Comparing the reception of Quo vadis and Ben-Hur in the United States, 1896-1913

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Shortly after the Boston publisher Little, Brown and Company issued Jeremiah Curtin’s English translation of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel Quo Vadis: A Tale of the Time of Nero, it was soon compared in American newspapers to Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. The plot of Wallace’s novel, published in 1880 and by 1896 the most commercially successful American novel of its generation, concluded before the reign of Nero, so Sienkiewicz’s novel was widely perceived as a chronological sequel or historical comparandum to Ben-Hur. Comparisons ranged from publication announcements to advertising to literary analyses in contemporary newspapers. Similarly, when large-budget dramatic adaptations of both Quo Vadis and Ben-Hur were in development and production during the first decade of the twentieth century, there was a perceived head-to-head competition. This chapter reviews the contrasting backgrounds of the authors-Wallace being an American evangelical, Sienkiewicz a Polish Catholic-and the parallel successes of Quo Vadis and Ben-Hur during this period (mostly before the American premier of Guazzoni’s film) in the arenas of literature, drama, film, and business commerce. Its source material consists mostly of reviews, advertising, and analyses published in contemporary American newspapers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Novel of Neronian Rome and its Multimedial Transformations
Subtitle of host publicationSienkiewicz’s Quo vadis
EditorsMonika Woźniak, Maria Wyke
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9780198867531
StatePublished - Jan 21 2021


  • Adaptation
  • Ben-hur
  • Classical reception in the United States
  • Henryk Sienkiewicz
  • Historical novels
  • Lew Wallace
  • Quo vadis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


Dive into the research topics of 'Comparing the reception of Quo vadis and Ben-Hur in the United States, 1896-1913'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this