Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

For some reason in all my reading years I've never made the acquaintance of Mr Trollope but visiting fellow participants in A Classics Challenge I kept hearing his name mentioned so I thought it was time I tried his work. I chose The Warden because it is short and also the first in the series of six novels involving the clergy known as the Barsetshire Chronicles.

The story is set in the fictional cathedral town of Barchester where in the 15th century a landowner named John Hiram left a sum of money in his will for the establishment of an almshouse, a place where twelve poor and aging working class men (bedesmen) could live out their days in comfort under the care of a church appointed warden responsible for their physical and spiritual welfare.

Mr Septimus Harding is the present warden, a gentle and caring man who supplements the bedesmen's allowance and plays his cello for them in his garden. He wants nothing more than to see his youngest daughter, Eleanor, happily married , play his cello and spend his last years in peace and quiet.
Then along comes John Bold, a young reformer who has decided to do something about what he sees as an injustice. Over the centuries as the almshouse funds have grown the warden's income has risen with them while the bedesmen's has remained the same. He hires a lawyer, the press becomes involved and poor Mr Harding is devastated at the way his reputation is being publicly tarnished. All made more difficult because John Bold is the man Eleanor wishes to marry and his strongest opponent is Archdeacon Grantly, husband of Mr Harding's elder daughter.

I was captivated from the beginning and very surprised by how easy it was to read. I love Anthony Trollope's style and the moments when he talks directly to the reader and I particularly liked that there were no sides taken, no good and bad guys. Here were ordinary people caught in a situation that tested the integrity of their individual beliefs and suffering accordingly - the chapter where Mr Harding goes to London I found heartbreaking and is a good example of how the author's superb characterisation involves the reader emotionally .

There is delightful humour, some gentle digs at the Church and a whole chapter given over to a stronger indictment of the Press and it's power to destroy lives and reputations ( some things haven't changed).

I think it was a good choice as an introduction to Anthony Trollope and it's left me wanting to read more and looking forward to the next book in this series.

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