Goldsmith writes of his protagonist, Dr. Primrose, “The hero of this piece unites in himself the three greatest characters upon earth; he is a priest, an husbandman [farmer], and the father of a family.” With Primrose also the narrator, the novel becomes a spiritual autobiography of a Christian hero, whose warning is a Latin epigraph on the title page: “Take heart ye who are miserable; take heed ye who are happy.”
From this spiritual journey of a fall and a rise, three Christian themes emerge. The first is marriage. Because so much in eighteenth century England depended on rank and station, marrying well was crucial to the hopes of every family. After Primrose loses his money, it becomes hard for his children to marry well, so he relies on farming as a second income to cultivate marriage proposals from Squire Thornhill and Farmer Williams. More than its social consequences, marriage has religious significance. Primrose argues that priests should marry only once (the “Whistonean Controversy”), and throughout the novel Primrose’s own strong marriage sustains him. That the novel closes with the recognition that Olivia’s marriage to Squire Thornhill is legal and the double wedding of two of Primrose’s other children affirms the importance of the marriage theme as more religious than romantic.
Clerical life is another Christian theme. The novel shows that the life of a country parson was hard. Even with his university education, the learned Dr. Primrose must struggle as a farmer to provide for his family. Priestly pay—Queen Anne’s Bounty, dating from the early 1700’s—was so low that many parsons had to work to supplement it. Never complaining, Primrose exemplifies the Christian...
(The entire section is 703 words.)