My grubby copy of The Warden

Can you call yourself a fan of Victorian fiction without ever having read Anthony Trollope? Hmmm….that’s what I thought. This is a question I’ve asked myself for years, but I have avoided Trollope because he seemed so intimidating and overwhelming. As I’ve read more and more reviews of his books on your blogs, however, I realized that I was missing out on a gifted storyteller who’s humor and exuberant plots have made him a favorite of many readers. This convinced me to try one of his shorter novels, The Warden, which also happens to be the first of the Barchester Chronicles.

The premise of this novel is fairly simple – Reverend Septimus Harding, a mild-mannered and kind man, is the warden of Hiram’s Hospital. The hospital is an almshouse for elderly, indigent men. When the novel opens there are 12 men residing at the hospital who receive around 62 pounds a year in addition to their bed and board. Mr. Harding receives 800 pounds a year. And here is where the conflict begins. John Bold, a young reformer,”heard from different quarters that Hiram’s bedesmen were treated as paupers, whereas the property to which they were, in effect , heirs, was very large.”

Bold decides to take up the cause of the boarders to force the church to give them more money and to reduce the salary of the warden, who also happens to be the father of the woman he loves. Eleanor, Harding’s daughter, is in love with Bold and can’t believe that he would target her father so cruelly. To further snarl matters, the Bishop of Barchester is the warden’s son-in-law and the future brother-in-law of Bold and he decides to fight Bold in the matter of the warden’s income. It’s a huge mess, really.

The book started slowly for me, I think because I’ve been reading so many contemporary novels lately that I wasn’t used to the Victorian prose. Once I picked up the rhythm of Trollope’s writing, however, I quite enjoyed the complicated plot and the wonderful characters. Trollope can be scathingly critical of his characters and I feel like he doesn’t have much pity for them, but I was able to push this aside and enjoy the novel anyway. Am I wrong about this or does he always make fun of his characters?

I was left a tad deflated with how the novel ends so I am very happy to know that there are many more novels set in the same town with some of the same characters featured in The Warden. After I finished reading The Warden I decided to check my shelves to see how many of the novels in the series I own and was stupefied to find out that I own all of them! That makes it easy for me to continue the series, doesn’t it?

Do you like Trollope?

11 Comments

  1. I do love Trollope but I saw this on TV first and it was very well done with a great cast, Geraldine McEwan (a wonderfully ghastly Mrs Proudie), Clive Swift, Donald Pleasence, Alan Rickman(Mr Slope). I think it helped when I started to read the books because I already loved and hated many of the characters.

    • I came across the tv series when I was researching the Barchester Chronicles online. It looks wonderful! I think I will read all the books and then watch the series. Hopefully, I will have the same reaction you did, though I am doing it in reverse!

  2. I think I may have mentioned that Trollope is one my favorite authors 🙂 and Mr Harding is one of my favorite characters, though not a typical hero. I’m intrigued by your comment that Trollope can be scathingly critical of his characters. I have to think about that one – and whether he always mocks his characters. There are definitely some infinitely mockable characters in Barchester, Katrina has mentioned a couple of them in her comments above. But I think he’d say like Jane Austen (well, Elizabeth Bennet) that he never mocks what is good.

    I really like the ending of The Warden, with Mr Harding settled so cozily into his tiny little church.

    • Lisa, you are the biggest reason why I decided to finally try Trollope. And I’m very glad I did, though I know my post sounded ambivalent. I am glad to know that he doesn’t mock what is good because I really like his good characters.
      The ending was nicely tied up, but I think maybe I didn’t like it because I wanted more of the story, more of the characters! I am glad to know that I can return to Barchester.

      • The Warden has to be the shortest of his novels. The first Trollope I read had both The Warden & Barchester Towers in one volume, so I just read straight through both, and still when I finish The Warden I tend to reach right over for BT.

        As Helen mentions below, Trollope wrote complex characters – but not ideal or model ones – who have flaws, which he does sometimes tease, but he makes them so real that almost everyone shows their human side. If he didn’t write goody two-shoes he also didn’t write stage villains.

  3. I’ve never read any Trollope, but The Warden is on my To Read list. I’ve heard good things about the Barchester Chronicles, and it seems like people who have read Trollope really love him, so I have high hopes for it.

    • I’m really happy that I finally read Trollope. His writing is amusing and his characters are vibrant. I hope you can get to him someday – he is loved for a good reason.

  4. I love Trollope’s writing style and the complex characters he creates. I’ve read the first four books in this series and I think the second one, Barchester Towers, has been my favourite so far. I’m hoping to read the final two soon as I’m looking forward to moving on to his Palliser series.

  5. I LOVE Trollope! I took the plunge a couple of years ago with one of his best works, The Way We Live Now — I have never read an 800 page books so fast! I liked The Warden but I agree, it starts out slowly. Barchester Tower is a faster read, though it’s longer, but it does make more sense having read The Warden first.

    I’ve now read four of the Barsetshire books and really enjoyed them. I’m hoping to get to The Small House at Allington this summer. Trollope is addictive!

  6. I’ve got this on my to read pile so I was glad to read your review! I love that you have all the series ready and waiting 🙂 I’ve been reading more modern than victorian novels recently to I’ll be glad to get back to the victorians!

    • I was so surprised that I had all of the novels – I can’t remember buying them! Victorians are wonderful and I do miss them when I spend too much time on contemporary novels.

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