Friday, 4 April 2014

The Warden, by Anthony Trollope.

~ The Chonicles of Barsetshire ~

From March through to August, Amanda and Melissa are hosting the Chronicles of Barsetshire read-along beginning with the first in the series, The Warden.

The Warden (which was originally going to be titled The Precentor) was completed in 1854 (it was sent to William Longman, a publisher, on 8th October) and first published in January 1855, and it was Anthony Trollope's fourth novel (following The Macdermots of Ballycloran, 1847, The Kellys and the O'Kellys, 1848, and La Vendée: An Historical Romance, 1850).  

The idea for The Warden was born when Trollope had returned to England from Ireland and was on a fact-finding mission to develop the rural delivery of letters (Trollope worked for the General Post Office from 1834 to 1867 and is credited with introducing the post box, or pillar box, to Great Britain). During this time he visited Salisbury in Wiltshire, in the south west of England (in the news recently because of the floods). He wrote in his autobiography (An Autobiography, 1883) that he had never lived in a cathedral city other than London, nor had he intimately known any clergymen, yet in Salisbury he was inspired to write The Warden, and indeed the Chronicles of Barsetshire. In The Warden, Trollope tells the story of Septimus Harding, a precentor of the church and warden of Hiram's Hospital. He is a good man who is in possession of a vast income, which, at the time, the Church of England was criticised for. As Trollope writes in the second chapter,
Mr. Harding has now been precentor of Barchester for ten years now; and, alas, the murmurs respecting the proceeds of Hiram's estate are again becoming audible. It is not that anyone begrudges to Mr. Harding the income which he enjoys, and the comfortable place which so well becomes him; but such matters have begun to be talked about in various parts of England. Eager pushing politicians have asserted in the House of Commons, with very telling indignation, that the grasping priests of the Church of England are gorged with wealth which the charity of former times has left for the solace of the aged, or the education of the young. The well-known case of the Hospital of St. Cross has even come before the law courts of the country, and the struggles of Mr. Whiston, at Rochester, have met with sympathy and support. Men are beginning to say that these things must be looked into.
Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop Grounds, by
John Constable (1825)
"These things" were indeed a matter of interest. Victoria Glendinning in her biography of Trollope wrote of "hostile press reports" about almshouses (such as Hiram's Hospital") and other charitable donations "providing incomes for idle clergymen". Whilst Trollope agreed in principle with the press, he found their method, their attacks, as a "second evil": in his autobiography, Trollope writes,
The archdeacon came whole from my brain after this fashion;—but in writing about clergymen generally, I had to pick up as I went whatever I might know or pretend to know about them. But my first idea had no reference to clergymen in general. I had been struck by two opposite evils,—or what seemed to me to be evils,—and with an absence of all art-judgement in such matters, I thought that I might be able to expose them, or rather to describe them, both in one and the same tale. The first evil was the possession by the Church of certain funds and endowments which had been intended for charitable purposes, but which had been allowed to become incomes for idle Church dignitaries. There had been more than one such case brought to public notice at the time, in which there seemed to have been an egregious malversation of charitable purposes. The second evil was its very opposite. Though I had been much struck by the injustice above described, I had also often been angered by the undeserved severity of the newspapers towards the recipients of such incomes, who could hardly be considered to be the chief sinners in the matter. When a man is appointed to a place, it is natural that he should accept the income allotted to that place without much inquiry. It is seldom that he will be the first to find out that his services are overpaid. Though he be called upon only to look beautiful and to be dignified upon State occasions, he will think £2000 a year little enough for such beauty and dignity as he brings to the task. I felt that there had been some tearing to pieces which might have been spared. 
Septimus Harding (Donald Pleasance)
and Eleanor (Janet Maw) in the
BBC's Barchester Chronicles. 
Although in love with Mr. Harding's daughter Eleanor, it is John Bold in The Warden who determines to expose the "first evil", and he enlists 'The Jupiter' (a thin disguise of 'The Times', used in all of the Barchester Chronicles, as well as Trollope's The Bertrams, 1859, and The Struggles of Brown, Jones & Robinson, 1862) to aid him in his quest. The editor, who Trollope wryly notes, "compounded thunderbolts for the destruction of all that is evil, and for the furtherance of all that is good, in this and other hemispheres", portrays Harding as a selfish and greedy man (nothing could be further from the truth), and the image is eagerly taken up by Dr. Pessimist Anticant and Mr. Popular Sentiment, parodies of Thomas Carlyle and Charles Dickens. Here's the description of Mr. Popular Sentiment from Chapter XV:
Of all such reformers Mr. Sentiment is the most powerful. It is incredible the number of evil practices he has put down: it is to be feared he will soon lack subjects and that when he has made the working classes comfortable, and got bitter beer put into proper-sized pint bottles, there will be nothing further for him left to do. Mr. Sentiment is certainly a very powerful man, and perhaps not the less so that his good poor people are so very good; his hard rich people so very hard; and the genuinely honest so very honest. Namby-pamby in these days is not thrown away if it be introduced in the proper quarters. Divine peeresses are no longer interesting, though possessed of every virtue; but a pattern peasant or an immaculate manufacturing hero may talk as much twaddle as one of Mrs. Ratcliffe's heroines, and still be listened to. Perhaps, however, Mr. Sentiment's great attraction is in his second-rate characters. If his heroes and heroines walk upon stilts as heroes and heroines, I fear, ever must, their attendant satellites are as natural as though one met them in the street: they walk and talk like men and women, and live among our friends a rattling, lively life — yes, live, and will live till the names of their callings shall be forgotten in their own, and Buckett and Mrs. Gamp will be the only words left to us to signify detective police officer or a monthly nurse.
Anthony Trollope, by 'Spy'
(Leslie Wood) for Vanity Fair,
5th April 1873).
How it all resolves itself: well, as ever I won't spoil it! But this is one very interesting novel for the subject matter, the portrayal of the social lives of the clergy in the 19th Century, and the attack on Dickens, and it surprises me that it's not generally well received. Even at the time of publication there was little interest in it (as Trollope himself notes, "The novel-reading world did not go mad about The Warden..."). I love it, though - it's a gentle novel, with real, 'whole' characters (George Orwell described it as one of his best works), and Septimus Harding is one of my favourite characters of all time. The novel is the first of a series, but it is not merely that, to me it stands alone also. I've loved Trollope for a long time for his informal conversational style. As Henry James wrote, Trollope was one of those writers "who have helped the heart of man to know itself".



  1. Wow! You found so much fascinating information! Now that I'm halfway through Barchester Towers I'm realizing how important it is to read the books in order. Even though I didn't love The Warden, I'm so glad I read it first!

    1. Are you enjoying it? I hope I like it better the second time around...

      SO looking forward to Doctor Thorne - I haven't read that one yet :)

  2. That sounds so interesting, now I want to try to catch up for the rest of the readalong

    1. Do! Because I'm not enjoying our Lawrence read-along :) Damn Lawrence...


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