About the BookThe Vicar of Wakefield (1766), is an exquisite portrait of village life whose idealization of the countryside, where sentimental moralizing, and melodramatic incidents are based on a sharp but good-natured irony. It was one of the most popular and widely read 18th-century novels among the Victorians.
Dr. Primrose, the vicar of Wakefield, enjoys life with his wife, Deborah, and five children in a country parish. His two daughters, Olivia and Sophia, are courted by two apparent gentlemen, Mr. Burchell and Squire Thornhill, the latter being Dr. Primrose’s landlord. But when Mr. Burchell is supposed to have seduced and abandoned Olivia, the Primrose family finds its fortunes dwindling. It is learned that Burchell is innocent of the seduction, and the real villain is unmasked, but not before Primrose and his family come very close to disaster.
The novel was not well received in the beginning, and Dr. Johnson said that it was “a mere fanciful performance” and that its “mood was not according to the times”. However, its popularity soon rose; it was translated into over ten other languages, and its characters became a part of the English literary folklore. The fact that the novel is mentioned in George Eliot’s Middlemarch; Jane Austen’s Emma; Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield; Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; and Charlotte Brontë’s The Professor and Villette, bears testimony to its immense popularity.
The Vicar of Wakefield is often described as a sentimental novel which underscores the belief in the inherent goodness of human beings. It is also stated to be a satire on the sentimental novel and its values as vicar’s values are incompatible with the real “sinful” world.