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A "Study of Church in America": Catholicism as Exotic Other in The Damnation of Theron Ware

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The Damnation of Theron Ware is the tale of a young Methodist minister's tragic downfall set in rural upstate New York. The inexperienced Reverend Ware finds himself in an environment which triggers his moral, spiritual, and intellectual degeneration. The novel represents Theron's temptations as a complex and organically connected web, at the center of which is Catholicism. "Unreformed" old world Roman Catholicism subsumes under its metaphorical auspices every specific register of transgressive alterity in Theron's imagination (e.g., ethnicity, aesthetics, the intellectual life, the erotic). Theron's romantic imagination radically misperceives Catholicism; it becomes the abyss of difference against which Theron gives way to "enlightened" agnosticism, pride, lust, avarice, covetousness, and self-loathing. The innocent young Methodist parson eventually loses his faith and becomes a stalker, a gossip, a thief, and a would-be adulterer. This transformation takes place through his experience with the Catholic "other" represented by Celia Madden, Father Vincent Forbes, and Dr. Ledsmar. Theron Ware misinterprets everyone associated with Catholicism, recasting the Catholic as the master trope under which all his desires for exotic transgression find an object. The Catholic becomes a dangerous mirror of Theron's perverse desires which "illumines" the way to his "Damnation."

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