Monday, January 17, 2011

The Warden by Anthony Trollope

This post is brought to you in association with Mrs Margaret Sonnemann!

Fourteen months ago, I had never read Anthony Trollope, and he had never been recommended to me, and I was getting along quite nicely in life without having to read him.

Then I went to Tasmania to stay with some long-lost friends, and during our progression around that island, I was made a captive audience to a Trollope audiobook. It was called Alice Dugdale, I believe, and it was wonderful. I have been looking for my own copy ever since, especially as I did not hear the end of the story and I have been wondering what happened to Alice and her perambulator ever since.

Margaret, the long-lost friend, is a huge Trollope fan and after I had been blogging here for a month or two could no longer contain herself and sent me two Trollope novels of my very own (...and some others, which I will dutifully review when I finish reading them).

The Warden is an immensely enjoyable book. Very short, with bite-sized chapters, it provides a non-threatening introduction to Trollope's work. Set in the fictional English cathedral town of Barchester, it tells the story of Mr Septimus Harding, the gentle precentor of Barchester cathedral. Mr Harding is also the warden of a hospice set up in medieval times for the care and pension of twelve old townsmen, financed by lands in the town. The land has now increased in value, and the upshot is that while the twelve old men are kept in comfortable poverty, the warden finds himself in reception of an income of eight hundred pounds a year.

There have always been quiet murmurs about the warden's income, but then Dr Bold, a civic-minded young man, decides to take action on behalf of the twelve old men, to share out among them the surplus income which he believes is their right. The whole affair becomes a news sensation and very nearly scuppers the course of true love between Dr Bold and the warden's younger daughter Eleanor; but fortunately for Mr Harding, his strong-minded son-in-law, an archdeacon, is not going to let him lose a penny of his eight hundred pounds....I say fortunately, because that's the way the archdeacon sees it; but Mr Harding himself suddenly falls prey to doubt and a sudden certainty that he really is receiving more than his due.

This was a wonderful novel. Though brief, I read it over the course of several days, savouring every chapter. Trollope was a great admirer of Jane Austen, and it shows: he deals, like she did, in the small doings of small people. His wit is a little more pronounced, however, and he pokes fun not merely at his characters (none of them perfect, and none of them utterly wicked) but also at real people of the day; the Pre-Raphaelites, for instance. And though I love the Pre-Raphaelites, I cannot bring myself to dislike Trollope for laughing at them.

I loved the absolutely accurate depiction of the less noble aspects of the legal profession, and all the characters are lovable. The most lovable character of all, however, is the warden. I don't remember the last time I loved a character so entirely; less for his good qualities than for his weaknesses. I heard a good storyteller once defined as a man who can make you love the unlovable. By that definition, Trollope succeeds better than almost anyone I can think of.

Gutenberg etext
Librivox recording


Christina Baehr said...

Yet again, I couldn't have said it better myself. ;D

marmie said...

We are so happy that you so thoroughly "get" Trollope ;) Don't you feel frustrated when people don't?...Like thinking Jane Austen writes romance and not getting the humour? He also has a real gift for being able to see things from every character's perspective. If you keep on reading Trollope, you'll find these characters have cameos in multiple novels. The Last Chronicle of Barset (there are 4 before you get to it!) may be my favourite.

Suzannah said...

I'm glad I pass muster as a Serious Trollope Fan :). I'm looking forward to getting onto the next book (which you so kindly provided me with).

Anonymous said...

If one is a devout Christian, he may not like many of Trollope's novels. Mr. Trollope takes a dim view of Low Church Anglicans (see "Barchester Towers" and "Miss Mackenzie" where the Low Church pastors are definitely not gentlemen) and evangelical Christians (see "John Caldigate" where a mother is depicted as nearly mad because of her firm Christian beliefs). For me (a backsliding Catholic who is now agnostic/atheist), these things aren't a problem, and Trollope is one of my favorite authors.

Keep up the great work; this is a very enjoyable blog. And keep reading Walter Scott! It's a shame he is nearly unread today--a casualty of PC English Departments who figure he's too difficult, too wordy, and too, well, male. I'm finishing "The Tale of Old Mortality", a novel about the 17th century Scottish Covenanters and the Battle of Bothwell Bridge.

Suzannah said...

Thanks for the comment. You have lovely grammar, if I may say so :)

I rarely read a book which I agree with 100%, but I don't expect to do so, and it takes a lot to annoy me. But thanks for the heads-up :). I agree that Scott has been unjustly maligned in recent years. I have read "Old Mortality" and many more Scott novels, although such a long time ago now that I couldn't review them from memory and will have to do a re-read!

I'm glad you enjoy this blog despite all the things you must disagree with, and hope to keep up the good work.


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