The novel centers on the life of a Methodist pastor named Theron Ware who has recently moved to a fictional small town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, which Frederic modeled after Utica, New York. A promising young pastor recently married, Theron has a number of experiences that cause him to begin to question the Methodist religion, his role as a priest and even the very existence of God. His moral decline (or illumination) is heightened through his dealings with Father Forbes, the town’s Catholic priest; Dr. Ledsmar, a local atheist, philosopher, and man of science; and Celia, a local Irish Catholic girl, a species of aesthete, with whom Theron becomes hopelessly infatuated.
The novel reveals a great deal about turn-of-the-century provincial America, religious life, and the depressed state of intellectual and artistic culture in small towns.
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