Lesson #281: ‘My dear sir, nobody now questions its justness’: Intermediate / Advanced Reading Comprehension from Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Warden’ (1855)

In light of the recent events that are taking place in Ukraine even as I write, I have been reflecting a lot on how the media documents and shares its findings with audiences everywhere.

I have also been thinking about how people act – if they act differently at all – after reading the news.

💭 Are people motivated to change their habits?

💭 Are they motivated to donate, or to protest, or to help someone in some way?

💭 Are they brought to a place in their minds and hearts where they realise they must make a big, life-changing decision?

Such questions reminded me of a passage from Anthony Trollope’s first novel from his The Chronicles of Barsetshire series. These six novels together tell the story of a few families in a small, fictional cathedral town in England called Barchester.

Today we will read this passage from The Warden, 📗 the first novel in the series.

This passage describes a dialogue between Mr Harding and his friend Sir Abraham. We consider how the publication (publishing) of certain news in the media that can cause a person to 💭 1) question their lifestyle and 💭 2) make an important decision as a result.

Here is the reading comprehension passage. We will look at its grammar and vocabulary further on.


📗 “My dear sir, nobody now questions its justness.”

“Yes, Sir Abraham, one does question it,— the most important of all witnesses against me;—I question it myself. My God knows whether or no I love my daughter; but I would sooner that she and I should both beg, than that she should live in comfort on money which is truly the property of the poor. It may seem strange to you, Sir Abraham, it is strange to myself, that I should have been ten years in that happy home, and not have thought of these things till they were so roughly dinned into my ears. I cannot boast of my conscience, when it required the violence of a public newspaper to awaken it; but, now that it is awake, I must obey it.”

– Anthony Trollope, The Warden (1861)


  • 💡 Mr Harding is the second speaker in the dialogue. How does he react to what he has read in the news? Does he question what he reads? Does he ignore it? What effect does it have on him?
  • 💡 How long has Mr Harding been living in a ‘happy home’ for? Do you think that the publication of this news report has created a kind of crisis in his happy life (based on what you can guess from the passage quoted here)?
  • 💡 What do you think Mr Harding means with his last words, ‘now that [my conscience] is awake, I must obey it’? Does it sound to you like he is going to take action, or is he just expressing a sense of shock at having his conscience stirred?

I like this passage very much because it describes how a simple, kind-hearted old man, who had been living so peacefully and contentedly, suddenly realised he must change the way he has been living.

He has learned that some of the income he has been receiving is probably not actually meant for him. He is not a thief, but if he continues to receive that money from now on, he will be considered dishonest.

🫴 What should he do?

He is puzzled (‘I question it myself’), but decides to follow what his heart tells him is the right thing to do.

In many ways, this reaction shows a stronger sense of commitment to justness than can be found among many newspaper or media readers today!


justness (noun): the quality or state of being just, equitable, or right; conformity to fact or rule; correctness; exactness.

question (verb): to ask about something, to doubt, to wonder about something aloud.

witness (noun): a person who is present and sees something happening (especially a crime).

My God knows where or no I love my daughter: This is a more archaic [old-fashioned] way to say, ‘My God knows whether or not I love my daughter’, or ‘My God alone knows that I love my daughter’.

But I would sooner that …: But I would wish first that …

beg: to ask someone for money (because you have none), especially to ask them again and again.

… than that she should live in comfort on money which is truly the property of the poor: [I would rather [what he has just mentioned above]…] than that she would live comfortably on money which should belong to the poor instead.

that I should have been ten years in that happy home …: that I could have lived for ten years in my happy home …

and not have thought of these things …: and not have considered or reflected on these things …

till they were so roughly dinned into my ears: until they were so roughly, insensitively, harshly sounded in my ears.

dinned (verb, ‘to din’): to make a loud, nasty, and uncomfortable sound.

boast of: to speak proudly about something; to show something off (like an achievement, talent, etc).

conscience (noun): a person’s moral sense of right and wrong, acting like a guide to one’s behaviour.

violence (noun): 1. behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. 2. strength of emotion or of a destructive natural force. [Note: in this context, Trollope is referring to the second meaning of the word ‘violence’ here].

awake (verb): to stop sleeping; wake from sleep.

obey (verb): to submit to the authority of (someone) or comply with (a law); to carry out (a command or instruction); to behave in accordance with (a general principle, natural law, etc).


Please try to rewrite what you have understood from this paragraph. I will correct and offer feedback for free on anyone’s efforts to describe Mr Harding’s speech in their own words. 👍

This is one of the best ways to make sure that you have understood what you read!

Please send me your paragraph through the query form on the Home Page. Good luck!

by J. E. Gibbons

English language tutor and researcher at 'Learn English Through Literature' (2024)