Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mount TBR #16

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Warden – Anthony Trollope

Avid readers of the blogging type have been huzza-ing 2015 as the Trollope Bicentennial so much that I took up this one, which I had not read since I was a university student about 40 years ago. It was Trollope’s breakthrough novel, first published in 1855. It was the initial novel in a series of six novels known as The Barchester Chronicles.

The Reverend Septimus Harding, the earnest if not hard-working warden of a charitable retirement home for a dozen old geezers, has a crisis of conscience. Should he resign his sinecure after being accused by the public prints of profiting at the expense of the poor and vulnerable? Harding sincerely wrestles with his conscience as does the instigator of the scandal, John Bold. This young idealist doctor, who does not have enough to do, also wants to marry Harding’s lovely daughter Eleanor. Archdeacon Grantly, Harding’s truculent son-in-law, wants to use the courts to fight reformers like John Bold.

The character of Harding is pleasingly drawn, with graceful sureness of touch. Equally vibrant are Harding friend but feeble ally, the old Bishop (who is Grantly’s father) and the codgers who live on the mismanaged funds of the charity. Grantly’s wife tartly reminds him that if he had not interfered Eleanor and Bold might now have been married, in which case the reformers never would have known about and almshouse sinecure.

“The fact is, you've brought this young man down upon papa by huffing him as you have done.”

“But, my love—”

“And all because you didn't like John Bold for a brother-in-law. How is she ever to do better? Papa hasn't got a shilling, and I'm sure I don't know how she is ever to do better than marry John Bold, or as well, indeed.”

Trollope assumed that women’s place was at home, but he didn’t ignore their insights into worldly affairs.

The conclusion is unsatisfactory because it seems rushed and a character acts uncharacteristically. Trollope is infamous for his asides to us readers, but those are tolerable enough, as is the satire on Dickens’ reforming ways. Like conservatives then and now, Trollope takes a mocking tone toward social reform and the earnestness of reformers. Trollope is so very amused that anybody would get his knickers in twist reforming child labor, nursing, funerals, debtor’s prisons, workhouses, or the Court of Chancery. Do-gooders – such easy targets.

But perhaps this mocking stance is only irony – Tony will be subtle. After all, it is ironic of Trollope have Harding to through agonies over public and private morality while the other characters assume fretting about ethics and reputation is the least of his worries – especially when he is facing a cut in income of about £600 and move from a pretty house to lodgings above an apothecary.

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