My year has been seriously low in Victorian novels so I made a last ditch attempt to address the balance before the end of 2017. I’ve been meaning to read The Warden for ages, at least two years as I distinctly remember picking this up at the Oxfam shop near where I used to work. It has been languishing on the shelf ever since, despite regular appearances on every single TBR list I’ve made since then. I’m the worst.
The Warden is the first of Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles and features Septimus Hawkings, the elderly guardian of a cathedral charity that provides shelter to ten poor old men in their final years. The charity was established by a bequest in an ancient will and it provides Mr Hawkings with a lovely house in the cathedral grounds and a generous salary to live on in exchange for his guardianship of the ten elderly men. The problems start when a well-meaning young reformer, John Bold, starts investigating the terms of the will and decides that Hawkings, while innocent of any malice, has been receiving too much of the money originally intended to make those impoverished old men comfortable in their old age.
Mr Hawkings is clearly a well-meaning, honourable old soul and you end up feeling quite sorry for him as his name is dragged through the press and his old wards gradually turn against him. He’s caught in a horrible place between his wish to do the right thing morally, even though legally speaking he has done nothing wrong, and the demands of his Archdeacon, who insists that he hold fast and defend the church against its accusers. It doesn’t help of course that his daughter also happens to be in love with John Bold. It’s all very troubling. I expect Trollope may have been having a dig here at some of the well-known social reformers of the time who tried hard to help the poor but actually did more harm than good; there’s even a thinly veiled portrait of Dickens in the character of Mr. Popular Sentiment, the author of a self-righteous and sentimental novel condemning the almshouse system. I’m not sure whether Trollope is suggesting that it’s best to just let things be but I think I’m probably on the side of Mr. Popular Sentiment with this one. It doesn’t seem right to me that so much of the charity money should be syphoned off for the warden, even if he is a good and honest man.
I don’t think I enjoyed this as much as The Eustace Diamonds, which to date is the only other Trollope novel I’ve read. It’s fairly low on drama (although I enjoyed Eleanor’s hysterics) but it was an entertaining enough read and I loved Trollope’s characters. He’s so good at providing detailed insights into how the mind of each one works so you can always understand how they feel and why they behave as they do. None of them are entirely good or evil, they’re all just human and even Dr Grantly, the archdeacon who at first glance might appear to be the villain of the piece, is treated pretty fairly over all. This book was an important one to me as I hoped it would help me decide whether to read the rest in the Barsetshire series. The Warden is a slow and considered start but I have high hopes for the ones that follow.
I expect this will be my last post for now. Merry Christmas every one 🙂