Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Warden

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)

The Warden is the first of six novels about the town of Barsetshire. Naturally, I read the second novel, Barcester Towers, first. No one should ever accuse me of being smart. BT was a few years ago but I remember liking it quite a bit, some biting satire and standout characters. Trollope is like a more personable Dickens with less eventful, if more realistic plots. He seems gregarious and friendly as a narrator than his more famous countryman.
The Warden details the controversy surrounding the right of the church to bestow 800 pounds to the warden of an old folks' home when the will it draws that right from explicitly states that money is to go to the old folks at Hiram's Hospital. The church is basically ripping the poor, infirm workers off and has been for years. Who's stuck in the middle but Septimus Harding (cool name) a kindly, meek, and benevolent man of the cloth. The problems start when an equally well meaning laymen, John Bold, decides to take up the cause of the poor guys. Things are complicated by three facts: 1) Bold is in love with Harding's daughter Eleanor and she loves him 2) The archbishop is a big blustery fellow by the name of Grantly who is vehemently against Bold and also married to Harding's other daughter 3) Septimus Harding has a conscience that won't let him overlook ripping off old guys.

The novel follows Harding's struggle with the lawsuit, his ideas about fairness to the inhabitants of Hiram's hospital and his loyalty to the church. He is devastated when a few editorials appear in the all powerful Jupiter newspaper blasting the warden for his greed. The editorials are really the last straw, they deeply affect Harding and he decides to head to London to confer with the church's lawyer, an action of betrayal to the archbishop. After the lawyer can't even begin to explain why the warden gets the 800 pounds a year Harding makes up his mind to retire from the position. And that's pretty much the whole book. Eleanor and Bold get married, the end. What we've got here is really the introduction to Barchester Towers, a much more nuanced and complicated tale. The nice thing about The Warden is that we get a look inside the mind of a very good man. Once the issue of fairness is brought up to Harding, Trollope shows the wheels moving in the old man's mind. The thought process that leads him to resign from the wardenship and take a ton less money is the center of the tale.

Rating 5/10: I liked The Warden, but it should have just been tacked onto Barchester Towers.

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