Barsetshire Chronicles, Book 1
I’m reading a public domain version downloaded from Amazon.
The only wardens I know are in charge of prisons — so, boy, I had a lot to learn once I picked up this first novel in Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles. Since I must get cracking on the Guardian challenge and I have an OCD aversion to reading books in series out of order I realized I can’t get to my other two Trollopes on the Guardian list without first reading The Warden. Because I loved The Way We Live Now I dug right into The Warden — another book I probably would never have read except for the Challenge.
From what I’m learning about Anthony Trollope, this guy was prolific! He could crank out the stuff — and The Warden was one of the first books that brought him commercial notice. Trollope got the idea for the story after a visit to Salisbury Cathedral:
The story: Septimus Harding is the elderly, gentle and music loving “warden” (director) of a “hospital” (almshouse) — a Victorian version of a nursing home, located adjacent to Barchester Cathedral (aka Salisbury Cathedral). Reading this book got me in touch with reams of Victorian English Church vocabulary, which isn’t exactly useful in my life right now, but hey, you never know. As Warden, he receives a nice salary from the bequest that set up the hospital, and pays for the maintenance and upkeep of its “bedesmen” (inmates) — about a dozen elderly working men. Warden Harding takes loving care of his old guys and also takes care of music duties at the Cathedral. His life is serene and focused on his duties, music, and devotion to his younger daughter Eleanor, who lives with him.
But this is not to last. A young reformer, John Bold (who also has an eye for Eleanor), digs up the fact that the bequest that set up the hospital didn’t really parse out the Warden’s salary in such a generous proportion. Additionally, it seems that the old men in the hospital are due some money. Warden Harding becomes immediately concerned and wonders how to rectify the situation. The bequest that established the hospital is ancient — dating from the middle ages and there was probably some misinterpretation in its terms at some point. The old guys in the hospital become restive when they learn about the prospect of more cash. To complicate matters — Mr. Harding’s son-in-law, the strident and know-it-all Archdeacon of the Cathedral, becomes involved and is dead-set on a big time fight with John Bold over the power of the Church. Lawyers get called and trips get made back and forth to London. Stories get published in the newspaper. In general, its a mess.
In the middle of this turmoil is the Warden, a gentle but strong soul. This story is about questioning the whole premise of your life — was it right or wrong? Was everything you believed correct? If it was not, would you have the courage to change almost everything in your life and start over? Even if you are bullied, ridiculed, and despised for your actions? I don’t know if I could or not.
I loved this book — another terrific surprise thanks to the Guardian Challenge! On to Barchester Towers, Book 2!