Book ReviewsClassics ClubIrish authors

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith #bookreview

vicar of wakefieldThe Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians.

I wonder what appealed most to them in this tale of  the misfortunes that beset a country priest and his family, the humour or its emphasis on the strength of the family as a social institution?

It’s a rather ‘gentle’ comedy about one of life’s innocents, Dr. Charles Primrose, whose blissful family existence is brutally interrupted when the merchant investor to whom he has entrusted his family’s fortune, absconds with all the money.  As a consequence his eldest son’s wedding with the daughter of a wealthy family is called off as a consequence. The rest of the family have to move to a more humble parish. Further mishaps follow: fire destroys their new home; a daughter is abducted by a scoundrel squire and a son is thrown into jail accused of involvement in a duel.

What’s so funny about this you might well wonder? It’s certainly not laugh out loud material, rather the kind that just makes you smile as you find Dr Primrose stumble into yet another situation that he doesn’t fully understand.

He’s a kind, good natured and well-meaning kind of man at heart. One whose spirit is dampened, but never extinguished by all the calamaties he experiences. When his money has gone he entreats his family to focus on happiness rather than trappings of gentility and to find “that every situation in life might bring its own particular pleasures.” Nothing gives him more delight than to be surrounded by his family near the fireside and he extols the virtues of married life at every opportunity.

The family is one of the key themes of the novel though Goldsmith also touches on class and gender and of course, faith. Ultimately this is a tale about a man whose devotion to his faith , though tested, doesn’t falter and who is rewarded for such devotion.

Was it an enjoyable book to read?

Not really.

I was on the point of giving up a few times. I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters or what became of them and I found the moral homilies and sermons irritating.  It was rather a dull book I thought and not one I would recommend.

I read it only because it was on my Classics Club list and it coincided with the ReadingIreland month hosted by Cathy at

About the book

The Vicar of Wakefield was published in 1766 though is believed to have been written a few years earlier. According to James Boswell, Goldsmith’s biographer, the author was in some financial difficulties at the time and unable to pay the rent on his accommodation. He asked Samuel Johnson for help, mentioning he had written a book. Johnson sold a share to the bookseller Francis Newbery,  enabling Goldsmith to pay off his debts. Newberry then sat on the book for about two years.

About the author

Oliver Goldsmith was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet, whose best known work is  The Vicar of Wakefield . If however you went through the UK education system during the 60s and 70s, you may remember being forced to study another of his works:  She Stoops to Conquer . That was supposed to be a comedy too but the only reaction I can remember from my classmates is one of groans.



What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

28 thoughts on “The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith #bookreview

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  • Ah shame, I loved this book when I read it! It was during uni, and I was amazed how funny and relevant I found it, among a sea of books from the same period that I largely didn’t click with.

    • If this was the best of the bunch then I can’t imagine how tedious the others were 🙂

  • Oh I love how you turned things around in this review-you set it up like you loved it! Then comes the reality haha Nice job

    • I didn’t set out to do that – just sort of happened Anne

  • Wonderful insights. I found a copy at a library sale. I want to read this because it is quoted in so many classic novels. Your take on this reminds me of the book of Job…with more humor 🙂 If so, I hope the humor can carry me through!

    • There are some funny parts and some quite touching – the vicar is clearly a man who loves his family and wants little more than to be in their company.

  • I am going to make my way through as many classics as I can on LibriVox and so, seeing your review, have downloaded the Vicar. I’ll know in a week or two whether I agree with you (or with Lisa).

    • I forget about Librivox – I did make use of it in the past but then had a few bad experiences where the readers had terrible voices…..

  • She Stoops to Conquer….. Enough said!

  • Judy Krueger

    Ha! Your review is great, so greatly did you explicate the scenes, emotions and morals of the novel that I was ready for a nap the instant I finished reading it!

    • LOL – it’s maybe not the cure for sleeplessness that I made it out to be but it got close….

    • Yep, you have far more interesting books to read I’m sure

  • Goldsmith’s reputation is so interesting to me – intensely popular at the time of writing, but without a doubt he has suffered from the ravages of time… I never found his plays particularly hilarious and The Vicar of Wakefield, despite being short, is a slog too.

  • Oh, it sounded quite tempting at first, but all that moralising would have irritated me too, I suspect. What a pity! Never mind, read some nice Dickens and take your mind off it… 😉

    • I’m sticking with my current book which is Emile Zola for now. The Goldsmith experience has made me seriously question some of the very old books I have on my classics club list and whether I really want to read them

      • I’ve removed some of the older American titles from my list because I simply wasn’t enjoying them. Not enough time to waste on books that have lost their appeal!

        • I’m with you on that – so today I decided to abandon A History of Seven Killings which is the last but one of the Booker prize winners in my project.

        • Must admit that one didn’t appeal much to me either.

    • I see you compared it favourably to Trollope but I would read the latter any day in preference to Goldsmith.

  • I have to be honest, this has never appealed to me so I’m glad to hear I’m not missing out on anything 😆


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