I’m very pleased to announce that it’s finally happened – I’ve fallen in love with Trollope. I’ve stopped being intimidated by the length of some of his books now that I’ve got some solid evidence I’m going to enjoy all those massed words and generally I can’t wait to get stuck in. The only small fly in the ointment is that there doesn’t seem to be a uniform and cheap edition of Trollope and I can’t help but feel that they would all have looked so lovely had I been able to get my hands on a long row of matching volumes. Still that’s not the sort of consideration which should get in the way at the beginning of what I think will be a long and rewarding relationship – true love isn’t based on appearances.
Trollope is also playing hard to get, which in no way lessons his charms but has made me curious. I can’t buy his books new on the high street in Leicester which is disappointing (but not unexpected from past experience). I frequently see Trollope’s in charity shops (sorry), but by the time I’ve checked to see if I have them they’ve generally sold, so why is it internet only? Another retail mystery.
But back to ‘The Warden’ the plot is simple (especially after my Wilkie Collins binge) the Warden in question is Mr Harding, a man of unimpeachable personal integrity who’s been enjoying a comfortable income and home for some years as custodian of Hiram’s Hospital. A youthful local reformer – John Bold - who also happens to be in love with Harding’s daughter takes it into his head to expose the injustice of the warden’s income compared to his wards, who scenting the chance of money mostly get behind the call for reform. Solicitors are instructed and the case starts to take on a momentum of its own especially after the press take it up. Poor Mr Harding who had never questioned his income or his entitlement to it is mortified, the case against him founders but how is he to reconcile himself to the idea that he may not truly be entitled to what he’s enjoyed for so long?
Poor Mr Bold too who realises all the consequences of his conduct somewhat to late – his motives are pure enough; a genuine desire to improve the lot of the poor,(and perhaps a little desire for public regard) but his actions are calculated to hurt those he personally loves and esteems however a noble and roman attitude he adopts. And this is before we even look at the 12 old men who inhabit the almshouses; their situation as it stands is one of comfort and ease, if not of wealth. All their wants are taken care of, and in the form of Mr Harding they have a kind and dedicated master – can reform improve their lot? Well no, it probably can’t...
I found it an absorbing moral dilemma, but I found that in ‘Cousin Henry’ too and yet it still left me a little cold. What ‘The Warden’ has is humour, even laugh out loud humour and a truly appealing narrator who takes the time to address the reader in the most engaging way with little asides about his characters, but the surest sign of burgeoning love was how fresh the text seemed.
I no longer know if this is a true sign of a classic, or a good indicator that I’m enjoying a book, but I do find reading 18th or 19th century lit I can break things into two camps – books where the language feels right to me, and books where I just can’t fall into the rhythm of the words at all – so far I’ve failed utterly with Dickens, but love Wilkie Collins. I’m ambivalent about the Brontes, a fan of Mrs Oliphant, not so keen on George Eliot, but enjoy Elizabeth Gaskell – and I loved ‘The Warden’ but found ‘Cousin Henry’ heavy going yet a brief plot précis makes both sound equally appealing to me. I do know that when everything about a book falls into place for me it’s a tremendously satisfactory experience, and in the end that’s all I read for.