In May 1852, Trollope's Post Office duties took him to Salisbury. In An Autobiography, the author recalled standing on the parapet of a small bridge and 'whilst wandering there one evening round the purlieus of the cathedral, I conceived the story of The Warden'. A year later the completed manuscript, then still titled The Precentor, landed on the desk of the publisher Longmans. Their reader reported back to his employers:
'This story takes its rise from the recent exposé of the abuses that have crept into Cathedral and Hospital Trusts. Not a very promising subject, one might infer at first sight! But such is the skill of the author that he has contrived to weave out of his materials a very interesting and amusing tale. The scene is laid in a cathedral town: and the chief characters consist of the precentor, a good-natured conscientious clergyman who is at the same time warden of an adjoining hospital; his son-in-law, the archdeacon, a keen and ardent churchman; the Bishop — easy, indolent and benevolent; and an eager reformer of Church abuses who is in love with the warden's younger daughter and in whose internal conflict between love and duty lies the main interest of the story.
'How the story ends I will not tell you, as I hope you will read it for yourself. The characters are well drawn and happily distinguished, and the whole story is pervaded by a vein of quiet humour and (good-natured) satire, which will make the work acceptable to all Low Churchmen and dissenters.
'The description of The Times, under the nom de guerre of Mount Olympus, I will back against anything of the kind that was written for geniality and truth. In one word, the work ought to have a large sale. Roderick Random has made me cautious, and therefore I think it right to say that there is a passage at page 23 which might be too strong for men and women of strong imaginations. To me it is quite fair.'
This is the original Longmans report, dated 13 October 1854. The Warden forms the first part of the six Barchester Chronicles which Trollope wrote between 1854 and 1867, and which are perhaps the author's most loved works. They are certainly his most famous novels, and in the beautifully drawn character of Mr Harding, the still, small figure in the eye of the political hurricane which rocks Barchester, Trollope at last attains a more complete grasp of his craft: for the first time he seems completely at ease, writing and creating a real human being. This was followed by Barchester Towers.
[Published with the permission of The Trollope Society]
Last modified 2000