Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Vicar of Wakefield - would've been better without the vicar

I hadn't intended to read The Vicar of Wakefield this year, but needed something to fill out my Back to the Classics challenge once I finally realized the Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley wasn't actually published in the 18th century but in the 19th.  I scanned my bookshelves, saw that I had a copy of Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield, and promptly decided to listen to it, courtesy of LibriVox instead of reading it.

It's a good thing I went this route because had I not, I probably wouldn't have finished it.  I downloaded the chapters to my iphone and listened over a period of months on a few walks and train rides--it's not terribly long, and truthfully, not terribly interesting.  Well, that's not even true--a lot happens plotwise, eventually, but Dr. Primrose, the Vicar himself, is so pedantic, dull, and sanctimonious that it just seems like nothing happens.  It takes a Dr. Primrose to take all the fun out of seductions, abductions, betrayals, conflagrations, imprisonments, duels, reversals of fortune, disheritances, and resurrections...but he does!  The good doctor (of religion) is a cross between Ward Cleaver, Job, and PandP's Mr. Collins.  Reading The Vicar of Wakefield brings out the Lydia Bennet in me!

And yet, I'm glad that I read it, and not just to say that it completes the Back to the Classics challenge for me, optional categories not included.  In scouting around the internet a bit, looking for inspiration on what fresh thing I could say about this tired old novel, I discovered, courtesy of Wikipedia, that:
The Vicar of Wakefield is a novel by Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith. It was written in 1761 and 1762, and published in 1766, and was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among Victorians. The novel is mentioned in George Eliot's Middlemarch, Jane Austen's Emma, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins, Charlotte Brontë's The Professor and Villette, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as his Dichtung und Wahrheit
That's pretty heady company when it comes to fellow readers.  I think in my next story, I should have character who reads The Vicar of Wakefield.

FYI, I couldn't find more than one movie version of the book, and it was made in 1917.  This does surprise me a bit because there's actually some pretty good plot and characters to draw upon, but then you have to deal with duller-than-dishwater Dr. Primrose, and the pitch falls on its face.  Better to do another version of Tom Jones than to tackle the Vicar.  At least Tom is interesting.

Can I recommend The Vicar of Wakefield?  If you are interested in the history of the novel and want to read what Jane Austen and Emma Woodhouse, as well as Louisa May Alcott and Jo March read, by all means, read on. If you want a riveting tale and a main character you can relate to, I would suggest you give it a pass.

Final note...this post was more fun to write than The Vicar of Wakefield was to read.


  1. The Vicar does indeed sound like a dull fellow. Maybe his lack of oomph was one of the points of the novel.

  2. I read The Vicar years ago with a Yahoo group... and it bored me to tears. I did enjoy your post though ;-)

  3. Great post--your title alone made me laugh. And if I ever need a dull book to read to help me fall sleep I know just which one to go to. So, what book are you reading next?

    1. I'm reading two collections of short stories, The Beggar Maid, by Alice Munro, and Thanksgiving, by Ellen Conley (I think I got her name right). I just finished The Testament of Mariam, which I hope to blog on by week's end.

  4. My comment seems to have disappeared - I hope it doesn't turn up later. I bought this book when I came across a used copy because I remembered Jo & Aunt March laughing over it. I will probably still give it a try, just out of curiosity. At least it only cost 50 cents!

  5. Oh my goodness, too funny! Thanks for saving me the bother of reading this one. I wonder what makes it a book that so many other authors thought to mention?

  6. I, too, was disappointed with this book. I asked an English Lit profressor why it was considered a classic and he said it was one of the first books that showed a clergyman as a real person with real problems. Still, I would never recommend it to anyone.