At first I didn’t think I’d ever get into The Warden’s story. Whether a clergyman in Victorian England kept his £800 stipend or not seemed insignificant, but Trollope did get to me and when Mr. Harding is attacked by the press thanks to John Bold, I was won over. I suppose I have a soft spot for anyone who’s bullied, though I also kept wondering about this money.
Anthony Trollope’s novel The Warden centers on a dilemma over the money the Warden, a clergyman who’s in charge of the welfare of a dozen bedesmen (also spelled beadsmen), to whom a wealthy man bequeathed money to support in their old age, is accused of getting too much money himself. The mild mannered Mr. Harding isn’t prepared for a scandal. He wasn’t taking a farthing more than allotted but John Bold, who’s sweet on Harding’s daughter feels the whole agreement is a major injustice.
Should more go to the bedesmen? How much? I did find the story to be an effective tug-of-war because Harding’s Archdeacon son-in-law seemed to be a personification of what can go wrong with the clergy.
When I found out that £800 is over $100,000 in today’s economy, I did see John Bold’s side better. I will say Trollope succeeded in creating realistic tension between the characters and added to it by making Harding’s daughter Eleanor in love with Bold and his other daughter Susan the Archdeacon’s wife.
I was at a disadvantage not knowing all these titles: Warden, Archdeacon, bedesmen, but soon enough I got the gist.
By the novel’s end, Mr. Harding did impress me with his willingness to abandon his stipend, his home and comfort, though it cost him the esteem of those in his circle who thought he was crazy.
I mentioned earlier that like many English books, films or television programs, even members of the clergy don’t seem particularly religious. It’s like this society just sees religion as an organization that has a code for a good life. Mr. Harding could work for the Boy Scouts. I think C.S. Lewis, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Green’s books show more spirituality. These writers wonderfully approach spiritual topics using flawed characters. (I suppose a modern version of this could show Green Peace or another organization. Human nature doesn’t change much. Mr. Harding did know and befriend the bedesmen and they got what they are do.)
A young and brash, John Bold was a surgeon, who knew how to take things apart and not how to heal or put things together. He had a valid point, but never thought through how to best handle it and ran off to the press, to a sensationalizing journalist who writes anonymously. I could see this updated by cutting out the middleman (journalist) and just typing away on the internet and things getting way out of hand. His passion reminds me of what Eric Hoeffer refers to in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, which I read at the same time as The Warden, coincidentally. Bold is dogmatic and rushes to a lawyer and the press, which I think we’ve learned can make things worse, while Harding, whom I preferred, questioned himself a lot, sometimes too much, and truly knew these bedesmen and shared friendship, though maybe not on equal social terms, while I don’t believe Bold visited them. (I may have forgotten if he did.)
Trollope’s satire worked in how he crafted the Archdeacon, Bold and the rest of the characters. Because Mr. Harding describes his thoughts and understanding of his duty so well, I came to like him.
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