Places: The Warden

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1855

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBarchester

Barchester. Warden, TheEnglish town that Anthony Trollope based on the cathedral city of Salisbury in the west of England, as the locale for his novel about various ecclesiastical tensions and reforms and their cultural, economic, political, as well as religious implications. The mid-nineteenth century was a period of fervent upheaval in Victorian society, and the privileges and wealth of such institutions as the Church of England came under scrutiny. Barchester, because it is a community largely religious in character, with its religious buildings, political intrigue, and ethical dilemmas, provides a perfect place in which to explore those reforms and their effect on the guilty and the innocent–especially the warden, Mr. Harding.

Barchester Cathedral

Barchester Cathedral. Seat of the bishop of Barchester. The close, the building complex surrounding the cathedral, provides the main physical setting for the novel. The magnificent Gothic church and attached collateral structures and the remunerative livings that go with them present the target for both Trollope’s satire and the reformer’s jibes. Trollope describes the close and its occupants, as he does throughout the entire novel, in often contradictory ways. On one hand, the buildings and their occupants are unquestionably examples of a church rich in money and privilege, but they also represent a tradition rich in architectural beauty and in spiritual value. It is the tension between these conflicting views that proves the fuel for Trollope’s narrative.

Hiram’s hospital

Hiram’s hospital. Barchester hospital of which Mr. Harding is warden. It is a venerable institution devoted to the maintenance of twelve indigent old men of Barchester that is supported by an ancient beneficence, the bulk of whose income goes to the warden rather than to the old men. The hospital and its sinecure thus become a perfect target for the reformers, and especially after the hospital’s financial arrangements come under attack by reforming zealots backed by the national newspaper, The Jupiter–Trollope’s name for The Times of London. The physical location of the warden’s residence on the close surrounding the cathedral points to its central place, both literally and symbolically, in Trollope’s satirical look at Victorian religious institutions. Here, Harding and his unmarried daughter live in quiet comfort, unaware of the furor that is about to erupt. Harding goes about his rounds doing what good he can for his charges unaware of the discrepancy in the distribution of the founder’s money. The somnambulant hospital grounds mirrors this lack of awareness.

Plumstead Episopi

Plumstead Episopi. Home of Archdeacon Grantly. Trollope’s penchant for evocative names is clear in his calling this rather grand, overblown example of the Church of England’s system of patronage, “Plumstead.” As its name suggests, it is a “plum” of a place and is accompanied by a substantial salary. Although Grantly works hard at his job and is not a target of the reformers’ crusade, his living and style of life provides another example of ecclesiastical excess which is satirized in the novel.

*Westminster Abbey

*Westminster Abbey. One of London’s most famous landmarks, an eleventh century Gothic church that has been the site of most royal coronations and is the burial place of many of England’s greatest figures. During an interlude near the end of the novel, Harding spends a contemplative afternoon at the abbey, where he wanders around the church sorting out the various options open to him concerning his position as warden. In the sanctity of the church, he makes up his mind about his fate. The abbey is an island of solitude in the sea of commercial London and therefore suited to Harding’s character and temperament. It becomes the perfect place, away from all of the turmoil of Barchester, where he can make his unpopular but principled decision to leave his position.

BibliographyBooth, Bradford A. Anthony Trollope: Aspects of His Life and Art. London: Edward Hulton, 1958. Contains a study of Trollope’s religious beliefs and their impact on The Warden and subsequent ecclesiastical novels. Also examines the Church of England and its high and low wings.Cockshut, A. O. J. Anthony Trollope: A Critical Study. New York: New York University Press, 1968. A study of Trollope and his times that gives the author’s views on human nature, property and rank, families, religion and the clergy, death, politics, and love, all subjects that inform The Warden, the first of his Barchester novels.Glendinning, Victoria. Anthony Trollope. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. Considered the standard late twentieth century biography of Trollope. Provides insight into the characters of Mr. Septimus Harding and Archdeacon Grantly. Connects the plot of The Warden to actual ecclesiastical scandals in the Victorian church.Sadleir, Michael. Trollope: A Commentary. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1947. The author first produced with Frederick Page the uncorrupted Oxford edition of The Warden. In this study, Sadleir uses Trollope family papers and letters as well as contemporary reviews of The Warden to elucidate some of Trollope’s sources as well as the initial reception of the book.Skilton, David. Anthony Trollope and His Contemporaries: A Study in the Theory and Conventions of Mid-Victorian Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1972. Situates Trollope and The Warden in the mid-Victorian world in which they appeared. Shows their relationship to other authors such as Dickens and Thackeray.
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