The Warden is my first Trollope novel. It was published in 1855 so it will be my 19th century selection. To be honest, a few months ago I'd never even heard of Trollope which seems crazy now because having been made aware of his name, its everywhere I look. Funny how that happens ;-)
The Warden is the story of Mr. Harding, his daughter and her would-be suitor John Bold who spends the novel both trying to win her hand and trying to reform the hospital that Mr. Harding is in charge of because in his opinion, it's warden (Mr. Harding) is being unfairly compensated for his work. Just in case that was confusing - yes, Mr. Bold somehow thought it was going to be something other than a disaster to attacking the income of the father of the girl he hoped to marry. But was he wrong? Mr. Harding's other daughter is married to Archdeacon Grantley who considered it his personal duty to protect the church's rights. Because it wasn't messy enough already.
After picking him as my author of choice for this category, I did a bit of researching. This is the first in the Chronicles of Barsetshire series and while the series overall is often considered to be the his best, this particular book is thought of as the weakest of the set. Despite knowing that, I could not conceive of starting a series on the second book. I actually finished it about a month ago but have been pondering it since. Now that I'm about half way through the second, I think I've settled my feelings.
The Warden a short novel and focuses pretty much exclusively on this small issue and the few people involved in it. The issue itself gets a bit church politic-y for me. Even raised in a "high church" the various roles in the church (precentor versus bishop versus archdeacon) and what is occurring with church reform made me scratch my head at first but I persevered and Trollope does a good job putting up both sides of the story.
That seems to be what he does well, really getting inside the head of his characters and showing what they are thinking. He does this in an odd way. Most of us have probably heard that good authors should "show not tell" us but Trollope seems to do both. He shows and then tells. And when I say he "tells" I mean, Trollope as narrator actually steps into the book. Like breaking the fourth wall but in literature, is there a name for that? Its actually quite fun. After describing a character and then having us follow him/her along for a few chapters, he'll just flat out tell us we aren't supposed to like him. Of course, since he's the one painting the picture, its quite easy to agree with him and don't we all like to be told our opinions are valid? I liked his variety of characters. There were characters I was really routing for, one or two I just wanted to chuck out the window and a few that I was annoyed with but couldn't quite bring myself to hate. But of all the characters, I liked our dear warden the best. Poor guy.
As I mentioned, the plot itself isn't about the most interesting subject but I did enjoy it and I got much more engrossed in trying to figure out how it would all actually be settled that I would have thought at first. That was my biggest hang up. The end. It did end and not particularly badly. I don't do bad endings. Some people can get past it and say they enjoyed a book despite a less than satisfying ending but not m. To me, bad ending means bad book. But, and I'll try not to spoil anything here, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I felt like should happen and also what I felt like would and when the end came, it felt a little too realistic. A little sad but mostly just strangely unresolved. Although really they were resolved but felt like they weren't. I couldn't put my finger on it.
But now that I'm into the second, I can see that The Warden really was just an introduction to the series. This second book is meatier - we have a lot of the same characters but more of them and more interactions, more plot, just more. Keeping that in mind, the first book becomes more enjoyable. Because I really wasn't done with Mr. Harding and all the people in his life.
So I'd recommend it if you think the series is one that would interest you and you don't mind a bit of an investment. Just don't be fooled into thinking that you've found a nice short Victorian novel. Technically you have because The Warden is that, but I personally would have been unfulfilled if it ended there.
Sidenote: I'm reading Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders. While obviously not a classic itself, I am really enjoying it and think it will add quite a bit to my understanding of the smaller details in many other classics that I would otherwise miss. But she quotes Trollope all over the place. She's mentioned Dickens and Gaskell a few times too as well as a few authors I wasn't familiar with but I feel like every other mention of an author or book involves Trollope!
The Warden is my 19th Century Classic Selection for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Head over to Books and Chocolate for more classics reviews and Challenge information.