History: This book was written in 1761 and 1762, and published in 1766, and was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians. The novel can be regarded as a fictitious memoir, as it is told by the vicar himself by retrospection.
Plot: Dr Primrose, his wife Deborah and their six children live an idyllic life in a country parish. The vicar is wealthy due to investing an inheritance he received from a deceased relative, and the vicar donates the £34 that his job pays annually to local orphans and war veterans. On the evening of his son George's wedding to wealthy Arabella Wilmot, the vicar loses all his money through the bankruptcy of his merchant investor who left town with his money.
The wedding is called off by Arabella's father, who is known for his prudence with money. George, who was educated at Oxford and is old enough to be considered an adult, is sent away to town. The rest of the family move to a new and more humble parish on the land of Squire Thornhill, who is known to be a womanizer. On the way, they hear about the dubious reputation of their new landlord. Also, references are made to the squire's uncle Sir William Thornhill, who is known throughout the country for his worthiness and generosity.
A poor and eccentric friend, Mr. Burchell, whom they meet at an inn, rescues Sophia from drowning. She is instantly attracted to him, but her ambitious mother does not encourage her feelings.
Then follows a period of happy family life, interrupted only by regular visits of the dashing Squire Thornhill and Mr. Burchell. Olivia is captivated by Thornhill's hollow charm, but he also encourages the social ambitions of Mrs. Primrose and her daughters to a ludicrous degree.
Finally, Olivia is reported to have fled. First Burchell is suspected, but after a long pursuit Dr. Primrose finds his daughter, who was in reality deceived by Squire Thornhill. He planned to marry her in a mock ceremony and leave her then shortly after, as he had done with several women before.
When Olivia and her father return home, they find their house in flames. Although the family has lost almost all their belongings, the evil Squire Thornhill insists on the payment of the rent. As the vicar cannot pay, he is brought to gaol.
Afterwards is a chain of dreadful occurrences. The vicar's daughter, Olivia, is reported dead, Sophia is abducted, and George too is brought to gaol in chains and covered with blood, as he had challenged Thornhill to a duel when he had heard about his wickedness.
But then Mr. Burchell arrives and solves all problems. He rescues Sophia, Olivia is not dead, and it emerges that Mr. Burchell is in reality the worthy Sir William Thornhill, who travels through the country in disguise. In the end, there is a double wedding: George marries Arabella, as he originally intended, and Sir William Thornhill marries Sophia. Squire Thornhill's servant turns out to have tricked him, and thus the sham marriage of the Squire and Olivia is real. Finally, even the wealth of the vicar is restored, as the bankrupt merchant is reported to be found.
Review: Oliver Goldsmith's hugely successful novel of 1766 remained for generations one of the most highly regarded and beloved works of eighteenth-century fiction. It depicts the fall and rise of the Primrose family, presided over by the benevolent vicar, the narrator of a fairy-tale plot of impersonation and deception, the abduction of a beautiful heroine and the machinations of an aristocratic villain. By turns comic and sentimental, the novel's popularity owes much to its recognizable depiction of domestic life and loving family relationships.
Opening Line: “The description of the family of wakefield, in which a kindred likeness prevails, as well of minds as of persons
I was ever of opinion, that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population.”
Closing Line: “It now only remained that my gratitude in good fortune should exceed my former submission in adversity.”
Quotes: “The virtue which requires to be ever guarded is scarcely worth the sentinel.”
Rating: Not good.