Septimus Harding, a meek and mild clergyman whose principle interest is early choral music and playing the cello, has been awarded wardenship of an almshouse, a sinecure worth £800 per annum. But this is so vastly more than the allowances of the old people who are the intended recipients of the almshouse charity that it is challenged by local radical doctor John Bold (who wants to marry Warden Harding's daughter) both legally and through the Thunderer national newspaper.
It is one quarter of the length of any one of Trollope's political books which make it a neat enough novella. If you can forgive the repeated intrusion of the author's own voice in telling his story, and the use of comic names, this book does enjoy the character of the Archdeacon, who is the Bishop's son and Mr Harding's son in law, who bullies his father (whom he calls 'My Lord') and his father-in-law; they are both rather comically afraid of him. But he is almost the only nuanced character. Mr Harding is depressingly goody-goody, the Bishop almost vacuous in his ineffectiveness, and the journalist a stock baddy. The women are rather better being more conflicted but the outcome is that you never feel that Mr Harding will not resolve his dilemma honourably, the only real question being how much he will be made to suffer the consequences.
And in a story about the conscience of a man it is sad to see that the noble and honourable Warden Harding hardly considers poor people. For him, religion is about singing in church. He is more than happy to take the income as awarded to him. And, most damningly, when he considers resigning the wardenship he thinks he can move to his country parish which at the moment is administered by his curate who supports a family on the income from the parish. If Harding moves, the curate will lose his job. This does not worry Harding in the slightest.
A small book with a decent plot and some interesting details about clerical life in the early Victorian era.
November 2015; 169 pages
I have also read and reviewed Trollope's political Palliser novels:
- Can You Forgive Her? in which Alice Vavasor oscillates backwards and forwards between goody two shoes John Grey and her wicked cousin George Vavasor. This book is blessed with a humorous counterpoint as rich and merry widow Mrs Greenow oscillates between rich farmer Mr Cheesacre who repeatedly tells everyone how well to do he is and penniless chancer and fraud 'Captain' Bellfield; the funniest of the palliser books
- Phineas Finn, Irish charmer Phineas enters parliament and seeks marriage with Violet Effingham (he fights a duel over her) or Laura Standish (who rejects him for dour Scot Mr Kennedy whom Phineas subsequently saves from muggers) whilst being pursued by a poor Irish girl from home. Phineas suffers political tribulations but the best part of the book is the sadness over Laura's marriage.
- The Eustace Diamonds, The wonderful minx Lizzie Eustace, who has married a dying man for diamonds and is determined to keep them despite legal attempts to win them back for the family, is Trollope's best character. She lies, she manipulates and she breaks the law to retian what she has convinced herself is rightfully hers.
- Phineas Redux Phineas returns, is again embroiled in woman trouble, and stands trial for murder. This should be the most exciting of the Trollope books were it not for the fact that Trollope writres his own spoilers.
- The Prime Minister Plantagent Palliser, Duke of Omnium, becomes Prime Minister of a coalition but he is too concerned for his honour to be a successful leader and he struggles on the rack of his own conscience
- The Duke's Children in which Plantagenet's children do their best to make unsuitable matches. The Duke finds it hard to apply his own liberal principles to his children.