Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Warden - Anthony Trollope

A young, passionate, ex-physician, Mr. Bold, has given up medicine to take up apothecary of a more civic nature. He has made it his own personal crusade to right the wrongs of the down trodden and fight for the justice of the oppressed; living in Barchester, a small quiet suburb of London, finding the down trodden is a somewhat daunting task.

Mr. Bold is not to be dissuaded by a certain lack of victim-hood on the part of his neighbors and instead sets his sights on the Wardenship of Barchester. The Wardenship was created in 1434 by a Mr. John Hiram, a wool-stapler, who left his house and certain meadows etc. for the support of twelve superannuated wool-carders. 500 years later with the contemporary wool industry having little use for wool carders, the position of wool-carders was replaced by 12 homeless, needy and infirm old men. From the inception of the Wardensip, Hiram's estate has only prospered, and is now worth considerably more; each of the 12 men receive 1 shilling and fourpence a day, while the Warden receives as his income £800. The current Warden, being particularly generous, has increased the daily income of his bedesmen to 1 shilling sixpence, and the matter has been thought generally approved of.

Mr. Bold is not so certain. It seems to him there has been a misreading of Hiram's will and original intent. It is his contention that the Warden, Mr. Harding, is living off the estate unjustly, and that his nominal wealth of £800 should be split more reasonably with the 12 beggars. While Mr. Bold undauntingly pursues his cause, he simultaneously pursues the Warden's daughter, seeing nothing at all disingenuous about his actions.

The Warden, horrified that he could even theoretically be in the wrong and thought to have taken advantage of his position and his dependents, contemplates how best to extricate himself from the maelstrom of swirling slander. Should he give up the Wardenship in exchange for a life of poverty? It is less an issue of poverty that overwhelms him and more an issue of how best to undo the irrevocable damage to his good name and reputation. He has been slandered and his name carelessly has been splashed across every paper in London. Laymen have had their tea and brought forth verdicts of his morality in their leisure, while he has been unable to defend himself or his character.

Meanwhile, the Warden seems nonplussed at the concept of his nemesis becoming his future son in law. In fact, he goes so far as to give his daughter his blessing! From an objective standpoint, he does not hold it against Mr. Bold that his work demands such actions, even if Mr. Bold is headstrong and acting more on premonition than concrete evidence of injustice. The Warden's daughter, Eleanor, decides she must give up her suitor. How can she make love to the singular person responsible for her father's ruin?

After a couple articles are published further defaming the Warden, Eleanor takes it upon herself to set matters right. She goes to Mr. Bold to beg, plead, demand that he resign the suit against her father. As she passionately makes her plea, Mr. Bold is overwhelmed by her protestations and remarkable beauty and finally complies in exchange for courtship, which she reluctantly agrees to.

But alas, the suit has taken on a life of its own and has become an unstoppable behemoth. Mr. Bold attempts to withdraw his suit, but to no avail, his protestations are irrelevant as new articles are churned out at a steady pace.

The Warden decides the only option left for a man of honor is to give up his position and live on the infinitesimal sum of £75 a year. Despite the desperate attempts of his friends and family to persuade him to give up such a reckless decision, the Warden clings fast to his decision and the Wardenship is abandoned.

Eleanor moves into the little room they can afford to rent above a small mercantile shop, but within the year has married Mr. Bold and they all live happily ever after.

This book focuses on the damage unfounded accusations can have on all in its wake. What begins as a quest for truth and justice gets gobbled up by the political/media machine and becomes drivel to be chewed as cud, again and again, by a mindless populace.

Trollope has been said to span the Dickens/Thackeray divide. As Trollope's first book, it is entrenched in the Dickens camp, filled with caricatures void of dimension rather than the complexity of his later characters with the ability to change and develop personal growth. Trollope even goes so far as to have a character named Mr. Popular case the reader needs a little encouragement to get the picture. Eleanor is the most reprehensible female character study I have witnessed in a while. A vapid, simpleton and Benedict Arnold, willing to overlook a familial catastrophe...for no apparent reason. She is not introduced as being madly in love with Bold, rather just easily persuaded.

In short, I hated this book. The only thing that forced me to finish, besides of course my obvious compulsive disorder and obsession with crossing things off lists, is every once in a while Trollope forgot that he was writing a treatise on slander and little gems like this could be found:

"Not, however, being aware of any connection between shellfish and iniquity, he entered, and modestly asked a slatternly woman, who was picking oysters out of a great watery reservoir, whether he could have a mutton chop and potato...The room smelt of fish, and sawdust, and stale tobacco smoke, with a slight taint of escaped gas. Everything was rough, and dirty, and disreputable. The cloth which they put before him was abominable. The knives and forks were bruised, and hacked, and filthy; and everything was impregnated with fish."

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