The Warden & Barchester Towers // Book Review


“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?
Was ever anything so civil?”

Anthony Trollope,
The Warden
  
 I have been familiar with Anthony Trollope's works ever since I had the chance to enjoy the 2016 TV series "Doctor Thorne" a few years ago. After finishing the shows, I learned upon some investigation that the mini drama was not only based upon a novel by Trollope, it was actually the third book in a six-volumed series titled "The Chronicles of Barsetshire".
 
Never having read any of Anthony Trollope's novels, I mentally added all six novels to my leaning tower of "to be reads" and promptly forgot about them . . .

 
 
Until, that is, I discovered this little gem (pictured above) at our last library sale. Anthony Trollope's name quickly caught my eye amongst the rows of colorful book bindings and upon closer scrutiny, lo and behold, across its turquoise face were the words "Barchester Towers". With its weather-beaten covers, creased spine, and heavy cream pages that easily fell open, I knew that this 1956 Rinehart Edition must have been read and re-read in its lifespan. Needless to say, this treasure made its way home with me.
 
Once in possession of this well-loved prize, I did some more research and found that I was the proud owner of book two in the Barsetshire series. I usually prefer to read a series in order, so I listened to book one, titled "The Warden", on Librivox first.
 
(You can find the same book I listened to HERE)
 
I'm so glad that I began with volume one! After reading book two, I discovered that the plots are very intertwined. Since the two books complete each other so perfectly, I decided to review them together. I definitely recommend reading them fairly close together so that the thread of the first story isn't lost.
 
"The Only Daughter" - James Hayllar (1829-1920)
 
"The Warden" and "Barchester Towers" were published in 1855 and 1857 respectively, and they both revolve around the fictional, cathedral town of Barchester. 
 
 
 Book One: "The Warden" 
 
"The Warden" begins by introducing the main character, Mr Septimus Harding. 
Mr. Harding is the warden of Hiram's Hospital, an almshouse supported by a medieval charitable bequest entrusted to the Diocese of Barchester. The bequest supports twelve elderly bedsmen, as well as the Warden and his youngest daughter, Eleanor. 
 
 
The wardenship was appointed to Mr. Harding by his close friend the Bishop upon the marriage of Mr. Harding's eldest daughter to the Bishop's son, the Archdeacon of Barchester.
 
 Do we begin to detect a slight scent of Nepotism?
Possibly. πŸ˜‰

William Callow - View of St Agnes's Church, 1853
 
The story really takes off when a young reformer, Mr. John Bold, decides to accept the commision of investigating whether or not the church is apportioning the charity funds fairly between the bedsmen and the warden.
 
Despite the fact that Mr. Bold has known the gentle Mr. Harding since boyhood and is in love with his youngest daughter, Eleanor, John Bold decides to initiate a lawsuit against the Warden.
 
 The Archdeacon (Mr. Harding's uncompromising son-in-law) counters the attack by hiring the best lawyer London has to offer.
 
 Filled with concerns and self-doubt, Mr. Harding begins to feel trapped between both sides. Now he must decide whether to follow his own conscience in the matter or succumb to the pressures of duty.
 
"Morning Chapter" - Charles Spencelayh
 
The plot of  the "The Warden" is fairly simple and ends on a relatively happy note. John Bold, who started the whole mess to begin with, gets better than he deserves, in my own humble opinion. 
 
Mr. Harding was my favorite character and showed a true faithfulness to God by doing what he felt was morally upright. 
 
Eleanor Harding was a dearly devoted daughter and was prepared to sacrifice everything in support of her father.
 
Although he was most certainly overbearing, the Archdeacon amused me to no end with all of his well-intentioned manipulations and schemes.
  
However, the matter of the wardenship and the hospital is left rather open-ended.
 
Enter book two.
 
 
Book Two: "Barchester Towers"
 
*some spoilers ahead*
 
 
 
In the opening chapters, the Archdeacon's father, the Bishop, dies and the question arises in all of Barchester  - Who will be the new Bishop?
 
Much to the Archdeaon's disappointment, he is passed over as his father's succesor and the bishop-ship is appointed to someone of differing doctrinal views.

The drama really heats up when an offensive sermon is preached, chastising all the clergymen of Barchester before their own congregations.  
 
Out-and-out war breaks out amongst the cloth!

“Wars about trifles are always bitter, especially among neighbours. When the differences are great, and the parties comparative strangers, men quarrel with courtesy.
What combatants are ever so eager as two brothers?”

Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers

William Callow - Angoulême Cathedral from the south-east, France 1836
 
As to the dispute over Hiram's Hospital, Parliament has finally settled the matter after five years of deliberations.
 
With the position of the Warden ready to be filled again, all of Barchester naturally expects the position to be re-offered to Mr. Harding (the prior warden). However, with the new bishop in town nothing is certain anymore.
 
Nevertheless, the Archdeacon is determined for his father-in-law to reclaim the position of warden, and nothing will soften his resolve . . . Not even his sister-in-law, Eleanor Bold, who appears to be showing an alarming weakness for the side of their enemies!

 Claude Monet - "The Picnic" - 1865
 
As the clergy of the diocese argue amongst each other over matters ranging from doctrine to love, amusing scenarios begin to follow in quick succession.

From an awkward dinner party featuring a wardrobe catastrophe . . . . to a clergyman's face receiving an abrupt slap from a widow's gentle hand, this book has all of the ingredients for an extremely entertaining read!
 
Mr. Harding was a self-sacrificing dear, as usual, and I think my favorite couple might just be the formidable Archdeacon and his discerning wife.
 
Mrs. Eleanor Bold was slightly frustrating in this book and could have quickly cleared up some misconceptions if she had been more honest and less prideful with her family. However, I cannot blame her too harshly, for the Archdeacon does provoke her dreadfully.
 
The antagonists of this story, Rev. Obadiah Slope and the new bishop's wife, Mrs. Proudie, added a great deal of humor and comedy to the book.
 
The romance (for there is always a romance) ended quite satisfactorily.
The archdeacon even went so far as to perform the ceremony himself. πŸ˜„

 
As to Anthony Trollope's writing style ...
 
  I would classify these books as delightfully cozy reads. Trollope takes a conversational tone in these novels and feels like a character himself. It's as if the narrator has pulled up an armchair and begins telling you a story of people he as known and met. He leaves very few surprises and often informs the reader of the upcoming bends in the road before you are upon them, not relying heavily on plot twists, but more on human nature and his humorous social commentary to carry the story along. 
 
  There were elements of these books that reminded me of the sarcasm and humor of Charles Dickens, only replace the slums of London for a cast of curates and landowners set in the English countryside.  Their setting feels very similiar to a Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell novel.
 
I'm so glad I happened upon this paperback book at that booksale, for I would never have read the first book if I hadn't picked up the second book, and I would never have picked up the second book if I hadn't known of the third book . . . so in a round about way I finally read Anthony Trollope!
 
 These books will definitely be re-reads for me. I'm already planning on reading "Doctor Thorne" and can hardly wait to make another visit to the charming countryside of Barsetshire.
 
 
 

 

 
 

 

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