The Vicar of Wakefield Paperback – Jun 15 2006
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About the Author
Robert L. Mack has edited a number of volumes for Oxford World's Classics, including Burney's The Wanderer, Oriental Tales, and Arabian Nights' Entertainments. He has also edited Thomas Gray's poetry and Goldsmith's poetry for Everyman, and written a biography of Thomas Gray (Yale, 2000).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
Oliver creates a pious character in the form of the vicar, Dr Primrose, that suffers from that most deadly of the 7 deadly sins, Pride. The problem is he doesn't know it. As a result he is brought down peg by peg, and made a thorough fool of in the process, in a way that is comical and warm to the reader. The vicar becomes a most beloved character by way of his suffering and in the end I'm sure will have earned from even the most hard hearted reader that most cherished gift a reader can bestow upon any flawed character, redemption.
Oliver also creates villiany, more like evil incarnate, in the form of Mr. Thornhill. Thornhill is central to the most severe of the hardships suffered by the vicar and his family. A very meddlesome and self-centered character indeed!!
Written in the 1750's, it has it all. Greed,envy,lust,unjust imprisonment, even prostitution. Yes, It's hard to believe a novel written in the 1750's could even touch on the subject, but nevertheless it is central to the plot.
Combine all this with some of the finest wit in English literature and you've got a great way to spend a weekend. The book is less than 200 pages and moves along at nice pace from page one. Well worth everyone's time.