Vicar of Wakefield

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A novel by Goldsmith, published 1766.

The story is told by the Revd Dr Primrose, the Vicar, kindly, charitable, and devoid of worldly wisdom. His wife Deborah is proud of her housekeeping and her six children, two girls, Olivia and Sophia, and four boys. The Vicar loses his independent fortune through the bankruptcy of a merchant. They move to a new living under the patronage of a certain Squire Thornhill. Thornhill, who is an unprincipled ruffian, seduces Olivia after a mock ceremony of marriage, and deserts her. She is discovered by her father and brought home, but his humble vicarage is destroyed by fire. He himself is thrown into prison for debt at the suit of Thornhill; and George Primrose, who challenges the latter to a duel to avenge his sister, is overpowered by ruffians and likewise sent to prison. The Vicar's second daughter, Sophia, is forcibly carried off in a postchaise by an unknown villain, and Olivia, who has been pining away since her desertion, is reported to the Vicar to be dead. All these misfortunes he bears with fortitude and resignation.

On their removal to their new vicarage the Primrose family had made the acquaintance of a certain Mr Burchell, who appears to be a broken‐down gentleman, kind‐hearted but somewhat eccentric. By good fortune he is now the means of rescuing Sophia. It thereupon appears that he is in reality the benevolent Sir William Thornhill, the squire's uncle. The squire's villainy is now exposed, and at last all ends happily. Sir William marries Sophia. Olivia is found not to be dead, and her marriage to the squire is shown to have been, contrary to his intentions, legal. The Vicar's fortune is restored to him, and George marries the young lady of his heart.

The well‐known poems ‘The Hermit’, and ‘Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog’, and ‘When lovely woman stoops to folly’ are placed at three turning‐points of the story.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Oliver Goldsmith (1730—1774) author

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