Book review: The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith


The Vicar of Wakefield
The Vicar of Wakefield

Fascinating. Quite fascinating. I’m not sure what Oliver Goldsmith would have made of Mr Spock, but the eponymous Vicar of Wakefield could almost be an 18th-century take on the Vulcan’s position, aboard the Enterprise, of observer and actor in human dramas, but with sturdy Anglican morality (a tautology in the 18th century but not now) taking the place of an alien devotion to logic. Generations of readers and critics have been unable to decide if Goldsmith means the vicar to be example or exemplar; both, I think. He shares something of Captain Mainwaring’s (from Dad’s Army) pomposity, yet also his essential goodness – at the end, when all comes right for the vicar and his tribulations are resolved amid a torrent of coincidences the reader is right there beside him, rejoicing in his deliverance. So, above all else, the vicar is a human being: composed of contrasting traits, some good, some bad, others annoying or endearing, and that is the secret of the novel’s enduring success.


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