In this essay I argue that Anthony Trollope's The Warden (1855) anticipates and problematizes Trollope's oft-cited representativeness of the Victorian period generally, and Victorian liberalism in particular. As Jrgen Habermas has shown, Victorian liberalism should be construed less in terms of its promotion of pluralism than in terms of an "ambivalence" as to its practical implications. Correspondingly, The Warden offers a performative exemplification of Victorian liberalism that is instructive precisely because it paradoxically refuses definitively to represent it. The instruction I would draw from this paradox relates to the moral "pinch" that Septimus Harding, the novel's protagonist, feels as a result of his aspiration to "be right" as opposed to being "proved" right. This paradox disrupts the reader's reflexive inclination to read Harding's emancipation in traditionally Romantic terms. Just as Harding was "awoken" from the self-induced oblivion of a hegemonic morality, so too the reader is awoken from the self-induced oblivion of the disciplinary conventions of Victorian literary experience that D. A. Miller and David Lloyd critique. Thus the novel can be said to embody Victorian liberalism precisely to the extent that it illuminates the question of such embodiment as open, as a practical problem confronting and animating Victorian society. Hence Trollope makes Harding's imaginary cello-playing the medium or 'embodiment' of his "awakening": the pursuit of "right being" is a matter of "testing" the boundaries of political action and aesthetic imagination alike.
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