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Published in 1855, The Warden is the first installment in Trollope’s highly acclaimed series Chronicles of Barsetshire, and offers an enlightening insight into the life of the Victorian clergy, its gentry, politics, and social settings. The novel focuses on Mr. Harding, an elderly clergyman who finds himself in the center of a vehement dispute over his questionable position as warden of Hiram’s Hospital. Exploring various themes including human nature, morals, reform, and manners, The Warden is a perfect representation of the structure of Victorian society. Set in the fictional town of Barsetshire, the novel begins with the introduction of Reverend Septimus Harding, a humble man who lives a comfortable life together with his younger daughter Eleanor on account of his generous income as warden of Hiram’s Hospital and clergyman of the Barchester Cathedral. The Hiram’s Hospital is an almshouse which has been built on a land entrusted to the church by a wealthy medieval merchant. Consequently, the almshouse accommodates and supports twelve old beadsman, while also providing its warden with a substantial income and a pleasing residence near the hospital. Performing his duties as warden quite effectively, Harding takes good care of the old men and also creates a positive ambiance with his love for playing music. However, things turn sour for Harding with the appearance of John Bold, a young reformist, who claims that the foundation’s income is not appropriately distributed among its parties, and is therefore determined on exposing the charity’s inadequate dispersal of its funds. Furthermore, he goes on to attack Harding, accusing him of being selfish and taking advantage of his position as warden. Suffering a moral dilemma over whether it is just to receive such an income for his position at the almshouse, Harding slowly tries to reevaluate his position as warden, while firmly abiding to his righteous principles. Dragged into a legal campaign, Harding and the community are faced with a poignant challenge, as they must determine the most fitting course of action. Trollope successfully presents an array of memorable characters, an intricate conundrum, and a realistic portrayal of human nature, while also advocating for moral decency. Needless to say, the novel is an effective introduction to the renowned series that is regarded as Trollope’s greatest literary achievement.
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