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The Vicar of Wakefield (1766)

af Oliver Goldsmith

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The simple village vicar, Mr. Primrose, is living with his wife and six children in complete tranquility until unexpected calamities force them to weather one hilarious adventure after another.

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The Vicar – Dr. Charles Primrose – lives an idyllic life in a country parish with his wife Deborah, son George, daughters Olivia and Sophia, and three other children. He is wealthy due to investing an inheritance he received from a deceased relative, and he donates the £35 that his job pays annually to local orphans and war veterans. On the evening of George's wedding to wealthy Arabella Wilmot, the Vicar loses all his money through the bankruptcy of his merchant investor who has left town abruptly.

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 fact 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 prison.

A series of dreadful developments follows. The vicar's daughter, Olivia, is reported dead, Sophia is abducted, and George too is sent to prison in chains and covered with blood, as he had challenged Thornhill to a duel when he had heard about his wickedness.

It was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians. ( )
  Marcos_Augusto | Feb 24, 2021 |
I am torn about this one - yes, it is a classic, and I have the feeling that without it, Austen would not have been possible (at least not the way we know her). But the characters appear uneven (well, there is really only one character, everyone else is pretty one-dimensional), and while there are nuggets of social commentary, one also has to wonder how that character can get to that particular realization.
So, is it just an overwritten Job version or do we see some real development? I think the first. ( )
  WiebkeK | Jan 21, 2021 |
More than I expected from the 18th century, and with an interesting pre-Dickensian rant against British jails.

Also, the Librivox recording is quite good. ( )
  beautifulshell | Aug 27, 2020 |
It’s probably best to go into this one with the same mindset as a stage comedy. Things just happen. Coincidences abound. The vicar almost gets his son married—but then a merchant runs off with his savings! He successfully sells his horse at market—to a conman! And so on and so forth. Which is not to say that I found any of that annoying, being used to novels where plot and theme are a bit tighter and more believable, because this is a satire, a comedy, and a 250-year-old novel, so my expectations were about on par. I didn’t even mind the wordiness or the fact that, when the vicar really gets going, I had to reread a page to figure out what he was saying. Also, the characters are more rounded than I thought they’d be!

I had fun reading this, in other words, though it’s not the best bit of 18th-century writing I’ve read. There’s a lot of parody and satire in it, from the small and domestic misfortunes that are treated as the end of the world to the vicar’s stubborn insistence on being kind and forgiving to everyone (including the aforementioned conman) to his views on marriage to the bit near the end where he’s sure he’s converting an entire jail but they’re making fun of him the whole time. I suspect there’s also a bit of parody in how quickly and randomly tragedy strikes, but I haven’t read any other sentimental novels so I can’t comment.

And yes, if you couldn’t tell from my summary, there are Austen vibes. (She must’ve read this. It was a bestseller and, well, let’s just say there are mistaken identities and a rake who’s taken for an honest man and the vicar reminded me a lot of Mr. Bennett at times.) That alone would make this worth reading, but it was enjoyable apart from that and I’m glad to have read it, and read it when I did so I could appreciate what Goldsmith was doing. I can totally picture it being read aloud in social settings with people tittering behind their fans and then debating the satire over sherry or embroidery.

Recced, but not fannishly. ‘Twas good and holds up, but is also not the best novel in the world.

Warnings: Period sexism. One scene with the g-slur describing a fortune teller. Several reports of comedic abduction.

7/10 ( )
  NinjaMuse | Jul 26, 2020 |
There is an ongoing debate about whether The Vicar of Wakefield is serious or a satire. I tend toward the former opinion, for while the utter hypocrisy of the characters and the unbelievable serendipity of its plot have all the stuff of satire, I think this is just a coincidence. Goldsmith is not a satirist in the manner of Swift or Haywood: the absurdities of his novel are almost certainly a result of incompetence rather than biting social humor.

The novel itself is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. There is a debate about politics, for instance, in which the protagonist, Charles Primrose, ties himself up in knots trying to explain the importance of liberty, only to end up by affirming that the highest expression of liberty is actually monarchy.

"What they may then expect, may be seen by turning our eyes to Holland, Genoa, or Venice, where the laws govern the poor, and the rich govern the law. I am then for, and would die for, monarchy, sacred monarchy; for if there be any thing sacred amongst men, it must be the anointed sovereign of his people, and every diminution of his power in war, or in peace, is an infringement upon the real liberties of the subject."

We must treasure liberty - by cultivating monarchy. We must value the misery of poverty - by aspiring to riches. We must be honest - but it is okay to lie and deceive to cultivate "virtue." These recurrent hypocrisies run throughout The Vicar of Wakefield in a way that makes the characters seem like a bunch of social climbers of the most cynical kind. There is no sense of actual virtue, love, or kindness in the social relations on display here: everything is a performance designed to raise social status.

Of course, The Vicar of Wakefield, for the sheer extent of its influence, is a necessary text to read in a historical sense. But let's be honest: it is an awful book, lacking in plot or entertainment, full of hypocrisy, with a narrative that at times borders on the territory of an eighteenth-century American Psycho in its sheer lack of conscience or restraint. ( )
  vernaye | May 23, 2020 |
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Forfatter navnRolleHvilken slags forfatterVærk?Status
Goldsmith, Oliverprimær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Emslie, MacDonaldhovedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Anhava, TuomasOversættermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Farrell, NicholasFortællermedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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Vigtige steder
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Sperate miseri, cavete faelices

[Hope, ye wretched, beware, ye prosperous]
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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.
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The jewels of truth have been so imported by others, that nothing was left for me to import but some splendid things that, at a distance, looked every bit as well.
That virtue which requires to be ever guarded is scarce worth the sentinel.
However, when any one of our relations was found to be a person of very bad character, a troublesome guest, or one we desired to get rid of, upon his leaving my house, I ever took care to lend him a riding coat, or a pair of boots, or sometimes a horse of small value, and I always had the satisfaction of finding he never came back to return them.
The pain which conscience gives the man who has already done wrong is soon got over. Conscience is a coward; and those faults it has not strength enough to prevent, it seldom has justice enough to accuse.
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The simple village vicar, Mr. Primrose, is living with his wife and six children in complete tranquility until unexpected calamities force them to weather one hilarious adventure after another.

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