(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

At the age of fifty, the Reverend Septimus Harding is appointed precentor of Barchester Cathedral, a position that carries with it the wardenship of Hiram’s Hospital. For more than four hundred years, this institution has provided a home for twelve men in their old age; because the institution’s income has grown to a considerable size, both the warden and the steward receive substantial yearly salaries. With his income of eight hundred pounds a year, Mr. Harding is able to provide comfortably for his younger daughter, Eleanor. His older daughter, Susan, is married to Dr. Grantly, the archdeacon of the cathedral.

John Bold, a young physician with a small practice, turns his energies to reform. On investigation, he discovers that the will of John Hiram, the donor of the hospital, made no stipulation that would result in such a discrepancy as exists between the incomes of the warden and the steward and the incomes of the twelve residents. Bold decides that it is his duty to bring the discrepancy to light. He engages the interest of a newspaperman friend, Tom Towers, and the services of a solicitor named Finney, who explains the situation to the residents and encourages them to think in terms of an annual income of as much as one hundred pounds a year. Most of them sign a petition addressed to the bishop, asking that justice be done.

When The Jupiter, the newspaper for which Towers works, begins to publish editorials about the greediness of the Church and unscrupulous clergymen, Mr. Harding is distressed. It has never entered his head that he is living on an income not his by rights, and he begins to talk of resigning. Eleanor agrees that if her father is unhappy at Hiram’s Hospital, they would be better off at Crabtree Parva, a small parish that belongs to Mr. Harding and that pays an annual income of fifty pounds.

Dr. Grantly, a worldly man, will not hear of Mr. Harding’s resignation. He insists that the warden has an obligation to the Church and to his fellow members of the clergy that requires a firm stand against the laity and the press. Besides, as he points out, the living Mr. Harding would receive at Crabtree Parva would not enable Eleanor to make a suitable marriage.

Dr. Grantly comes to the hospital and addresses the residents. He tells them that John Hiram had intended simply to provide comfortable quarters for old single men who have no other homes. Dr. Grantly’s speech has little effect on anyone except John Bunce and two of his cronies. John Bunce, who is especially close to Mr. Harding, serves as the old...

(The entire section is 1056 words.)