The Warden – Book Review for Classics Circuit

What right had he to say that John Hiram’s will was not fairly carried out? But then the question would arise within his heart, – Was that will fairly acted on? Did John Hiram mean that the warden of his hospital should receive considerably more out of the legacy than all the twelve old men together for whose behoff the hospital was built? Could it be possible that John Bold was right, and that the reverend warden of the hospital had been for the last ten years and more the unjust recipient of an income legally and equitably belonging  to others? – from The Warden, page 34 –

Mr. Harding, a man of high integrity who also happens to be the precentor of the fictional English town of Barchester and the warden of a hospital which serves the poor, is the hero of Anthony Trollope’s classic novel The Warden. The story opens with some background as to how Mr. Harding finds himself in the position of warden, and the politics which surrounds his income of 800 pounds per year which he receives from the church simply by holding the title of warden. The reader quickly learns that Mr. Harding’s eldest daughter is married to the Archdeacon and his youngest daughter is in love with a man by the name of John Bold. These relationships become significant as the novel progresses and Mr. Harding comes under attack (legally and ethically) for accepting his stipend while not equitably dividing the money between the poor old men of the hospital. Our hero finds himself torn between the superior attitude of the church (represented by the Archdeacon and the lawyers employed by the church) and the outraged voices of the public (represented by John Bold who first brings the matter to light, and later the local newspaper who prints outrageous personal accusations against Mr. Harding). The tension in the novel revolves around Mr. Harding’s struggle with the moral and ethical repercussions of his position.

Anthony Trollope penned The Warden in 1855 during a time when one of the scandals of the day was an accusation of corruption against the 5th Earl of Guilford (Reverend Francis North) whose income far exceeded the charitable contributions to the hospital which he was charged to oversee. This political hotbed certainly influenced Trollope’s writing of his novel, the first in a series of novels about Barchester and its clergy.

Trollope explores the theme of a moral and just man’s dilemma within an inequitable system. The novel is, in many ways, tragicomic. While sympathy towards the main character of Mr. Harding never wains, the reader finds the situation increasingly comic as Trollope introduces the absurdity of not only the legal and religious communities, but also pans the media and popular writers of the day, such as Charles Dickens who he refers to as “Mr. Sentiment.”

Of all reformers Mr. Sentiment is the most powerful. It is incredible the number of evil practices he has put down: it is to be feared he will soon lack subjects, and that when he has made the working classes comfortable, and got bitter beer put into proper-sized pint bottles, there will be nothing left for him to do. – from The Warden, page 206 –

Trollope dedicates an entire chapter to his view of the press (and specifically his character Tom Towers who writes for the fictional Jupiter) and how its power can destroy a man even if truth not be on its side.

Britons have but to read, obey, and be blessed. None but the fools doubt the wisdom of the Jupiter; none but the mad dispute its facts. – from The Warden, page 182 –

It is possible Tom Towers considered himself the most powerful man in Europe; and so he walked on from day to day, studiously striving to look a man, but knowing within his breast that he was a god. – from The Warden, page 190 –

The women of the novel alternate between being silly and unusually soft-hearted (Eleanor), to being controlling and somewhat bitchy (Susan). Trollope often uses his female characters to add humor to the story or to show the absurdity of a male character’s behavior.

The novel is written in the style of the Victorian era – long, sometimes convoluted, sentences and a great deal of minute detail. Many readers of contemporary literature may find the pace of such a novel slow. I admit, there were times I wanted to skim a bit while reading this book. On the other hand, Trollope provides an excellent representation of Victorian society, especially that of the well-to-do clergy. He clearly depicts the church and its policies in a negative light, while providing a hero within their ranks. Mostly I enjoyed Trollope’s tongue-in-cheek look at a small town in England caught up in the larger politics of the time.

Readers who enjoy classic literature, especially Victorian novels, will undoubtedly want to pick up a copy of this book. As someone who had not yet read any of Trollope’s work, I found this short novel a good introduction to his style.

I read this book as part of a tour for The Classics Circuit. There is a great deal of information about Trollope and his work on their site. Reader’s interested in reading other reviews of this book from the tour should check out these blogs (dates of reviews in parentheses):

To see the entire tour schedule for Anthony Trollope, visit this page.

Many thanks to the folks over at The Classics Circuit who motivated me to read a little Trollope (finally!).

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    • Tony on December 15, 2010 at 20:59

    I love this book, and I’m obviously a little more tolerant than most of Trollope’s meandering style and lengthy discursions! The character of Septimus Harding is the genius of this book, a soft man who, nevertheless, is able to stick to his beliefs when the going gets tough, even at the expense of his personal comfort and against the advice of all his friends – just wonderful 🙂

    • Laura on December 16, 2010 at 04:45

    You wrote, Mostly I enjoyed Trollope’s tongue-in-cheek look at a small town in England caught up in the larger politics of the time.

    That’s what I liked about Barchester Towers as well (what little I read of it). I liked his wit. Glad you made it through your first Trollope!

  1. I find Trollope easier to read than Dickens, though I think this book started out slowly. Barchester Towers moved along much more quickly and I think is the superior novel, though I strongly suggest readers start with The Warden — I think I would have missed a lot if I hadn’t read that first.

    Thanks for pointing out Trollope’s sly wit — he’s funnier than most people imagine. It reminds me a bit of Jane Austen. Great shot at Dickens as Mr. Sentiment!

    • zibilee on December 16, 2010 at 06:51

    What a beautiful review! I have this book on my shelf and bought it after reading Ana’s great review of it. It does sound like something I would like, and having never tried Trollope before, I will take your advice that this is a great place to start. Thanks!

    • Wendy on December 16, 2010 at 07:00

    Tony: I agree – the best character in the book is Harding…who unwittingly gets caught in the politics and seems to be the only one who actually cares about what is right and what is wrong!

    Laura: I always appreciate cynicism and sarcasm (done right!) and I think Trollope really owns this art!!

    Karen: I agree – he is a bit easier than Dickens (although I think some of Dicken’s work is pretty accessible for most people). I thought it was probably a little shocking (for the time) for Trollope to take on a popular writer like Dickens and be so outwardly critical of him in the novel!! Even if he did talk about him by using a fake name!!! *laughs*

    Heather: It is a short enough book that even if you aren’t loving it, it is a fairly easy book to read…I hope you’ll read it so I can read your review! Trollope, like so many Victorian writers, takes a little getting used to…but I found his humor made it a fun book to read.

  2. I love KarenLibrarian’s comment that Trollope and Austen have something in common. I had not put my finger on it before, but that is exactly right. He is interested in manners and silliness, gentleness tinged with a slight little sarcastic grin.

    I’m hoping to read some more Trollope soon, since I enjoyed the book I read for the Circuit so much. I can’t really decide whether to go with this series or the Pallisers…or both. Sigh. There is so much great stuff to read!

  3. I’ve hear this is much slower than some other novels, despite it’s comparitive brevity! I do hope to try it sometime. I’ve enjoyed Trollope.

    • Amanda on December 18, 2010 at 06:00

    I have to admit that I just haven’t been able to get into Trollope, but I know this is a literary gap I should fill.

    • Wendy on December 20, 2010 at 07:56

    Lifetime Reader: So good to hear you enjoyed Trollope too…I agree – way too much good stuff to read and never enough time to get to it all!

    Rebecca: Thanks for the opportunity to finally read from this classic author…although it was a bit slow, I still liked the book and I’ll give Trollope another go sometime.

    Amanda: I think you really have to be in the right frame of mind to read his stuff…

    • joe on March 20, 2013 at 19:23

    can someone write a summary of the story.

    • Wendy on March 21, 2013 at 05:43

    Um, Joe – that IS a summary in the first paragraph.

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