Bruce's Reviews > The Vicar of Wakefield: A Tale Supposed to Be Written by Himself

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
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's review
Jun 22, 2010

really liked it
Read in June, 2010

This novel was published in 1766 and has a first person narrator. The novel is somewhat picaresque and reminds me of the works of Fielding. The plot involves our hero, having lost his fortune, leaving with his family on a journey to a new and much reduced clerical position. The loss of their fortune is the initial destabilizing event. Dangers are abundant: various possibly unscrupulous people are met, and the vicar’s family is too credulous. The family is also too ready to have aspirations to higher society and be taken in by external wealth and gentile behaviors, scorning the poor but honest people they encounter. The vicar often sees these dangers but is insufficiently strong to counteract the ambitions of his wife. It is a common story, frequently told, and it reads like a parable. Foolish ambition is ever part of the human condition.

Goldsmith takes advantage of the various episodes in the story to expatiate on topics he finds interesting - politics, writing and other authors, social customs and manners, penal theory. And more misfortunes continue to accumulate - a son’s prospects ruined, a daughter seduced and abandoned, their home destroyed by fire, apparent friends too willing to betray the innocence and gullible, a spell in prison for debt. The story would read like Candide except that the Vicar has no illusions that everything is fine or will get better, although he is determined to remain content despite his circumstances. This turns out to be a modern retelling of the story of Job, complete with a total and improbably reversal of fortunes at the end when all crises are resolved and everything turns out perfectly.

The book is cleverly written, and many episodes reflect experiences in Goldsmith’s own life. Like the novels of Fielding and Richardson, it is an entertaining and illuminating example of the early development of the novel form.
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