Mr Harding, the Warden, is the main character. By the end of the book he is no longer the Warden. Whether he is guilty of misuse of Hiram's Trust funds for the maintenance of the almshouse and its elderly residents of which he is the Warden, neither he nor the reader knows. There does seem to be a discrepancy between the 800 pound income of the Warden and the meagre allowance given to the residents.
The Warden cannot bear the shame and public scrutiny of the investigation of the use of the trust funds brought about by Mr Bold, a local doctor who loves and who is loved by his daughter Eleanor. And Mr Harding is a quiet man given to simple pleasures. So at the very point that Mr Bold has been persuaded by Eleanor to drop the suit, he resigns as Warden in favour of a simpler, poorer life-style.
Because the warden is not a strong personality, his life is taken over by that of others. Yet he knows he needs to resign for peace of mind and to withstand the press. In the moment of crisis we are told nothing of his spiritual life and so conclude that it does not bear on his misfortune. When others tell him that the resignation he proposes will adversely affect his daughter's prospects, he thinks of the imagery of a pelican feeding its young with drops of its own blood. To my mind this is an indication of his ineffectiveness. All his life others have taken care of his professional opportunities and after the resignation the Bishop finds him another living.
The book shows how pursuit of justice can be blind. It indicates how things set in motion can take on a life of their own and how little control we might have of what start out to be good intentions. It is about impetuous youth and the villainy of the press and pamphleteers. It is about moral ambiguity and ecclesiastical privilege.
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