Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Wakefield. English town in which the vicar, Dr. Primrose, settles after losing his fortune. Its locale is never named, but to Primrose it is more than a place where there is a cure available and a farm that he can manage—it is a refuge, where he can keep his family safe from the world.

Although Primrose’s new home is clearly in England, Goldsmith’s description of it probably draws upon his childhood memories of Lissoy, Ireland, which was undoubtedly also the model for the town celebrated in his meditative poem The Deserted Village (1770). In The Vicar of Wakefield, the hero comments on the fact that the farmers still hold to the old ways and live by the old virtues. They work hard, live frugally, go to church on the Lord’s Day, and find their pleasure in the traditional festivals that every season brings. However, when the vicar returns home one evening, he sees his house on fire and his family in danger and realizes that no place on Earth is truly safe. Moreover, though the local villagers are mostly virtuous people, the vicar’s neighbor and landlord, wealthy Squire Thornhill, has all the vices of “the town,” that is, London.

“The town” (London)

“The town” (London). Eighteenth century term for London, the center of English society, luxury, and pleasure. It is a place of great appeal but of even greater peril. After the vicar’s son George is dissuaded from applying for a job in a London boarding school, he tries to become a...

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The Vicar of Wakefield Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Adelstein, Michael E. “Duality of Theme in The Vicar of Wakefield.” College English 22 (February, 1961): 315-321. Argues that Goldsmith changed his theme in the course of writing this novel, shifting from the theme of providence to that of fortitude, thus changing Dr. Primrose from an innocent simpleton to a resolute hero.

Battestin, Martin C. The Providence of Wit: Aspects of Form in Augustan Literature and the Arts. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1974. Accounts for the biblical allusions, Christianity, and providence in the design of the novel.

Bellamy, Liz. Commerce, Morality, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Addresses several eighteenth century novels, including The Vicar of Wakefield, in an attempt to see the rise of the novel as a genre in the context of the century’s concern with economic theory, public versus private morality, and commercial versus anticommercial ethics.

Church, Richard. The Growth of the English Novel. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1961. Analyzes the novel and sees its tone as characteristic of the national style, praising particularly the ease of his writing.

Dahl, Curtis. “Patterns of Disguise in The Vicar of...

(The entire section is 495 words.)