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Monday, 13 April 2015

Book Review: The Warden by Anthony Trollope

The Warden is the first in Trollope's 'Chronicles of Barsetshire'. The warden of the title is Mr Septimus Harding who oversees Hiram's Hospital, an almshouse which supports twelve bedesmen whilst allowing Mr Harding and his younger daughter Eleanor to live very comfortably. Unfortunately, local reformer John Bold takes up the case of the bedesmen, arguing that the legacy has been mishandled and the men are still living in relative poverty while Mr Harding lives well. Adding another dimension to this disagreement is the fact that John and Eleanor secretly love each other.

This was my first Trollope (yes, I know, naughty Victorianist) and I think I picked well. Though the book really does take a while to get going, once I was a quarter of the way in I was hooked. The story's a very simple one, there aren't any big shocks and all the drama stems from the characters, of which there are some memorable ones. Chief amongst those is Archdeacon Grantly, Mr Harding's son-in-law, who is opinionated and a bit of a bully when it comes to what his father-in-law should do about the dispute. I'm looking forward to following him and other characters further in Barchester Towers.

I did find the book dragging a little when the narrative moved away from Barchester and followed Mr Harding to London in his quest to solve the problem. While some of the descriptions there were evocative, the section seemed in contrast to the rest of the book which was tightly-wound around Barchester.

Ultimately, The Warden proved to be a good introduction to Trollope for me and I'll certainly read more. As with much good Victorian fiction, the issues it raises are as potent today and, it has to be said, no more easily resolved. What shines through in this novel for me is Mr Harding's overwhelming niceness. Not a bad impression to be left with perhaps.

This book was read as part of the 'Victorian Bingo' reading challenge, details here.

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