“The Vicar of Wakefield” by Oliver Goldsmith

Vicar of WakefieldWikipedia  notes that at the start of this novel, the Vicar in question – Dr Charles Primrose – is  living an idyllic and wealthy life in a country parish, with his wife Deborah and their six children. Then, on the evening of his son’s wedding, the Vicar loses all his money through the bankruptcy of his merchant investor. The wedding is called off , the son is sent away to town and the rest of the family move to a new and more humble parish on the land of Squire Thornhill, a man of dubious reputation. There then follows a tale of ups and downs, with the intervention of abduction, prison and violence before everything is happily resolved at the conclusion.

Four members of our classics group got together to discuss the book at their meeting of November 2015. Overall, it seemed to have been “mildly enjoyed” and was thought to be mildly amusing and interesting although some of us found it dull. The final chapters were seen as a rapid series of incredible and quite entertaining events. There was a suggestion that the novel might have worked better as a play, as sudden occurrences of yet another unexpected event might then have been better accepted. We also discussed the believability of people in disguise not being recognised.

Hilary missed the meeting but still sent in some comments on an audiobook version of the book:

I really enjoyed Timothy West reading this book, it was laugh-out-loud funny frequently – I felt Goldsmith wrote warmly and perceptively and although he pre-dates both Jane Austen and Dickens, I felt this was also their territory. Very interesting to hear the male perspective on relationships and family life and the descent from relative riches to rags. The plot got a tad too convoluted to be sure what actually happened in the end.
Our different readers scored this novel from a low of 3 to a high of 8 out of ten. The overall average was 5.7 based on 6 readers.


Further trivia from Wikipedia:

The Vicar of Wakefield was one of the Victorians’ most popular 18th-century novels (it was published in 1766). The novel is also mentioned in a swathe of other books, including George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Jane Austen’s Emma, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.


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