Fiction — audiobook. Read by Simon Vance. Blackstone Audio, 2005. Originally published 1855. 7 hours, 12 minutes. Library copy.
In the fictional English county of Barsetshire, Septimus Harding serves as the warden of Hiram’s Hospital and Precentor of Barchester Cathedral. The hospital is supported by a charitable bequest from the Diocese of Barchester, and Harding draws a hefty salary for performing his duties as the warden.
This hefty salary, though, attracts the attention of John Bold, a man who is courting the youngest daughter of Harding and considers Harding to be a friend. When Bold realizes a discrepancy exists between Harding’s income, the hospital’s income, and the will that established the hospital as a charity, he launches a campaign to expose the gap.
Bold embarks on his campaign out of a sense of duty to the community, and the publicity leads Harding to second guess his role as the warden. Yet community leaders, including the Archdeacon and the Bishop of Barchester, urge him to stay on, saying he has done nothing to earn Bold’s seemingly irrational ire.
An unnamed narrator guides the reader through this scandal, although “scandal” feels like too strong of a word given how rather blasé the narrator is about it. His attention is fixated the amusing antics of the characters, on the complications of their relationships with one another.
The Archdeacon, Theophilus Grantly, is married to Harding’s eldest daughter, and he takes on superior airs about his wife’s family. He is convinced that he is in the right, that Bold is a useless distraction and Harding a fickle man. Trollope’s narrator needles Grantly on his behavior, and I found myself grinning and laughing at several points during the novel over the skewering of this particularly odious character.
That said, the satirical commentary on church politics was rather dry. Some of the chapters seem liked they took an eternity to finish as the narrator lost focus on Bold’s crusade and dug into minute aspects of small town life. When the chapter ended, the narrator would, thankfully, return to the best aspect of the novel — his witty commentary on each character.
This aspect was beautifully captured by Simon Vance’s wonderful narration. He smoothly changed voices between characters, and his intonations kept my attention even when the story’s momentum slowed. I’m keen to listen to another audiobook with Vance as the narrator in order to determine if he deserves a spot on my “best of” list.
The Warden is the first book in Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire. I chose not to include the rest of the series on my list for the Classics Club in order to leave room for other writers, but I do plan to read more of the series in the future.
The Classics Club:
I read this book for the Classics Club, which challenges participants read and discuss fifty or more books considered to be classics within a five-year period. My personal goal for this project is to read seventy-five books in three years ending on August 15, 2017. This deadline has since come and passed, but I am still trying to work through my list by August 15, 2020. You can find out more information by checking out my introductory post or project post.