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?