‘The archdeacon’s speech had silenced him – stupefied him – annihilated him; anything but satisfied him.’ – The Warden, by Anthony Trollope

July 26, 2020 at 1:06 pm (Anglophilia, Book review, books)

Just look at this wonderfully hirsute gentleman! (Always looking for an excuse to use that word ‘hirsute’ ) Among a (large) number of other works, Trollope is the author of the Chronicles of Barsetshire, a series of six books describing, in the words of the Wikipedia entry,

…the dealings of the clergy and the gentry, and the political, amatory, and social manœuvrings that go on among and between them.

The novels in the series are:

  • The Warden (1855)
  • Barchester Towers (1857)
  • Doctor Thorne (1858)
  • Framley Parsonage (1861)
  • The Small House at Allington (1864)
  • The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867)

(Again, thank you, Wikipedia.)

Quite a few years ago, I read three of them: Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, and Framley Parsonage. I enjoyed them all. The first is probably the most famous; I began with it, without realizing that it was the second entry in a series. Then off I went, on some other literary quest, undoubtedly devouring mysteries all the while, or at least since 1987, when I went to work at the Howard County Library and was instructed in the utter rightness and necessity of reading crime fiction. (And what a long, strange, completely wonderful trip that has been!)

So, why did I go back back to this saga? This literary turn may fairly be ascribed to the writings of one Michael Dirda, star of the Washington Post’s Book World and resident intellectual in a distinctly nonintellectual environment. In a recent article (which alas, I’ve been unable to retrieve), Dirda cited a scene in Framley Parsonage as being especially memorable and beautifully rendered. Inspired  by  this encomium, I decided to reread said volume.

This was such a thoroughly enjoyable experience that I decided to go back to the beginning, as it were, and tackle The Warden.

The Reverend Septimus Harding is as good and decent a man as one would ever hope to encounter, in fiction or in real life. He has two daughters: Susan ,the elder, who is married to Archdeacon Grantley, and the younger Eleanor who still lives at home with him. (Eleanor’s unwavering devotion to her father is one of the most moving aspects of this novel.)

The Reverend Harding serves as warden to a hospital (what we would call a nursing home) which houses twelve elderly gentlemen who are beyond their working years and have no other family to care for them.

All their wants are supplied; every comfort is administered; they have warm houses, good clothes, plentiful diet, and rest after a life of labour; and above all, that treasure so inestimable in declining years, a true and kind friend to listen to their sorrows, watch over their sickness, and administer comfort as regards this world, and the world to come!

From this labor, the veritable opposite of onerous, Rev. Harding derives a comfortable income. Yet it is that income, as supposedly specified in the will of a deceased well off parishioner, that becomes the major issue of dispute in this novel.

The Warden, which is so often entertaining, humorous, and sunny, depicts a crisis of conscience more excruciating than almost any I have encountered anywhere in fiction. (In fact, I’m reminded, in that regard, of Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey.)

I’d like to  close on a lighter note, one which illustrates the sly wit for which Trollope is noted and treasured (and that wit is never deployed in a vulgar or mean-spirited manner):

The bishop did not whistle; we believe that they lose the power of doing so on being consecrated; and that in these days one might as easily meet a corrupt judge as a whistling bishop;…

 

1 Comment

  1. kdwisni1 said,

    One of my all-time favorites. Thanks for reminding me that I need to revisit these wonderful folks.

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