The Vicar of Wakefield

by Oliver Goldsmith

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How does Dr. Primrose react to faith and misfortune in The Vicar of Wakefield?

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In The Vicar of Wakefield, Dr. Primrose retains his faith in the face of tremendous misfortune. He continues to believe in God’s benevolence and is generally positive about human nature. When he is unjustly imprisoned, he shares his beliefs with the other prisoners and inspires their spiritual uplift.

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Dr. Charles Primrose, the title character and protagonist of The Vicar of Wakefield, is a virtuous man whose goodness derives in large part from his strong faith in the Christian God. Throughout the novel, author Oliver Goldsmith lays out a series of dreadful calamities, which add up to virtually endless misfortune for the Anglican vicar and his family. Although Primrose is sometimes moralistic in sharing his strong opinions, he is not mean-spirited. He tries to serve as a spiritual guide for his children and congregation. He adopts the humble occupation of farming to support the family. Even after they rendered destitute, forcing them to relocate to another town, Primrose remains a man of faith. With his continued belief in the face of adversity, he is reminiscent of the biblical Job.

Two related elements of the vicar’s misfortune are the squire’s vengeance in demanding the unpaid rent, despite knowing that Primrose cannot produce it, which results in Primrose’s incarceration. Even in the dismal town gaol (jail), the vicar remains true to his calling. He sees his fellow prisoners as more unfortunate than himself, he tries to help them see a path to self-improvement and redemption. In one of the book’s many coincidences, one such inmate is the very man who swindled him at the horse fair, and Primrose contributes to his spiritual development.

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