The politics of piety,
This review is from: The Warden (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
This is a deceptively comfortable novel by a man whom you could call `the quiet man of nineteenth century literature`, a prolific writer of often underrated perceptive power, as well as a novelist (and short story writer) of pithy satirical wit.
I`ve read this shortish (by Trollope`s standards) opening novel of the Barsetshire Chronicles twice now, and its keen sense of place, character and human foible never fails to draw me in.
The titular warden, one Septimus Harding, is an outwardly timid, inwardly tough-minded man of impeccable morals and dignity, so when his daughter`s suitor John Bold makes public noises questioning his right to receive the annual £800 which he has been used to, matters come to a head.
Archdeacon Grantly, who is Harding`s son-in-law, is a wonderfully splenetic, domineering character, a decent and moral man who just happens to be a bit of a bully, though seldom simply for his own ends. The Bishop is a kindly, passive man who would do anything for a quiet life.
Trollope, given the time in which he lived and wrote, is exceptionally good with his female characters, in particular his young women - a rare yet telling example of his superiority to Dickens in such matters. Harding`s younger daughter Eleanor is a strong-minded, highly likeable and believably `real` young lady of the period, lovingly loyal to her doting father but possessed of a well-developed will of her own. (She was played to perfection by Claire Price in a superb recent radio adaptation of the series.)
Trollope performs a fine banancing act, in which nobody - save arguably the lovable if occasionally exasperating warden himself - is let off too lightly, and it seems to me that this is one of the most underrated of Victorian novels.
It does sag just a little about halfway through, with two chapters of narrative description, one being an admittedly brilliant as well as prescient portrayal of "The Jupiter" (a disguised Times), a typical newspaper of his day, or indeed any day. One thinks immediately of Murdoch and the scurrilous practices of the press in our own era. It`s a tour de force of Trollope`s literary skill and sly wit.
At times, the author has an almost Hardyesque feel for the vicissitudes of rural life, the repressed passions of his protagonists, and something of the play of impassive fate in proceedings.
If you read and like this, you really must go on to its brilliant follow-up, Barchester Towers, one of the wittiest and most enjoyable of nineteenth century novels. Then there are four more in the series...
A great little book.