The Warden (1855) by Anthony Trollope

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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 🙂

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Top Ten Tuesday: Autumn TBRs

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. 

Usually I begin a TBR post with a long whinge about how I never stick to my reading plans and don’t really know why I bother making them. My last such list, made about this time last year, began exactly that way. This time, however, is a little different because I actually read six (six!) of the books I listed back then. Six! Hoo-bloody-ray.

Admittedly, it’s been a year but…… Six!

The books on my current Autumn reading list are a combination of leftovers from the last one (with the exception of To The Hermitage which I’m finally giving up on after thirteen years and four attempts) and those I got for my birthday:

1. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. This came all the way to France and back again and remained unread in my suitcase for the entire holiday. I liked the idea of reading it in France but clearly it wasn’t to be.

2. The Warden by Anthony Trollope. I know, I know. Soon.

3. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimimanda Ngozi Andichi. I was so excited about this book when I bought it, and still am, but I just don’t seem to have quite gotten round to actually reading it yet.

4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I loved Azar Nafisi’s book Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I read last year. I’d not really given this book much thought until then.

5. For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian. This is a bit of an unknown for me. I chose it entirely because I was intrigued by the blurb on the back. It could be awful but I’m hoping not.

6. The Dark Side of Love by Rafik Schami. When I added this to my wishlist I failed to appreciate how big it is. It may well wait until Christmas when I’ll hopefully have a bit more time on my hands and will be able to throw myself into it properly.

7. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. This book gets so much love from bloggers and I have to admit to being a bit curious. It looks like exactly the kind of thing I normally love.

8. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Another mega-ton tome and another gift from my lovely friend L. She always buys me the biggest books on my wishlist because they’re better value for money apparently.

9. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad. I picked this up in a secondhand shop a while ago and am desperate to make a start. I keep putting it off until after I’ve read more of the birthday books though.

10. Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. I recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’d like to read Silkworm before I fall too far behind the TV series.

As Autumn approaches I’m also considering some more from the Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories collection I’ve been reading over the past few winters. For Christmas last year P gave me a collection of short ghost stories collected by Roald Dahl and I’ve been delaying reading any of these until after I’ve finished the other collection but I’m not sure how strict I can carry on being about that. The Roald Dahl ones look awesome.

Oh yeah, and I still have to finish Doctor Zhivago. And hopefully some time soon before I completely lose the will to continue.

Good luck with all your own reading plans!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books to read this autumn

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the folks at the Broke and Bookish. This week the theme is all about the top books we’d like to read this coming autumn.

Before writing this post I looked back at my TBR list from the start of the summer and realised, with dismay, that I have only read three of the books that I listed. Three! Well, three plus one short story. Good grief.

I said at the time that I don’t really plan my reading ahead because I’m too fickle, too easily distracted. I believe I have just proved my point. So here’s the latest attempt but with the usual disclaimer: this list will have very little bearing on what I will actually end up reading in the coming months.

1). The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. I’m looking forward to reading something a little more grown up from Rowling. I know absolutely nothing about it – I didn’t even read the blurb before buying it – so whatever happens hopefully it’ll be a nice surprise!

2). The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. This was on the TBR list I made in June and I’m still desperate to read it. I think I have to be in the right mood for Hardy and lately I just haven’t been.  Sometimes I just want to read a book where I know all the main characters will survive to the end, is that too much to ask?

3). The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I loved this book when I read it back in 2005 but until last week I hadn’t even thought about it in ages. It wasn’t until I saw the advert for the latest BBC adaptation that it all came flooding back to me. I’ve recorded the show but I think this needs a reread first.

4). The Warden by Anthony Trollope. After months of searching I finally found a second hand copy of this amongst some new donations at the charity shop. About bloody time. Who knew that the residents of this little town were so keen to hold onto their Trollopes?

5). The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I’m so ashamed of not having read this yet. It’s been sitting unread on my shelf for at least ten years. Possibly more.

6). War and peace by Leo Tolstoy. Another example of the BBC shaping my reading habits. I was only saying a few weeks ago that I want to have another go at this and then I heard that there’s a big adaptation planned for next year…. but maybe I’ll leave it a little longer. I’ve had enough big books recently.

7). The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. P’s dad lent me this nearly a year ago and has been far too polite to ask for it back. I need to get on this soon.

8). Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories by Rex Collings (ed). I don’t plan on reading these all in one go but I think I might try to do one a month or so. Now the nights are closing in they’re pretty perfect for some ghost stories by the fire I think.

9). Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. This has been lurking at the top of my TBR pile for ages and there have been several times when I’ve reached for it…. and then changed my mind. Soon, Lady Audley, soon.

10). Something, anything at all, written by Sophie Hannah. I’m going to an author talk in October and it occurs to me that besides some poetry and The Monogram Murders, I haven’t actually read much by Sophie Hannah. I know I’ll get more from the talk if I’m reasonably well prepared before hand.

Voila! Do other people stick to their TBR lists? Or is it just that I’m a bit of a flake?

August round up

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I’m ashamed of how rubbish I am at not buying books. Here are the spoils of the last month:

Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories by Rex Collins (ed.) 

A Place Of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel 

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Hoeg (blogged here)

The Plague by Albert Camus 

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

Emma by Jane Austen 

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

The last three were bought for the grand total of £1 in a sale of old stock in the library so at least I don’t feel like I’ve wasted a huge amount of money.

Framley Parsonage caused a significant amount of embarrassment because one of the librarians had kept it aside for me, knowing I’d been looking for similar books recently. As I walked into the library she called over that there was ‘a good Trollope’ waiting for me at the desk. The lady who was standing at the desk at the time didn’t find it funny. At all. Damn Anthony Trollope and his unfortunate surname.

After all the confusion and apologising that followed I didn’t really feel that I could walk away without purchasing the offending book, despite the fact that I haven’t read the three that precede it in the series. Oh well!

The Eustace Diamonds (1873) by Anthony Trollope

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A few weeks ago I went along to a lunchtime talk at the library by a representative from the Anthony Trollope Society. This year the Society is celebrating the 200th anniversary of Trollope’s birth so much of the talk was devoted to all the ways in which the Society has been commemorating Trollope this year. I did, however, pick up some interesting facts about the man himself along the way…

Did you know, for instance, that Trollope published nearly fifty novels in his lifetime, not including a huge number of non-fiction books, short stories, articles and plays?

Or that his mother was the adventuress Frances Trollope, who wrote a series of novels and travel books (including the hilarious sounding Domestic Manners Of The Americans)?

And did you know that Anthony Trollope is credited with introducing the red Post Office pillar boxes to Britain?

I certainly didn’t. The talk was great – marred only by the elderly gentleman to my left who seemed intent on falling asleep on my shoulder – and I came away even more convinced that I wanted to read something by Trollope. I’m sure I’ve probably mentioned that I’ve been thinking about this for a while now but I’ve been a bit daunted by the sheer number of books that Trollope wrote. Where to begin? The speaker recommended The Warden as a good introduction but sadly I couldn’t find a copy of this in the library or at the Oxfam shop. I did, however, find The Eustace Diamonds for £1.49 and this seemed like as good a one as any. Its the third in Trollope’s Palliser series and although I hadn’t read any of the preceding books it really didn’t make much difference. It’s almost a standalone novel except that some of the Palliser characters appear every now and again to comment on the ongoing diamond saga.

There’s an enormous cast of characters in The Eustace Diamonds but all the action centres around the penniless Lizzie Greystock who, at the beginning of the novel, charms the wealthy Lord Florian Eustace into an unhappy marriage. On his death a few months later she receives a generous settlement, including a castle in Scotland and several thousand pounds a year to live on for the rest of her life. She’s now a rich, young woman. Unfortunately this isn’t enough for the greedy Lizzie, who also decides to keep for herself an expensive diamond necklace, a Eustace heirloom that has been in the family for generations. It was given to her by Lord Florian to wear during their honeymoon but she now does everything in her power to resist having to return it to the Eustaces.

“Sometimes to me she is almost frightful to look at.”

“In what way?”

“Oh, I can’t tell you. She looks like a beautiful animal that you are afraid to caress for fear it should bite you; an animal that would be beautiful if its eyes were not so restless and its teeth so sharp and so white.”

Trollope makes it clear from the beginning – in the second sentence in fact – that we’re not to like Lizzie. She’s devious, dishonest, whiney and quite willing to trample all over everyone else to get what she wants. She also has no idea how awful she really is because in her eyes everyone else is at fault. She’s so manipulative, so annoying, that I found myself wishing that she’d get her comeuppance as soon as possible. I warmed to the peripheral characters much more although it was a bit of a shame that some of them seemed to disappear for long periods of time.

I like the way that Trollope really cleverly links together this quite disparate group of people and shows how the decisions made by one of them can impact on all the others. He’s also brilliant at describing the complex inner lives of his characters although sometimes these descriptions can run to a couple of pages at a time. On the one hand this means you get to know the mindset of each character in intimate detail; on the other it can take ages for anything to happen! It’s a long book and sometimes quite dense so I think if you prefer books with quick moving plots and lots of dialogue then this would probably be a complete nightmare for you!

As much as I enjoyed this book I did feel that it was perhaps a trifle too wordy. It seemed to flag a little in the middle (although this could have been partly because I was reading less in the middle of this week) although it did pick up again in the last quarter. A bit of whittling down might have been a help though. Perhaps Trollope could have taken out some of the Palliser chapters (and perhaps even some of those hunting trips) to make a smaller but equally as enjoyable novel.

It took me just over a week and a half to read this book and on the whole I really enjoyed it. It’s quite nice every now and again to read something that you really have to study to appreciate. And I really loved his characters; they were so beautifully described, even the nasty ones, that for a short time I felt like I knew these people intimately well. I’m so glad I finally took the plunge with Trollope and I’m excited about reading some more!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my TBR list for summer 2015

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is the top ten books I’d like to read this summer.

Ooh this is a tricky one. Generally I don’t tend to plan too far ahead – I’m too easily tempted by new books that come along – so all this list really tells you is that these are the books I’m thinking about today. Ask me tomorrow and I’m sure you’ll get completely different answers!

1. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. How many TBR lists does this appear on I wonder? Tons, I’m sure. I gave in and pre-ordered mine at W H Smiths last week.

2. The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale. This was a birthday present from our chickens (presumably with a little financial assistance from P). I’m not too sure what to expect but I saw some of the TV shows and enjoyed them. Paddy Considine is great.

3. Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey. This has been on my list for years. I finally bought a copy a couple of weeks ago…. and immediately realised I’d gone off the idea. Isn’t that annoying? Maybe in a month or two I’ll have worked up some more enthusiasm for it.

4. The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene. Reading this a few years ago sparked an obsessive Graham Greene binge that lasted a whole summer until I got fed up (a bit like when I binge watched A Game Of Thrones and then got so bored of it I never made it onto the third series – there’s a pattern here). Anyhoo, I remember this being awesome and I’d like to read it again.

5. The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. I was a fool for being scared of Hardy. The Woodlanders is my mum’s favourite so it’s made on to this list on her recommendation.

6. Amo, Amas, Amat by Harry Mount. Latin would be a handy language to know where I work but I’ve always been too lazy to make a concerted effort to learn. I bought this at the Roman Army Museum, thinking it’d be a fun introduction.

7. Coraline by Neil Gaiman. I told my brother’s girlfriend that I’m always a little disappointed by Neil Gaiman books; I never enjoy them as much as I expect to. They very kindly bought me this for my birthday to change my mind.

8. 1215: The Year Of Magna Carta by Danny Danziger and John Gillingham. This was another birthday present and I’m looking forward to reading it hugely. Given that it’s the 800th anniversary this week I might bump it up the list and start it a bit sooner.

9. Any Anthony Trollope novel. I’ve always suspected that I’d like Anthony Trollope but I’ve never got round to reading any of his books. But where do I start?

10. Some of the stories in The World Of Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. I like Wodehouse. He’s always reliably entertaining.

So there you go! Will I manage to read all of them? Almost certainly not. But it’s been quite nice to think about all these possibilities stretching out before me.

I had the day off yesterday and was looking forward to spending some of it reading but the weather was so nice that I chose to do some gardening and go for lunch with my mum instead. I’m making really slow progress through Howards End so I probably should have taken the opportunity while it was there.