The story, written in 1855, centres on the character of Mr. Harding, a clergyman of great personal integrity, whose charitable income far exceeds the purpose for which it was intended. Young John Bold turns his reforming zeal to exposing what he considers to be an abuse of privilege, despite being in love with Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor. The novel was highly topical as a case regarding the misapplication of church funds was the subject of contemporary debate. But Trollope uses this specific case to explore and illuminate the universal complexities of human motivation and social morality.
Harding serves as the warden in an almshouse for 12 elderly men who have no source of income. His employment, as well as the maintenance of the twelve residents, was spelled out in a charitable bequest. John Bold decides to initiate a campaign to rectify what he sees as an injustice in the way the funds are disbursed especially the inflated amount that Harding receives for, what appears to be, very little toil. To complicate matters, Bold and Harding’s younger daughter Eleanor, are romantically involved and he knows Harding to be a conscientious employee with whom he has a cordial relationship. Add in the fact that Harding’s son-in-law is the archdeacon whose intractable opinion on the case, as the lawsuit proceeds, creates an atmosphere that Harding can’t tolerate. As the case advances Trollope skewers The Jupiter, a newspaper modeled after The Times, which has taken up the case as just another example of the misuse of funds by the Church in general and Harding in particular. Mr. Popular Sentiment (Charles Dickens) and Dr Pessimist Anticant (Thomas Carlyle) also take up the case and are caricatured by Trollope.
The writing is spectacular and I will certainly be continuing on with the series. But it’s the development of the Harding character that really stands out. It had me wondering how many brave, honest, upright people I know who would stand up for what is right the way Harding did. And the fact that I had a smile on my face throughout the book didn’t hurt either.
”The bishop did not whistle: we believe that they lose the power of doing so on being consecrated; and that in these days one might as easily meet a corrupt judge as a whistling bishop; but he looked as though he would have done so, but for his apron.”
So…a quiet little book but a compelling look at a microcosm of British church life, from a time that is long gone. Witty and ironic, sweet and moving it couldn’t have been a better introduction to an author I will continue to explore. Highly recommended.
Mr. Harding is a wonderfully endearing character. In addition to being the warden of the hospital, he is also a preceptor and delights in the music for the church services. He is a humble man who is horrified at the grasping, greedy picture of himself that the newspapers paint for the world to read. After a struggle of no mean proportions, he determines that he must give up the wardenship and its accompanying eight hundred pounds, despite the financial blow it will be and the bullying tactics of his more worldly-wise son-in-law, Dr. Grantly. The little machinations to which Mr. Harding resorts in order to get his way despite his weakness are funny and sad at the same time. He's very much a passive-aggressive type, unwilling and unable to argue with Dr. Grantly but firm in his convictions. He buys a clean conscience in the end, despite everything his friends try to do to save him from his own moral promptings.
There are other endearing characters as well. Eleanor is quite the heroine with her brave resolve of giving up John Bold to save her father. Though she is foiled in this noble plan by her friend, Bold's sister Mary, there's no doubt Eleanor really did intend to see it through. I also liked the bishop, another fuddling and "weak" man like Mr. Harding who nevertheless demonstrates true charity and consideration for others. Dr. Grantly is really the only villain in the book (well, perhaps Tom Towers and Abraham Haphazard qualify too), but even he is softened. Indeed, Trollope does his best to apologize for Dr. Grantly's overbearing manner and inflexible pride... and he succeeds. I can't dislike Dr. Grantly nearly as much as I think I ought to. Perhaps Trollope did not feel it wise to castigate a clergyman too harshly.
I appreciated the dry, understated humor that crops up unexpectedly throughout the novel. There is Trollope's brilliant description of a ball, wherein the young men and young women are depicted as opposing armies staring at one another across the ballroom and slowly making advances. The metaphor is quite drawn out and it gets funnier as it continues. And there are the "conjugal confabulations" of the imposing Dr. Grantly and his wife as they converse in bed, along with some amusing reflections on what a trial it must be for clergymen's wives to see their dignified husbands in all states of dishabille. You have to be on the watch for Trollope's humor; he doesn't trumpet that he is being funny when he makes a smart little comment about someone. I laughed at his little descriptions, like the archdeacon's sigh "that would have moved a man-of-war." In some ways it's almost Austenian. In other places (especially in the conversations of the bedesmen), Trollope reminded me of Thomas Hardy's working-class characters.
In his introduction, Louis Auchincloss writes that the crux of the novel is a recurring theme with Trollope: the inevitable collision of traditional privilege and modern ideas. Auchincloss claims (and I think I'd agree) that Trollope understands, to some extent, why people would agitate for change, but ultimately he isn't sure that the change will be for the better. Auchincloss also gently chides Trollope for criticizing the power of the popular newspaper and for portraying Dickens as a sentimentalist painting in garish colors. I'm not sure I care for Auchincloss's tone here; it's one thing to point out Trollope's criticism, but another to call it "inappropriate," as if Trollope is a child being reproved for saying a bad word.
I enjoyed this quiet little novel, so commonplace in its events but undergirded with little profundities, like Mr. Harding being "not so anxious to prove himself right, as to be so." Would that I were the same. I'm new to Trollope, but it seems one the chief delights of his work are the little gems like that. I look forward to the rest of the Barsetshire novels!
Reverend Harding is a pleasant, ineffectual man who has a sinecure as the warden of a small retirement home for deserving working class men that includes a house with pleasant gardens and an annual salary of 800 pounds, given to him because one of his two daughters had married the son of the bishop. Here he lives comfortably, enjoying his music, reading books and visiting the old men in the adjoining hospital now and again. His life would have continued in pleasant routine had not a spirit of reform begun to sweep England and a young reformer, the aptly named John Bold, questioned the generosity of the annual allowance.
Trollope is clearly on the side of the status quo, and he breaks from the narrative to complain about the tactics of an author (supposedly Charles Dickens), whom he calls Mr Popular Sentiment, and who he accuses of biasing the public by creating characters and situations that manipulate the reader into sympathy with his poor working class characters. Of course, Trollope is doing exactly the same thing here; Harding is so mild and inoffensive that it is impossible not to hope that he can keep his generous and largely unearned salary.
Outside of the machinations of the lawyers, clergymen and journalists, there is a sub-plot involving Harding's unmarried daughter and John Bold. They had feelings for each other before Bold discovered possible shady dealings on the matter of the wardenship and it's uncertain as to whether their love will survive the conflict. This part of the novel is particularly satisfying, as Eleanor is an interesting character and Bold's conflict as he tries to do what he sees is right without losing her love results in the most satisfying chapters in this brief novel.
I'm looking forward to continuing on with the Barsetshire Chronicles.
Rating: 3.5* of five
The Book Description: The Warden centers on Mr. Harding, a clergyman of great personal integrity who is nevertheless in possession of an income from a charity far in excess of the sum devoted to the purposes of the foundation. On discovering this, young John Bold turns his reforming zeal to exposing what he regards as an abuse of privilege, despite the fact that he is in love with Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor. It was a highly topical novel (a case regarding the misapplication of church funds was the scandalous subject of contemporary debate), but like other great Victorian novelists, Trollope uses the specific case to explore and illuminate the universal complexities of human motivation and social morality.
My Review: First read in the 1980s, during the first Reagan Administration, I was struck at how little things had changed in the past 130 years. Mr. Bold's lawsuit and its unintended consequences, the fuss and kerfuffle over the uses of “public” (really now, could the specific bequest of a trust to support a charitable activity and administered by the church be considered public today?) funds in a manner the onlooker simply didn't like...think Chrysler bailout, but not International Harvester or US Steel...all of this resonated with me.
Eleanor Harding was no one's fool, hooking up with that pill of the first water John Bold! And I have to say that the portrait of Dickens as Mr. Popular Sentiment made me chortle.
But on re-reading the book in 2012...well...the magic eluded me. I think this was a book that needed the element of not knowing the ending to make the events fun. Since I knew already who was going to do what, I had no huge amount of interest in following the path laid out for me. It was still amusing. It wasn't ever gripping, but it was involving. Now, after 30 years, much of what took place had fled from my head until the words hit my eyes. But as they returned, it was as blocks and lumps and boulders, not flowing back into the river of my thoughts like cool springs and bright brooks.
Good Victorian stodge. But once was enough.
I enjoyed this book for its gentle satirizing of the 19th century church, and of the outrageously righteous reformers. The press, represented by the powerful Jupiter, is portrayed a bit more harshly as being all criticism and anonymity with no accountability, and Charles Dickens ("Mr. Popular Sentiment") is also taken to task for black-and-white condemnations. I particularly loved the warden's devotion to his beloved violincello, and how, during times of stress, he would play it in his mind and with silent gesticulations, paying particular attention to fingering and bowing as the music in his head rose and swelled, and the sweet notes soothed his worry. The humor, sweet melancholy, and excellent narration made for enjoyable listening.
For me the strength of this book is in the memorable characters that Trollope creates: the honest and generous Mr Harding battling with his own concience; the gentle but ineffectual Bishop; and blowing through the book like a whirlwind there is the wonderful archdeacon Dr Grantley, who alternately organises and terrorises all around him.
Trollope's language at times is just perfect. On discovering that Mr Harding's daughter is likely to become engaged to the chief reformer, John Bold:
'The bishop did not whistle; we believe that they lose the power of doing so on being consecrated; and that in these days one might as easily meet a corrupt judge as a whistling bishop; but he looked as if he would have done so, but for his apron.'
This would probably have rated five stars were it not for some of the satire being lost on the modern reader, although his portrait of the famous novelist Mr Popular Sentiment is still recognisable to anyone who has read any Dickens at all!
I'll definitely going on to read the rest of the Barchester Chronicles.
Since there isn't much of a story to be interrupted by them, I don't think Trollope's sometimes rather lengthy asides to the reader are a problem: we can just enjoy them for their own sake. I particularly like the little send-up of Dickens (as "Mr Popular Sentiment"), complete with a thumbnail sketch of how he would have written the story.
The first part of a series, but a standalone novel nonetheless. I really enjoyed it (I know I seem to say that a lot) and see as its central theme the conflict between public and private, internal and external, personal and social. It's a novel about then-current newspaper scandals and church reform, but it's also a deeply personal story of one man, the titular warden, and his internal moral struggle. Mr Harding is a pleasant and well-liked man, and what happens to him is unfair and unpleasant. The end is both a victory and a defeat for Harding, which is a good illustration of the central split of the novel. Both forces acting upon Harding, broadly speaking, the external and the external, are acting from good motives, on the side of Right, (almost all the main characters are connected to the church) and yet they are set in opposition quite early in the text, as Harding realises he cannot do right by the church and his own conscience concurrently.
This split continues as although firmly rooted in contemporary, mid-Victorian issues, scandals and mores, it is very relevant now with regard to charity and obligation in a changing world, and how the best of intentions - and John Bold has the best of intentions - can have unforeseen results when we treat people as statistics. Bold sees Harden as The Warden and, in seeing the injustice of the position, overlooks the kindness and charity of the man.
In the year 1434 John Hiram established a hospital (or almshouse) in the town of Barchester where for centuries to come, twelve elderly, infirm men could live under the care of a warden. At the time when the story takes place, Septimus Harding is the current warden and whilst the amount of money given to the old men has barely changed at all over time, the warden's income has increased to eight hundred pounds a year. When reformer John Bold decides to investigate, Harding finds himself facing a moral dilemma.
The book really made me stop and think, because none of the characters seemed to be either completely in the wrong or completely in the right. Although it was clearly unfair that Mr. Harding was receiving so much money, I sympathised with him because as soon as the unfairness of his position was brought to his attention he became determined to do the right thing. As for the other main characters – John Bold and Harding's son-in-law Archdeacon Grantly – although they are on opposite sides of the debate and have very different opinions regarding the warden's situation, Trollope presents them both as well-intentioned people with normal human flaws. The female characters don't play a very big role in this book, but I loved the relationship between Mr. Harding and his daughter Eleanor.
I really liked Trollope's writing style which is elegant, insightful and witty in a gentle way. There are a few chapters where he departs from the main storyline to spend several pages talking about politics or the media but this is a common trait of Victorian writers. Although it was slow moving in places, Trollope managed to keep me interested from beginning to end. I'm sure some of his other books will be better, but this one was good enough to make me want to read more of his work.
If he had the discipline to do this much writing everyday, perhaps I have a chance to do some reading. If he never seemed to have writer's block, how could we claim reader's block?
The Warden was his fourth novel but the first one that got enough attention to make a lifelong dedication. This is the first of the six Barchester Novels. Some of you may recall that PBS had a series with Sir Alec Guinness that covered The Warden and Barchester Towers back in the Alistair Cooke days.
The Warden is written by a Victorian novelist but it has a modest 200 page length. He is heavy page lifting in many of the other novels. Trollope draws an English world that is packed with very real characters. He did not like Dickens and his exaggerated characters. Trollope is critical but kind toward the characters. He is an excellent way to consider a Victorian novel for the post modern reader.
Later this year, his full version of The Duke's Children will be released for the first time as a major private publishing event. Significant edits were done for previous releases. This is one of the Barchester novels. Expect to hear much reevaluation of Trollope this year. These would be good Masterpiece Theater fodder for the Downton sorts.
In simplest terms, it is easy to describe this book as [Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell] without the magic or Downton Abbey without the melodrama: not a whole lot of importance happens, but the narrator and characters are so charming, the story is worthwhile. The dialogue is outstanding. It was extremely easy to imagine these conversations actually taking place in Victorian parlors. The characterization is quite strong, and there are little details, like Mr. Harding's habit of playing an imaginary cello in times of stress, that are just so enjoyable.
There are a few points that I do feel I have to harp on though. There are two consecutive chapters in the middle of the book that are extended metaphors that bog the flow of the story down, without contributing much. Not coincidentally, these are both thinly veiled attacks on institutions of the time: one the journalistic establishment; the other, Charles Dickens. Not long after these two chapters, Trollope suddenly falls in love with footnotes for a single chapter...with the unfortunate fact that every one of these says essentially the same thing.
In the end, however, I greatly enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it to fans of Victorian literature, and possibly even to people who enjoy Downton Abbey, as long as they can deal with the lack of opulence. If you've made it this far, I'd just like to add that this is my first review on LT and am grateful for your having stuck with me till the end.
What a delight this was! A lush, leisurely story, filled with dry humor, an intriguing cast of characters, and with a real moral dilemma at its heart. And ooooh, that Archdeacon Grantly! From the very first I had this "no way this can possibly end well" sense, and it was a great pleasure to see how Trollope brought it all together. Effectively satirical and deeply amusing, this volume has very much made me want to read more.
The story is about a church official who also serves as the beneficent, albeit well remunerated, Warden of an almshouse for twelve elderly, indigent men. He becomes the target of a local reformer who wants more of the endowment to go to the poor and less to the Warden. A series of lawsuits and machinations follow, lightly interspersed with a wooden romance, and along the way Trollope skewers parliament, the media, the Church of England, philosophical writers, Charles Dickens, and others. Unlike Dickens, none of the characters -- minor or major -- have much life to them. And most of them are painfully cardboard.
But somehow the careful descriptions, the impossible situation depicted, and the panormatic view of this tiny segment of time, space and society are compelling. As one of Trollope's earliest works, I can only assume they get better -- and will require some restraint not to pick up another Trollope novel anytime soon.
A disappointing dramatisation of a book from the middle of this series – I’ll say no more because others who know and love that book have said it already, and much better than I could – made me want to read that book. Because, disappointing though it was, I could see enough in the underpinning to suggest that it was likely to be a book I would love.
That was why, with just a little apprehension, I picked up this first book in the series.
I loved it. And now that I am well into the second book in the series I have to say that I’m not enjoying it as much as I enjoyed this first book. ‘Barchester Towers’ feels rambling and unstructured after this book; I do like it, but not as much as I had hoped, and so I have put it to one side for a while.
‘The Warden’ is one of Trollope’s shorter novels, and I would liken it to a beautifully wrought miniature; not quite perfect but lovely nonetheless.
This story, like many a Trollope, spins around a will. An alms house was set up under the terms of the will of John Hiram in the fifteenth century, to provide food, comfort and shelter for twelve old men who had no home and no means. They were also granted a shilling and fourpence a day for any other wants they might have.
What surplus there was – and sometimes there was very little – was granted to the warden a clergyman responsible for the running of what would become known as ‘Hiram’s Hospital’ and for the spiritual welfare of the men who resided there.
The explaining of this took a while, and that may have been why I put the book down first time around. This time though I felt at home in the author’s company and I recalled that my aunt had been warden of a similar alms house, albeit in a different age and under very different terms.
This story begins when Septimus Harding, a respected, well-liked clergyman, was the warden of Hiram’s Hospital, and when the value of the bequest had grown significantly. That meant that Mr Harding had a very healthy income as well as a lovely house and garden; and he was happy in his work; he cared for his twelve residents and they all liked and respected him.
It is the story of the trials of Mr Harding.
John Bold, an earnest young reformer, was convinced that the hospital funds were being unfairly allocated and that the warden’s income was out of proportion to the minimal duties he is expected to perform. Mr Harding was unworldly, he had never thought to question the financial arrangements of the hospital, though he had had used his personal funds to increase the allowance given to the hospital’s residents to one and sixpence a day.
The popular press took up Mr Bold’s cause, it became a cause celebre, and a court case ensued.
The clerical community, with the forceful archdeacon Dr Grantly, son of the Bishop and husband of Mr Harding’s elder daughter at the forefront, supported the continuation of the warden’s right to the surplus income from the bequest.
John Bold took the opposite view; even though he considered Mr. Harding as a friend, even though he sought the hand in marriage of his younger daughter, Eleanor.
Mr Harding wanted to do the right thing, but he was none to sure what the right thing was.
I loved the way that Trollope told this story. He presented his characters and all of the arguments so well; his narrative voice was warm, acute and witty; and I was particularly taken with how well he created the letters and newspaper reports that illuminated his story.
I appreciated that, though I had a good idea where his sympathies lay, he presented both sides of the matter quite clearly. That made it easy to feel empathy with Mr Harding, a good man who really didn’t know what the rightness of the case was. And to wonder what had been the intentions of John Hiram when he made his will, and what would happen to the old men at the institution the bore his name.
I was very taken with archdeacon, Dr Grantly. He was so certain of the rightness of his cause, and so formidable as he set out to fight for that cause. He was wonderfully entertaining on the printed page, and, though I’m not sure I’d like to meet him in real life, I loved his tenacity, and his loyalty to his family and the church.
I loved Eleanor Harding. She was as devoted to his father as he was to her, and she snubbed John Bold while he was in the enemy camp. She didn’t cut her ties with him though; his sister continued to be her dearest friend, and she hoped that her romance could be rekindled when the court case was over and the dust had settled. She would always be loyal to her father, but she would never lose sight of the future that she knew was ahead of her, the life she wanted to lead.
Most of all though I loved Septimus Harding. He loved his daughters, he loved the old men who were in his care, he loved the work he had been called to do, he appreciated all of the good things he had in his life; and when finally decided what was the right thing to do he proved to be as tenacious, in his own quiet way as his formidable son-in-law.
The sequence of events, as he travelled to London and found his way to the people he needed to see – very much an innocent abroad – was beautifully judged and a joy to read.,
His subsequent visit to the bishop, an old and sympathetic friend, and his return to Hiram’s Hospital were every bit as good.
There were one or two character I would have liked to spend a little more time with – Mary Bold, Susan Grantly and certain of the residents of Hiram’s Hospital – but this is a small book and there is a whole series ahead of me to see a little more of the characters in this book and to meet others.
I’m not sure that I’ll like the next book as much as this one, but I do want to give it another chance and I do want to spend more time in this world.
This is the first novel in the Barchester Chronicles—attentive friends may remember that I listened to the second novel, Barchester Towers, first, loved it and then found it was the abridged version (grrrr) and decided to go back to the beginning and listen to the whole series, unabridged. There are several different audio versions available, and after listening to the samples I opted for this one, narrated by David Shaw-Parker who does a nice job.
It’s a simple enough story: clergyman Septimus Harding is living a peaceful life as the Warden of a hospital (a sort of charity home) for old, indigent men. It’s a nice job with few responsibilities and a fat stipend, allowing Mr. Harding to live as a gentleman and support his single daughter Eleanor. But then reformer John Bold (who happens to be Eleanor’s sweetheart) starts asking questions about the legacy that set up the hospital in the first place, and why the Warden lives so well when the old men only receive a small payment. The newspapers start paying attention, and poor Mr. Harding (who’s been supplementing the old men’s living out of his own pocket) has to choose between giving up his comfortable life or putting up with the glare of publicity brought about by a lawsuit.
Trollope’s sympathies seem to be squarely on the side of tradition in this story, which was inspired by a number of cases brought against clergymen who were living too well. Having just listened to Barchester Towers (which, of course, I shall be listening to again soon in the unabridged version) I was surprised to realize how closely the two novels are connected—if you’re going to read Barchester Towers, generally considered Trollope’s greatest novel, you should doubtless read The Warden first. Being Trollope there’s a great deal of legal and political detail, interspersed with character sketches at some length.
At one point we follow Mr. Harding through just about every minute of a difficult afternoon spent in London, which is hard going even though for the historian it does supply an enormous amount of detail about how people actually lived. It’s during this day that Trollope also goes into a long riff on the power of the press, which is decidedly tedious. In today’s terms, this novel’s got a bit of a saggy middle. And yet I enjoyed the story on the whole, and the audiobook format definitely makes it easier to digest. I’m looking forward to revisiting Barchester in the near future.
I actually read this out of order, and read Barchester Towers first. That one is the better book. This reads like a prequel, not really a book on its own right. The characters are well developed, but the story seems a little thin to sustain a whole book. But now I want to look through Barchester Towers again. Good, but certainly not great.
For me, the real strength of this book lay in how well it brought to life both the characters and their daily existence. No one comes across as a caricature—the warden is not impossibly saintly nor the archdeacon unduly greedy...they are simply human in their eccentricities and foibles.
I don't absolutely rave about it, but I will pick up Barchester Towers, the second in the series.
This is the story of a warden of a charitable hospital, where 12 old men live. The men receive a small amount of money every week, according to the will of the founder of the hospital and over the years the warden has received a larger and larger share because of the increase in property prices etc when the will is challenged it causes all sorts of problems for the warden, and the book is essentially about him, his small family and the characters that surround him. It is Victorian fiction (although initially I did not know that it was from this era which was a bit naive of me!) and it is sometimes hard to follow. On the whole it was enjoyable and I found Trollope to be very witty and ironic at times. The book was quite humourous which therefore made it a bit of a joy to read.