Anthony Trollope, one of the most prolific and popular Victorian novelists, began his successful Barchester series of six novels with The Warden, which was published in 1855. Trollope spent many years working for the civil service in the post office division and only gradually made enough money by his writing to retire and write full time. The Warden brought him his first financial success as an author. Trollope owes his success with readers and critics alike in part to his knowledge of ecclesiastical and political mores, his clever writing style, and the sympathy he shows for his characters and, indeed, for the human condition.
The story of The Warden is based very loosely on several ecclesiastical inquiries of Trollope’s era in which the Anglican Church was accused of diverting monies from ancient endowments to the pockets of idle clergymen, thereby stinting the charitable purposes for which the endowments had been intended. Trollope’s novel raises just such an ethical question, then complicates the issue by making the benefiting clergyman, Mr. Harding, the most honest and decent of men. Trollope states his own view of the matter through his narrator when he says, “In this world no good is unalloyed, and . . . there is but little evil that has not in it some seed of what is goodly.”
Most of the characters in The Warden display this mixed quality. John Bold, the reformer, is zealous to do good but inadvertently injures Mr. Harding, whom he respects, whereas Archdeacon Grantly bullies and insults Mr. Harding, whom he purports to defend. Eleanor Harding assiduously defends her father to John Bold while furthering her own romance. The warden himself, in his humility and honesty, is the most consistent character. Harding, a cello-playing church mouse, ultimately faces down his church-militant son-in-law Grantly and resigns as warden of Hiram’s Hospital, but, as Trollope had predicted through his narrator, the twelve bedesmen who were his charges are worse off and no one has gained anything.
Trollope uses his knowledge of ecclesiastical minutiae, Church and English politics, and journalism to good advantage in The Warden,...
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