for other projects, the minister provides a particularly fertile trope for examining masculinity and power. Both in fiction and in the larger social and cultural world the minister bridges the worlds of men and women by his professional position. He figures as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 127-143
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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