The Warden (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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The first book of the Barsetshire series, The Warden, finds the Reverend Septimus Harding accused of financial misconduct with his reputation besmirched. This false accusation is used by Trollope to satirize both the religious establishment and the narrow-minded locals. With his deft hand for characterization, the author reveals both the hypocrisy and integrity inherent in the common man.

One of the most prolific writers of the Victorian era, ...
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The Warden (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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The first book of the Barsetshire series, The Warden, finds the Reverend Septimus Harding accused of financial misconduct with his reputation besmirched. This false accusation is used by Trollope to satirize both the religious establishment and the narrow-minded locals. With his deft hand for characterization, the author reveals both the hypocrisy and integrity inherent in the common man.

One of the most prolific writers of the Victorian era, Anthony Trollope (1815-82) did not begin his career as a novelist until he was in his thirties. In addition to his novels, most of them multi-volume "triple-deckers," he also wrote sketches, short stories, travel books, and biographies of classical figures.
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The Warden (1855) is a comic satire that tells the story of Reverend Septimus Harding, a man of scrupulous integrity who is accused of financial impropriety. The first book in Anthony Trollope's popular Barsetshire series, The Warden is based on an actual case of financial profiteering, but Trollope is less interested in the reform of clerical endowments than in the moral dilemma the situation presents. The novel contains recognizable caricatures of his Victorian contemporaries, Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens, but its central appeal, as in all of Trollope's novels, is his engaging, lifelike, complex characters. Although he had published three novels previously, Trollope claimed that after publication of The Warden, "people around me knew that I had written a book."1 Trollope's reputation and popularity remain strong today: most of his forty-seven novels are still in print, and in the twentieth century, The Warden and several other perennial favorites--Barchester Towers, He Knew He Was Right, The Way We Live Now, and the Palliser series-were adapted for British television and film.

One of the most prolific writers of the Victorian era, Anthony Trollope (1815-82) did not begin his career as a novelist until he was in his thirties. His mother, Fanny Trollope, was a professional writer best known for Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), one of the most popular and controversial travel books of the era. Her son became even more famous and was incredibly productive; in addition to his novels, most of them multivolume "triple-deckers," he also wrote sketches, short stories, travel books, and biographies of classical figures. To produce this tremendous volume of work, he set himself a daily schedule of writing, including the time he spent traveling on business by train and ship, even when he was seasick. This literary output is even more astounding since writing was Trollope's second job. He worked thirty-three years for the Post Office, first as a clerk and subsequently as an inspector; he is credited with introducing the pillar mailbox. His thirty-eight-year marriage to Rose Heseltine was happy, harmonious, and uneventful-except for producing two sons. In middle age he developed a friendship with a young American woman, Kate Field. Her feminism may have influenced his creation of several outspoken and independent women characters, but Trollope's relationship with Field apparently resulted in nothing more intimate than a spirited correspondence. He also took a strong interest in politics, evident not only in the central role politicians play in many of his novels but also in his unsuccessful run for Parliament in 1868, when he was defeated in the borough of Beverley in an election characterized by voting corruption and bribery.

The idea for this novel, centered on a circle of small-town clergymen, came to Trollope during a visit to Salisbury "whilst wandering . . . on a mid-summer evening round the purlieus of the cathedral."2 Reverend Septimus Harding is the "warden" of Hiram's Hospital, a charitable residence for impoverished, retired workingmen. Timid but conscientious, Harding has served as a loving steward to the residents, administering to their spiritual needs and providing them with an allowance out of his own pocket. Harding is first astounded and then devastated to learn that the public believes he is profiting by accepting the generous salary that has accrued from the funds left to the almshouse by John Hiram in 1434. The scandal even affects Harding's once-loyal almsmen, whose greed is fuelled by the delusion that they will receive the income if the warden gives up his post. Plagued by gossip and the town's crusading journalist, Harding ultimately finds serenity in his decision to resign. The novel's subplot supplies a love interest: Harding's younger daughter Eleanor in an ironic twist is courted by John Bold, who heads the movement to remove her father from his position. Moreover, Bold is depicted as a man who suffers from a lack of faith in his fellow men--a reformer who does not believe in the honesty of others. Harding is defended by Archdeacon Grantly, a higher-ranking clergyman and his elder daughter's husband, who is more concerned with his father-in-law's loss of status and income than the moral issue involved.

Some of the novel's sharpest barbs are directed at those who exploit social criticism for their own gain. Trollope attacks the kind of opportunistic journalism that sensationalizes Harding's financial situation through his comic depictions of the fictional journalist Tom Towers and his newspaper, the Jupiter, which publishes articles attacking the Reverend. Through thinly veiled portraits of Carlyle ("Dr. Pessimist Anticant") and Dickens ("Mr. Popular Sentiment"), Trollope satirizes major figures of his day. He imitates the overwrought, highly rhetorical style of the eminent social philosopher in the fictional essay by "Anticant" included in the novel. The Warden not only contains satires of Trollope's contemporaries but is also forward-looking as it engages in metafiction, literature that suspends disbelief and acknowledges to the reader that it is in fact fiction. Trollope thus pokes fun at Dickens the social critic as his fictional "Mr. Sentiment" publishes a new novel--which strikingly resembles The Warden--in installment form. Sentiment's novel the Almshouse provides "a direct attack on the whole system." And, as the narrator points out, "It's very well done, as you'll see. His first numbers always are." These caricatures of contemporaries were considered in bad taste by some of Trollope's critics because both Carlyle and Dickens were still living.3

Like his fellow novelist Dickens, Trollope gives his characters comic and suggestive names such as the lawyer, Sir Abraham Haphazard; the fecund minister, Mr. Quiverful (father of fourteen children); or the retired workingman, Abel Handy. His Septimus Harding is characterized through a signature, that is, one telling, distinctive trait: his habit of playing an invisible violincello when preoccupied. Yet while Trollope's characters are often comic, they are rarely caricatures. In contrast to Dickens, who has often been criticized for his saccharine female characters, Trollope is known for the creation of memorable women such as the spirited, indiscreet political wife Lady Glencora (from the Palliser series) or the enchanting, crippled La Signora Madeline Vesey Neroni (of Barchester Towers), who manipulates her admirers while reclining on her sofa. Trollope himself found the characters he created so real that he was constantly preoccupied with their fates: "So much of my inner life was passed in their company, that I was continually asking myself how this woman would act when this or that event had passed over her head, or how that man would carry himself when his youth had become manhood, or his manhood declined to old age."4

The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne praised Trollope's novels for their national character: "just as English as a beef-steak . . . written . . . through the inspiration of ale."5 A devotee of the perennially English tradition of fox hunting, Trollope depicts the excitement of the chase through incorporating dramatic hunting sequences-before the end of the hunt someone is sure to fall into a ditch or have his bones crushed-into many of his novels. Although he satirizes aristocrats who devote their entire lives to the hunt, Trollope loved the sport and hunted until he was over sixty years old. His novels are subtly nuanced anatomies of mid-Victorian society, an era in which social class was a major concern even as British culture was evolving into a less-stratified system. Despite his own impoverished youth, Trollope creates sympathetic portraits of upper-class characters, such as the Duke of Omnium, the major character in the Palliser novels, who is compelled to adjust to the demise of aristocratic power and authority. At the same time, Trollope also presents the incursion of wealthy Americans and the rise of a newly comfortable British middle class. M. A. Goldberg claims, "It is understandable why the tide of Trollope's literary affairs turned with the publication of The Warden in 1855. Here, for the first time, Trollope managed to capture the spirit of his age. . . ."6

Trollope told his publisher that if The Warden proved successful he intended a sequel.7 Accordingly, the next novel in the series, Barchester Towers (1857), continues the story of Reverend Harding and his marriageable daughter; the sequel introduces other memorable characters as well, such as the conniving, sycophantic chaplain, Obadiah Slope, and the dictatorial, meddling Mrs. Proudie and her husband, the hen-pecked Bishop. With the Barset and Palliser series, Trollope popularized the multivolume sequence novel or roman-fleuve. They were formed of a series of interrelated volumes with recurring characters, but the individual novels stand well on their own. Yet when read as a series, the books gain the appeal of familiarity, and the characters become a circle of old friends. As in soap operas or serials, they gain their popularity from pleasurable returns to past experiences. In addition to cultivating and popularizing the sequence novel, a genre well suited to the gargantuan reading appetites of Victorian audiences, the Trollopian novel introduced the fictional exploration of a moral case, a major contribution that is particularly evident in The Warden. Ruth apRoberts views this strategy as a kind of situation ethics. She argues that "[h]is concern is always moral, and he is always recommending, by means of his cases, a more flexible morality."8 In The Warden, Trollope creates a complex dilemma not only by constructing a plot around a moral conflict, but through the subtlety of the case. Harding is less bothered by his opponent than by his own conscience; his most significant conflict is internal. As the man accused, Harding exemplifies a higher morality and conscience than those who persecute him. Moreover, although Harding loses his sinecure, he gains even greater moral credibility. The Trollopian social problem thus "present[s] moot questions, gray areas, unanticipated embarrassments."9 The novel unfolds the moral dilemma with the momentum of Greek tragedy, as a small initial event precipitates a landslide that none of the participants could foretell and that none can stop.

The major interpretive crux of the novel centers on the precise motivation of the protagonist-whether Harding is a hero who resigns because of his conscience, or a fainthearted quitter who abdicates his position because he cannot tolerate the confrontation. Most critics find Harding to be a meek, mild-mannered hero, but Goldberg argues that Harding "prefer[s] compromise to strife."10 Another critic who takes this less flattering view of the protagonist is Kevin Floyd, who finds that "Harding's motive is . . . a simple longing for the quiet that an end to the controversy will bring about."11 Alternatively, this interpretation might be viewed as suggesting not so much as the failing of the protagonist as the promotion of an ethos that values a less competitive society. James Kincaid claims that "Mr. Harding's resignation . . . is a radical affirmation, a refusal to live by a morality which crudely equates virtue with success and therefore disregards the private life altogether."12 One of Trollope's major critics, Kincaid finds this theme to be reinforced in the following Barset novel: "The real winners are those who do not fight. At the heart of the book is a profound protest against the competitive mode of life . . . ."13 This interpretation, moreover, has autobiographical support since Trollope inveighed against public competition for civil service jobs; he believed that examinations were ineffective in identifying the most qualified candidate for positions such as the one he himself held with the Post Office.14

Trollope's immense popularity with a wide public was fueled more by his sympathetic characters than by any driving suspense in his plots. He wrote in his Autobiography: "No novel is anything, for purposes either of comedy or tragedy, unless the reader can sympathise with the characters whose name he finds upon the page. Let an author so tell his tale as to touch his reader's heart and draw his tears, and he has, so far, done his work well."15 Only rarely did Trollope imitate the highly suspenseful sensation fiction popularized in the 1860s by Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Although his novel The Eustace Diamonds introduces one of the early Victorian detectives and revolves around a mysterious theft of a valuable diamond necklace by a man who is discovered to be a bigamist, Trollope generally disdained the manipulation of readers that is a major feature of mysteries. He claimed, "the highest merit which a novel can have consists in perfect delineation of character, rather than in plot."16 Most of his plots center on romantic complications: love and marriage thwarted by irrational jealousy, imprudent marriages later regretted, or rejected lovers who subsequently become the subject of obsessive love. It is the vivid emotional insight into characters that gives these simple plots their fascination. Perhaps Henry James, himself a nineteenth-century novelist and critic, best summarized Trollope's appeal when he wrote upon the occasion of the author's death that "[h]is great, his inestimable merit was a complete appreciation of the usual."17 A best-selling author in his own lifetime, Trollope's reputation suffered with his descendants, the modernists, who felt compelled to reject their Victorian precursors in their own efforts to revolutionize literature and "make it new." Phillip Holcomb claims that the low point of Trollope's popularity was from his death in 1882 until the 1930s. Trollope regained popularity during World War II, when his novels again became best sellers.18 Ironically, the posthumous publication of his Autobiography (1883), with its account of his method of writing three hours each morning, producing 250 words each quarter hour with his watch before him, may have most damaged his reputation, suggesting Trollope was concerned with commercial success rather than art. Discipline and imagination are not mutually exclusive, however. Trollope's perennial popularity is attested to by the high praise he received from twentieth-century writers as diverse as Somerset Maugham and Rebecca West. More recently, Cynthia Ozick praised Trollope's novels for their length and mourned, "What disappoints in any novel by Trollope is the visible approach of its end: when more has been read than remains to be read."19 Something of a literary phoenix, Trollope continues to delight readers attracted to the complex humanity of his characters and the pure escapism of a good read.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 13 of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 29, 2009

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    This is a charming little classic concerning ethics. While that, strictly speaking, is true, it's not really the half of it. It's about one man, Mr. Harding, and his family: two daughters, one married, the other quite single. It's also about Harding's neighborhood and circle of friends. It's about the necessity of having a good reputation and a clean conscience.

    Eleanor is the apple of her daddy's eye. Susan is married to an Archdeacon. (I *believe* his name is Grantley). Because of his eldest daughters good fortune in marriage, Mr. Harding, has been named warden of Hiram's Hospital (alms house). The 'enemy' of Mr. Harding (and the suitor of Eleanor) is a young man named John Bold. When we are first introduced to these characters, we are learning that Bold is encouraging a law suit against Mr. Harding. He feels that Mr. Harding is in violation of the will. (Way, way, way back when (several centuries past), a man left his (quite wealthy) estate to the church. The church followed the will for the most part, but as times changed, they changed the way they carried it out. They were following it through in spirit in a way: still seeking to take care of twelve poor men (bedesman) but over time the salary of the warden increased.) Bold has stirred up the twelve bedesmen into signing a petition demanding justice, demanding more money, demanding 'fairer' distribution of funds.

    The book presents this case through multiple perspectives: through two Grantleys (father and son), a few lawyers, Mr. Harding and Mr. Bold, of course, and through a handful of the twelve men involved that would profit from the change. There is one man whose voice seems louder than all the rest. And that voice comes from the newspaper, the Jupiter, one journalist writes harsh, condemning words directed at Mr. Harding--he assumes much having never met Harding personally. These words weigh heavy on the heart and soul of Mr. Harding. (And they don't sit easy on Mr. Bold either.)

    Can Mr. Harding get his reputation back? What is the right thing to do? Is he in violation of the will? Is the church? What is his moral responsibility in caring for these twelve poor-and-retired men? What is his responsibility to the community?

    The Warden is a charming little book. In part because of the language and style. There's an easiness and rightness about it. It was one of those cases where I knew almost from the start that Trollope and I would come to be good friends. Though I'd never read any Trollope before, never seen a movie based on one of his books, reading Trollope felt like coming home. Trollope was good at characterization and equally good at storytelling.

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  • Posted May 31, 2009

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    Not fast pace but great character development .

    The first in the Barset series its not nearly as good as the second book Barchester Towers but reading the Warden does add depth to the second book. Dickens fans will probably like Anthony Trollope.

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  • Posted March 2, 2009

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    Not for profit

    Septimus Hardy is that rarity - an honest, "disinterested", Church of England cleric. For 10 years, he has held the living as warden at a charitable "hospital", founded centuries ago for impoverished but worthy tradesmen. When in the interest of reform, John Bold, Warden Hardy's daughter's suitor, brings a suit against the church for diverting alms to the clergy rather than the poor.

    All manner of trouble arises when Mr. Hardy's conscience clashes with the plans of his Arch Deacon, who also happens to be his son-in-law. Employing subtle (and sometimes not) satire to age old conflicts between right/wrong, church/society, rich/poor, law/common sense, Trollope prods his readers to consider the nature of charity and society's obligations to the less fortunate. He presents both sides with fairness, providing no easy solution to a problem that is always with us. Thought provoking and still topical, though originally published in 1855.

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