This is one of the oldest books on my list though not as ancient as Medea by Euripides or The Canterbury Tales. Published in 1766 it was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians
It’s about, surprise surprise, a Vicar and his family of six children who live an idyllic life in a country parish. Dr Primrose is wealthy at the start of the book as a result of his investment of an inheritance. He denotes his annual salary from his job to local orphans and old soldiers. On the evening of his son’s wedding, the Vicar loses all his money through the bankruptcy of his merchant investor who has left town abruptly. The family are compelled to move to a new and more humble parish on the land of a squire who is known to be a womanizer. What ensues is a series of set backs and calamities including fire, abduction and imprisonment before order is once more restored.
The style moves from the comic to the melodramatic using poems, histories or sermons, which give the reader a broader perspective than that of the Vicar who acts as the narrator.
The Vicar of Wakefield has been on my reading shelf for ten years and more. I bought it at a time when I realised my knowledge of Victorian fiction was rather narrowly confined to the big names (Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Eliot for example). But I never got around to opening it – every time I picked it up, the description of this as a comic novel was a turn off. I’m hoping my fears are not going to be realised.