Customer Review

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient and Modern, 17 Sep 2009
This review is from: The Warden (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The Warden is the first of Trollope's acclaimed Barchester novels which focus on the people and happenings of a mid-nineteenth century English country town. In contrast to his contemporary Dickens, whose canvas often included a very broad sweep of society, Trollope usually opted for a much smaller portrait revealing specific details of a select group and that is certainly the case here. The eponymous warden, Mr Harding, is a member of the clergy, a popular subject matter for Trollope, as are two of the other principals of this fine novel. The opening chapters find Harding living contentedly in his small but comfortable home acting as both Precentor of the cathedral and warden of a small group of almshouses. He has tremendous fondness for his younger daughter and a passion for church music and that is more or less it. His life is uncluttered and uncomplicated. Then, quite suddenly a local Doctor, who is by no means an enemy turns his life irrevocably upside down. His claim to the living of the almshouses is called into doubt and sparks a chain of events which cause the Warden tremendous turmoil and great sadness.

That such an ostensibly simple tale was and continues to be, so universally well received is tribute to Trollope's ability to present the circumstances of his story in a rational and even-handed manner, gently exploring the situation from a range of social, moral and political perspectives. Unlike in Dickens, there are no grotesque `baddies' here, just individuals with differing attitudes and motives who, at different times make good and bad decisions. Even the Archdeacon, the closest we come to a bona fide villain is carefully shown to have little real malice, just a lot of determination and a little misguided pomposity. Through this determined impartiality, Trollope forces his reader to really consider the morality of the situations his characters find themselves in and finally to conclude that, as is so often the case in real life, there are few easy answers, few clear rights and wrongs.

Having said that, there are some things Trollope clearly dislikes and these he attacks unmercifully. The most obvious is the popular press which clearly irked him considerably. In his indictment of the ill-informed moralising of the `The Tribune' he demonstrates a keen flair for satire and anticipates many of the issues of the unelected power and lack of accountability of the media which resonate as powerfully with readers in the twenty-first century as they presumably would have done with those in the nineteenth. Overall, a fascinating and understated book which serves both as an excellent introduction to Trollope and a fine example of the nineteenth-century novel.
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