This article addresses the problem of cynicism in Harold Frederic's novel The Damnation of Theron Ware (1896). Despite the prominence of cynicism in the critical literature surrounding the novel, it has emerged as a vexing interpretive problem in itself rather than a solution to Theron Ware's ambiguities. Insofar as the accusation of cynicism implicitly calls into question motivations (those of both characters and novelists), the very structure of that accusation itself exhibits a kind of cynicism. Rather than a theme to be located or an attitude to be diagnosed, the appearance of cynicism on the critical scene marks a moment of epistemological fantasy, in which the critic implies a form of access to the motivations of the cynical character or the cynical writer. The accusation of cynicism, then, poses as a gesture of unmasking, one requiring a concomitant cynicism on the part of the critic: it is only through a form of instrumentalized criticism that instrumental motives may be revealed. As a problem of modern consciousness, then, cynicism emerges not as a position to be taken, a problem to be diagnosed, or even an attitude but rather as an epistemological structure seeking a form of access to authorial and characterological motivations, a structure that, furthermore, mirrors that of the modern novel.

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