The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith, 1766
- being very popular among Victorian authors. This novel is mentioned in many more famous novels by authors including Dickens, Austen, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Louisa May Alcott.
- being the first 18th century novel that I like.
Good news! I finally read an enjoyable 18th century novel. The Vicar of Wakefield is the tale of the trials and tribulations of a rural Vicar and his charming family. They fall from fortune early on and retire to a small town and a simple life. The pastoral setting saves the book from the inconsequential drivel of novels set at court. I certainly prefer a story about getting swindled when selling a horse at a county fair to drama over who escorted whom into whose coach. (Check out that grammar, y’all. You love it.)
The narrator/title character is delightful. The pride and esteem he feels for his family will warm your heart. And he’s witty! This book provided a refreshing reprieve from the constant grinding misery of the Song of Ice and Fire series. The Vicar does suffer losses, but he faces them with resignation, faith in the goodness of man/God/life, and gratitude for all that remains to him. I hope I’m not making it sound trite, because it is not trite. It’s an uplifting ode to familial love and being happy with what you have, but with humor and dramatic plot twists!
I will not lie, there is some sermonizing. Our protagonist is a vicar after all. However, the sermonizing is minimal compared to other literature from this era and you can just skip over it.
That’s all I have to say.
‘Now,’ cried I, holding up my children, ‘now let the flames burn on, and all my possessions perish. Here they are, I have saved my treasure. Here, my dearest, here are our treasures, and we shall yet be happy.’ We kissed our little darlings a thousand times, they clasped us round the neck, and seemed to share our transports, while their mother laughed and wept by turns.
You might like this book if:
- you enjoy classic literature with a rural setting.
- you enjoy dry, British humor. It has a Jane Austen-like way of poking fun at the characters.
- you like happy families.
- you like optimism.
You might not like this book if:
- you prefer your books “gritty” and full of human failure/misery.
The Victorians were right: The Vicar of Wakefield is a great book. Unlike many great books, it’ll make you feel happy. (I’m looking at you, Lolita.)