Being a lover of Victorian fiction, I have wanted to read something by Anthony Trollope for a long time but didn’t know which of his books to begin with. I’ve heard a lot about The Way We Live Now and Can You Forgive Her? but I decided to go with The Warden because it’s relatively short and I thought that if I wasn’t enjoying it I’d be more likely to finish a book with 200 pages than one with 800. Luckily, this wasn’t a problem – I enjoyed the book and wouldn’t have minded if it had been longer.
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.
Publisher: Penguin Classics/Year: 1984 (first published 1855)/Pages: 240/Source: My own copy bought used