Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Weighing In on "The Warden"

It is a very good thing that the members of the Notting Hill Napoleons literary club are all good friends because several of our book selections this past year have elicited deep divergences of opinion. Last Saturday's novel is a case in point. The book was Anthony Trollope's Victorian-era The Warden, the first novel in his esteemed Barchester series. Claire and I really liked the book and thought it a valuable experience. While not always agreeing with Trollope's views, we thought his style, honesty, erudition, character development, and keen sense of humor were superb. As literature it really holds its own.

However, we appreciated The Warden also for what it taught us about history. In that respect, Trollope shows the reader much about Victorian life, about the ways of the Church of England and even about the literature of the period. Austen's Northanger Abbey was almost in its entirety a statement on the Gothic novels popular in her time. Trollope doesn't try satire on that scale but there are two or three pages where he goes (rather churlishly) after Charles Dickens. Being Dickens aficionados, we thought Trollope's thrusts were unfair and exaggerated...but interesting nevertheless to see how critics tried to demean the incredible accomplishments and popularity of 'ol Boz.

But, yes; even with our differences we really thought reading The Warden was splendid -- just the kind of thing we set the book club up for in the first place lo those 13-14 years ago.

But, as I said at the beginning, our responses were not shared by everyone in the group. One couple strongly praised the novel yet split most definitely on why they liked it, one of them admiring a character that most of the other members considered a pretty sour antagonist. A couple of others strongly disliked just about everybody in the novel including the title character who most of the rest variously liked, identified with, admired or, at least felt sympathy towards. And finally, there were some who couldn't seem to see just what the fuss was that the rest of us were fretting about!

Again, it is a very good thing that the members of the Notting Hill Napoleons literary club are all good friends. And indeed, because of that fact, even our disagreements make for interesting and stimulating fun. As one of our members observed the other night, "Even if the Napoleons were discussing Dr. Seuss books, we'd have a great time." That's probably true but, rest assured, we will still endeavor to tackle the very best literature available for.

Speaking of that, the next novel in the Trollope series will assuredly be nominated for inclusion in the 2007 Notting Hill reading rota. I myself will be proud to do the honors. But, judging from the disparity in responses to The Warden, it may just be a long shot to make the final list. I'll let you know.