Friday, November 23, 2012

Book Review - Anthony Trollope's The Warden

The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Published by: Everyman's Library
Publication Date: 1855
Format: Hardcover, 203 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Mr. Septimus Harding is the Warden of Hiram's Hospital in Barchester. He is also the precentor of that town's cathedral. Yet it is his care of Hirman's Hospital that brings him much grief. The hospital was founded by John Hiram many many years before as an almshouse for the care of twelve bedesmen. Hirman's wish was for his Hospital to care for those who had worked hard all their lives and had no one to care for them. Here enters the Warden. The Warden would care for the spiritual and psychical well-being of the men. Over the years though the position of Warden has become an envious position and a gift of the Bishop, because while the cost of living has changed, the men still only receive what was stipulated in the will, while the rest of the now considerable money goes into the pockets of the Warden.

Mr. Harding though is an innocent man. He does not think of money but only the well-being of his charges. All this changes when Mr. Bold appears on the scene. For quite some time he has been a friend to Mr. Harding and a hopeful suitor to his daughter, Eleanor Harding. Yet Mr. Bold is also a bit of a reformer. He likes seeing his name attached to good deeds in the press and here is the Warden, oblivious in the ways of the world. A man who doesn't know he is doing wrong and continuing the evils of the church. Despite his love for Mr. and Eleanor Harding, he launches an attack on the hospital. With the newspapers grabbing hold of the story, it soon turns into a witch hunt with lawyers on both sides and the poor Warden in the middle.

Trapped between doing what he loves and feeling that perhaps he is in the wrong, Mr. Harding for the first time in his life has to dig deep inside his soul and find an answer for himself. While his son-in-law, Dr. Grantly, is zealously defending the church and his own father, the Bishop, it might come down to the evil muck flung at Mr. Harding by the press that finally sways him. To be thought to be doing wrong is more than this innocent lover of music and caregiver can take.

Quite a few years back now I remember watching The Way We Live Now and thinking, damn, this Anthony Trollope is awesome. As it often happens with me, I first devoured all the miniseries I could, falling deeply in love with The Pallisers, and then going out and getting all the books I could lay my hands on. This was harder then it is now because at the time Trollope was oddly out of print here, but thanks to Andrew Davies and the BBC that has since changed. In fact, because of the surge of interest in Trollope they re-released an old BBC Miniseries The Barchester Chronicles. I immediately bought it, mainly because it had Alan Rickman in it, so it couldn't be bad, now could it? I was sort of wrong... there where times when it was wonderful, and times when I was bored to tears. The miniseries followed the first two books in the Barchester Chronicles, and can you guess which part bored me to tears? That's right, the part based on The Warden.

Yet, despite my boredom with the miniseries, I knew one day that I would read this book. Mainly because the Barchester Chronicles, all six books in the series, are some of the most loved books of their time. I thoroughly enjoyed the Pallisers, so I HAD to eventually get to reading this book. In fact, I was hesitant on many occasions. But my desire to read about Barchester, a land so loved that even other authors, like Angela Thirkell, have taken up their pen to this hallowed ground eventually won out. That and I was determined to read a Trollope book for my Dickensian Denouement and the first book in the Pallisers, Can You Forgive Her, is like five times the length and with school, my time is precious.

I will say I was pleasantly surprised at first. The story was simple and sweet and even if you don't care anything for church politics and reform, Trollope was able to make the story engaging by having you fall in love with the characters. Yet there was a flaw that Trollope repeatedly fell prey to that made me more than once set the book aside after my eyes had glazed over and I almost fell asleep. He had these long diatribes that would be inserted almost but not quite randomly into the story. Not only did it break up the narrative and take you out of the book, but dear lord, there was almost more diatribe than plot for a lot of the book!

Trollope's two main attacks where against the press and against popular sentimental authors. While the attack on the authors was funny, because it was clearly aimed directly at Dickens and in particular Bleak House, which had just finished it's weekly run, and it's limp heroes and heroines (Ester anyone?) and fascinating though absurdly named secondary characters. Yet this rant went overly long and the amusement I felt waned and I just wanted it to end. His other rant was even longer. The press and popular journalist where his other target. While it is more than a little terrifying that in his lambasting of the press he was able to nail the growing power that the press has gotten a hold of, to the extent where it creates the news, even to this day, I didn't sign up for reading so much about it, thank you very much.

Though, I have to say, I'm excited, now that I've gotten through the first book, who knows the awesomeness that awaits. I hope people have not been steering me wrong all these years and that the rest of the series is as wonderful as they say. If Trollope sticks on topic, I have no doubt of his abilities... Tom Towers indeed, get thee and thy press away.


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