I’ll be frank and admit that The Warden by Anthony Trollope kind of disappointed my expectation. I’ve heard many good things about this first book of the Barsetshire Chronicles and was very much eager to clear my reading space to accommodate it, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me as it ought. However, if I truly liked a book for its social satire and its fine writing, The Warden can be named without hesitation. I shouldn’t be misinterpreted by this assertion to mean that I didn’t like the story, for I did to a considerable extent, but my enjoyment of the book laid primarily on its social satire and Trollope’s excellent writing.
The story of The Warden is developed from one of the prevalent themes of his day. The Church of England was highly criticized for the wealth and income held by its clergy. This attack, which was initiated by some zealous reformists, was happily backed by the press. Trollope, while not betraying his personal views, addresses this subject from a neutral point of view. While not deterring from exposing the material comforts the clergy (especially the higher ranks) undoubtedly enjoy from the considerable wealth and the income derived from that, Trollope proceeds to probe into the truth of these allegations. Reformists were of the view that Clergy was unjustly enriched and that they misappropriated funds that were meant for the benefit of the poor. But Trollope shows that sometimes things are far from what meets the eyes and that overzealous reformist ideas can do more harm than good.
Mr. Septimus Harding, the warden of Hiram’s hospital is accused of benefitting himself from an income that is said to be due to its poor 12 resident inhabitants. While on close legal scrutiny this was discovered to be not true in the strictest terms, Mr. Septimus resigns from the wardenship, since according to his own conscience, he is unable to hold a position and an income which was thus questioned. Mr. Harding makes his position clear when he expresses his disinterest in these terms: “one does question it – the most important of all witnesses against me – I question it myself. My God knows whether or no I love my daughter; but I would sooner that she and I should both beg, than that she should live in comfort on money which is truly the property of the poor.” Mr. Harding acts nobly and sacrifices a good income and a comfortable life in his old age for a much poorer one. And in any case, since the inhabitants would not benefit in any way from Mr. Hardings’s resignation, nothing good comes out of it. Worse still is that Mr. Harding being gone, there was no one to care for the poor invalids of the hospital, and they suffer considerably from lack of attention. Trollope is trying to show society that misplaced zeal can sometimes do more harm than good. And the penitent Mr. Bold, the reformists (the Barsetshire Brutus as Trollope calls him :)), realizes a little too late that his misguided conduct has, in fact, marred the good name of an innocent man driving him from a position which he is suitable to hold, and putting those who were under his care in a much worse position.
I enjoyed this thematic debate, and as I’ve already said, Trollope’s satire and writing. But I had certain issues in some quarters, especially on the plot and character development. The story started promisingly and was built up well till about two-thirds of the book, but then, it fell out in Trollope’s rush to conclude the story. Technically, he wound it up “realistically” by not pressing too much on “happily ever after”. But I felt the latter part to be more of a closing of an account than the closing of a story. As to the characters, though I liked them to a varying degree, the only fully-fledged character was that of Mr. Harding. A close second is secured by the Archdeacon, Dr. Grantly. But rest was felt as half-formed. Also, I expected more character participation from Mr. Bold since he is the “opposing” party. But here was a bitter disappointment since Trollope has evidently decided to make him a secondary character and had him made almost redundant in the last third of the story. That was, to me, unforgivable. 🙂
On the whole, it was light and entertaining, full of satire and good writing with a thought-provoking message. It’s only that my expectation was a bit shattered and that robbed a star from the book.