Oliver Goldsmith's 1766 novel, "The Vicar of Wakefield" offers the trials and tribulations of Primrose, an ecclesiastic living in the English countryside. Primrose is content in his life, with a faithful wife, and lovely, if somewhat distracted children. Hearing that his banker has gotten into trouble and fled the country, Primrose and his family begin a series of adventures which test the strength of Primrose's convictions.
Among the issues which Goldsmith addresses in the novel are social ambition in a rigid class system, the drawbacks and benefits of a relatively liberal household, and the admittedly imperfect nature of the British legal system. Sprinkled throughout the novel are various discourses on the notion of liberty, the primacy of the monarchy, and a wealth of interesting references to British imperialism and colonial slavery.
Regarding the class system, Primrose seems throughout the novel, to eschew the idea that social or economic mobility is possible, or even desirable. He posits, in a way that follows Aristotle and Edmund Burke, that people are fit for certain stations by their very nature; and that such social partitioning is right and should be maintained. Primrose also appears as a latter day Horace, championing the virtues of simple, rustic life. This pastoral life is directly associated in the novel with the laboring classes, who, not without faults themselves, manage to avoid the intrigues and excesses of the consistently vilified city folk.
Goldsmith's writing style is fast-paced, with clear, direct language, wonderfully rendered characters, and a surprising number of plot twists for so short a work. Primrose and his eldest son George are the two finest characters in the novel. Both exhibit a picaresque tendency to wander and interact - Primrose with the intellectual/philosophical elements, and George with the material/experiential elements in the world. This is altogether a wonderful, spirited novel, and Stephen Coote's introduction to this Penguin edition is excellent in its explication of the novel's major themes and concerns.