The six volumes known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire are among Anthony Trollope’s best-loved works, and they start with The Warden. In his autobiography, Trollope wrote that the fictional county of Bartsetshire was conceived when he was sent to southwestern England in 1851 as a postal surveyor. The plot of The Warden came to him on a visit to Salisbury Cathedral.
Reverend Septimus Harding is warden of an almshouse supported by a medieval bequest to the Diocese of Barchester. Income from the property has grown over 400 years, benefiting the warden but not the 12 bedesmen for whom the almshouse was established. Reformer John Bold launches a campaign to expose what he sees as injustice, even though doing so jeopardizes his chances with Harding’s daughter Eleanor, whom he loves. Archdeacon Grantly, husband of Harding’s other daughter and pugnacious son of the bishop who appointed Harding warden, sees the issue as interference in church business. He counsels Harding that the principled course is to stand his ground. Lawyers, the bedesmen, and the leading newspaper The Jupiter are drawn into the fight. In the end, the gentle, kind Mr. Harding makes a decision true to his own conscience.
The Warden introduces characters who reappear in Bartsetshire Towers, the next novel in the series. Shorter and less complex than the later Bartsetshire novels, it is often recommended as the book with which start reading Trollope. Trollope’s first successful novel, The Warden set his writing life on a pattern of steady, disciplined production. He thenceforth wrote on a daily schedule and started another novel as soon as he finished one. He wrote 47 novels in all, most of them beloved by fans who praise his ability to make the commonplace interesting; to create realistic, sympathetic female as well as male characters; and to be uproariously funny.
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