Student Question

What is the main theme of The Warden by Anthony Trollope?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Warden by Anthony Trollope is the first in a group of six novels often referred to as The Chronicles of Barsetshire. The novels are set in the fictional county of Barsetshire of which the principal city is the fictitious cathedral town of Barchester.

The Warden has a third person omniscient narrator and chronicles the events happening to the Reverend Harding, an old-fashioned clergyman with a love of traditional religious music and a kind if rather ineffectual temperament. Its main theme is clerical reform, in particular the fight to clean up the allocation of benefices, pluralism, and other areas in which church emoluments seemed to be unfairly distributed. In this particular case, John Bold takes on what he sees as an abuse of a bequest in the wardenship of Hiram’s Hospital. The muckraking newspaper The Jupiter picks up on this and shames and humiliates Harding.

The most interesting part of the novel is that, as is typical with Trollope, matters turn out not to be so clear-cut as they appear to dogmatists on either side. Although the way the warden is allocated money is unfair, Harding himself is quite decent and handles his job with a great deal of personal decency and integrity, eventually even sacrificing opportunities to sustain a high income on ethical grounds. As a result of the furor over the handling of the bequest, the beneficiaries end up far worse off than they were under Harding's gentle if faintly incompetent leadership.

Thus the theme is that narrow dogmatism and rigid implementation of ideals, no matter how good they appear in the abstract, should always be tempered by awareness of individual circumstances, and that individual human kindness and charity are perhaps more important and help people more than grand ideas and principles. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial