Notes on Trollope’s The Warden & Barchester Towers

  1. Why does Harding’s living become the subject of public attack and scandal? Harding is a good man who tries to live by high Christian ideals in some aspects of his life but does not apply those principles consistently or uniformly in other areas. His decision to pay each pensioner 2 pence per day from his own living becomes the sanction for them to demand £100 each resulting in his resignation. “The delightful sweetness of Mr. Harding that issues out of deeply ingrained faith in religion has won him universal acclaim and love. It is a goodness of social consciousness. That is why he gives up everything when he was publicly criticized. Social goodness will give way under an attack from society, not true goodness. It will rise in purity and strength.
  2. The limitations in Harding’s character are reflected by the characters of his two daughters, Susan and Eleanor. Neither show either strength of personality or high principle. Eleanor suffer from a naivety which leaves her vulnerable to Slope’s mercenary advances.
  3. Harding is weak and timid. He has never been able to resist the archdeacon's influence. Even at home among two growing daughters, he almost always gave in to Susan’s insistence. Harding refuses to fight the Jupiter’s public campaign and justifies it on the principle of taking the other man’s point of view, not understanding that his real motive is to avoid social conflict of any description. His goodness is social and therefore has no power to defend itself from social pressure. Ultimately Harding rises up in revolt against the Archdeacon, Susan, and even Abraham Haphazard to act on the basis of his conviction and his social sentiment. Harding was one who has gained the approbation of the public and is now unable to rise above that external reference point to act from an inner standard of human choice. He does mentally doubt the justice of his position, but the real determinant is the pain of social exposure not the pressure of his own conscience, which never troubled him all these years.
  4. Because he takes the other man’s point of view, a supramental attitude, the Bishop and Archdeacon fight for him, Sir Haphazard fully supports Harding’s legal position, and Bold reverses himself and agrees to withdraw the campaign. Because he is weak and wants to avoid conflict at all cost, he still ends up resigning, in spite of the support life brings to him.
  5. Harding is willing to accept the justice in Mr. Bold’s campaign and the Jupiter’s attack on him, even to the extent of permitting Bold to continue his friendship and courting of Eleanor, which no ordinary man would do. He refuses to allow his personal feelings to interfere. However, he is unable to act with the same dispassion and detachment when Mr. Slope begins courting Eleanor.
  6. Eleanor resorts to violence – a physical breakdown and crying – to extort a concession from Bold to withdraw his case against Harding. Her violent assault is followed by Grantly’s abuse of Bold and Tower’s refusal to cooperate with Bold. Eleanor’s self-sacrifice for the sake of her father is genuine. She is willing to give up her relationship with Bold, a perfect marriage prospect, for his sake, yet her violent sacrifice does not protect Harding or save his position as Warden. When she returns home, she confronts a new attack by the Jupiter against her father and his own decision to resign. Why is her sacrifice ineffective? Because she resorts to violence where only persuasion can accomplish. Because she tries to preserve his job when his own desire is to preserve his high public reputation and avoid conflict at all costs. She cannot accomplish for him what he does not aspire for. Harding wants peace, not the wardenship at any cost. Eleanor’s violence like Grantly’s fighting spirit are methods contrary to his character and temperament.
  7. What Eleanor’s sacrifice does accomplish is her marriage to Bold. Because it is violent, he has been forced to violently renounced the high mental principles he believes in and he dies within a year. Because her sacrifice is selfless, even though she cannot save the wardenship for her father he is later offered the deanship which he then transfers to her future second husband, Arabin. What the weak Harding refuses is not lost. It comes to the younger and stronger Arabin. What her love for her father cannot give him goes to her husband instead.
  8. Eleanor is completely non-mercenary in giving up Bold and in accepting her father’s decision to resign. In response, she ends up inheriting £1200 a year. Harding also gives no consideration to money and is later offered an even more lucrative post as Dean.
  9. Bold is abused by Grantly when he visits Plumstead to announce withdrawal of the case. His motive for visiting is to win favor with his future brother-in-law. The desire to please the man he has earlier challenged and offended makes him vulnerable to abuse.
  10. Harding refuses Slope’s offer of the hospital on the grounds that he is unwilling to take up the additional work responsibilities now attached to it. Having conceded that in the past he was overpaid for the compensation he received, what moral grounds could he have for refusing to accept the Bishop’s assignment of new responsibilities at reduced pay? In fact, he refuses because his prestige is offended by Slope’s insistence that he work to earn his living in according with guidelines established by the Bishop but not in consonance with his own religious practices.
  11. Mr. Bold attacks Harding and the church for nepotism, then agrees to abandon his attack on Eleanor’s request in order to win her as a wife. He compromises his own high idealistic principles for personal benefit, then dies within a year after their marriage. His idealism died and with it his life. Bold’s idealism was born of wealth, education and goodness. He did not have the necessity to work for a living as a surgeon and apothecary and thus chose a higher calling, but then relinquished the idealism in order to win Eleanor.
  12. Slope is offensive to our feeling—ambitious, deceitful, cunning, ruthless in the use of his power. Archdeacon Grantly possesses very similar traits and is no better as a man than Slope, though his social possession, wealth, and status are higher. He refuses to see that he and Slope are similar, which is why Slope’s behaviors disturb him so much. As Grantly aspired to replace his dying father as Bishop, Slope aspires to displace Mrs. Proudie as the power behind the throne.
  13. Ultimately, Slope loses out on his wars with Mrs. Proudie to reinstall Harding as Warden and exert influence over the Bishop, and ultimately loses even his position as Bishop’s chaplain in the church. Both he and she are strong, ambitious, ruthless and cunning. Why does Mrs. Proudie defeat him? Mrs. Proudie is one pointed in her drive for power and domination. She is ruthless, but unwaveringly true to the religious principles she has adopted. She never doubts for a moment the necessity of Sunday School and other activities. She is undivided in her efforts and commitments. In contrast, Slope is both false and divided in his actions. He uses ruse to trick Harding and later Quiverful into refusing the Warden’s post when it suits him. He proclaims to Eleanor his goodwill for Harding when in fact what he feels is mercenary attraction to her money. He promises Quiverful other means of preferment, when he has no real power to do so. In addition, Slope is simultaneously distracted by his romantic allurement to Madame Neroni. He calls on all the ladies of Barchester but loses himself with her from the first time he meets her at Mrs. Proudie’s party. After exposing the insincerity of his attachment, Madame Neroni eggs him on in his pursuit of Eleanor for which he is rebuffed with a slap. Ultimately, it is this un-churchman-like conduct with women, especially Neroni, which Mrs. Proudie accuses him of at the time the Bishop relieves him of his duties as chaplain. Slope is weakened and defeated by dissipation. One further and essential reason for Slope’s defeat at the hands of Mrs. Proudie is the fact that Slope ascended to power with her support as patroness. He now seeks to build an independent power base and assert against her authority with her own husband, but is unable to stand against the power of the pillow!
  14. The Archdeacon achieves a mixed record of success and failure. He succeeds in getting the case against Harding withdrawn, but cannot prevent Harding from resigning anyway. He prays that his father will die before the Government falls, but fails to get appointed as the next Bishop. He fails to exert influence over Eleanor’s relationship with Slope but is successful in not getting Slope as a brother-in-law. He fails to persuade Harding to accept the Deanship, but succeeds it getting it for his friend and ally Arabin. The Archdeacon’s power comes from his money, social position and dominating, warlike temperament. He is not more right or just in his causes than Slope or Mrs. Proudie. Like them, he fights only to preserve what he believes in or relies on for power and prestige. These strengths succeed in the case of the warden, but not with his friend Harding who takes no delight in combat. He feels guilty for his sinful prayer for his father’s death and therefore that prayer is not fulfilled. He has no power over Eleanor as a liberated, wealthy woman who prides in her independence of view, which is what had attracted her to the liberal reformer Bold. Because the Archdeacon uses his social power to overcome in instances where he is not right, life compensates by Harding’s resignation and Eleanor’s refusal to obey him with regard to Slope.
  15. Grantly had vigorously opposed Bold as a son-in-law a few months ago. Now he has to face him as a political opponent. His unjustified opposition to the personal man who was honest and respectable has evoked a response from the professional man. Grantly was one who only respected power, so he accepts Bold only when Bold attacks him.
  16. “Idealisn that is counter to the cherished beliefs of the present will be destroyed physically, however justified and noble it is otherwise.—John Bold dies espousing the cause of the bedesmen against the sweet warden who was extremely popular.”
  17. Why does Madeline, a woman capable of great cruelty, go out of her way to help Eleanor marry Arabin? In publicly humiliating Slope, she feels she has exceeded the bounds of propriety sanctioned by the situation, so she compensates by giving to Eleanor the man who has inwardly given himself to Madeline.
  18. “Harding, who could permit his daughter to marry the man who was his undoing, could not think of permitting her to marry the mean trickster, Slope, who Eleanor was not able to see through. Had his goodness been psychological instead of social, he would have let her do it. Limited imperfection is perfection to ignorance.” [Harding’s goodwill and love were social, so they always have their opposite. Only spiritual love and goodwill is incapable of its opposite.
  19. Bold came between the genuine intense affection of Harding and Eleanor, then took Eleanor from him. He died within a year and father and daughter are reunited.
  20. Grantly askes Harding to send a telegram to the Prime Minister announcing the Bishop’s demise and looks for 50 pence to pay for it, but does not have coins. Harding says he will take it later. Harding, who does not approve of Grantly’s unseemly ambition at the time of his father’s death, pays for the telegram. The telegram fails to reach before the fall of the government and Grantly misses becoming Bishop, fulfilling Harding’s unexpressed sentiments.