Harold Frederic as social critic



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During the last quarter o£ the nineteenth century, beginning roughly in the 1870's, the literary trend in America was away from Romanticism and toward Realism. Under the leadership of William Dean Howells, who in turn was influenced to a great extent by foreign writers such as Zola, Strindberg, and Turgenev, young novelists were beginning to present a picture of life as they had actually experienced it, Stephen Crane, Hamlin Garland, and Frank Norris are the three authors with whom the movement toward Realism is usually associated. Harold Frederic, however, in the course of a short writing career, achieved a popularity equal to any of the three mentioned and was hailed by contemporary critics as the novelist most Hkely to produce the great American novel. Since most of Frederic's writing was done in England, where he lived as foreign correspondent for the New York Times, and also because his manuscripts and letters have been carefully guarded from the public by members of his family who did not approve of his extra-marital connections, not much material for research is readily available. Yet fitting together bits of information found in various publications current during Frederic's lifetime, it has been possible to assemble a reasonably clear picture of both his early life in Utica, New York and the period of his London residence. As a social critic in the various fields that were under discussion at the time, Frederic showed himself to be not only abreast of his colleagues, but also an indefatigable champion of those individuals who were in any way oppressed. An examination of the writer's novels against what is known of his background confirms the opinion of his contemporaries that Frederic merits a more important place in the history of American realistic literature than is usually accorded him.