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Old 05-10-2018, 04:12 PM   #1
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The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

'Oliver Goldsmith's hugely successful novel of 1766 remained for generations one of the most highly regarded and beloved works of eighteenth-century fiction. It depicts the fall and rise of the Primrose family, presided over by the benevolent vicar, the narrator of a fairy-tale plot of impersonation and deception, the abduction of a beautiful heroine and the machinations of an aristocratic villain. By turns comic and sentimental, the novel's popularity owes much to its recognizable depiction of domestic life and loving family relationships.'

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This is the MR Literary Club selection for May 2018. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time, and guests are always welcome! So, what are your thoughts on it?

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Old 05-11-2018, 01:21 PM   #2
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The wit begins right out the gate:

'...when any one of our relations was found to be a person of very bad character, a troublesome guest, or one we desired to get rid of, upon his leaving my house, I ever took care to lend him a riding coat, or a pair of boots, or sometimes an horse of small value, and I always had the satisfaction of finding he never came back to return them.'
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Old 05-12-2018, 09:59 PM   #3
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Yes, I'm really looking forward to reading this novel. I've had a vague wish to read it for decades. I did an English lit minor long ago, but for some reason it was never on any course reading list, although there were some snippets of his poetry. I suppose his writings were very much out of fashion.
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Old 05-13-2018, 09:01 PM   #4
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I am looking forward to this book too. According to the introduction in the Oxford World's Classics edition, his publishers (John & Francis Newberry) held on to the manuscript for 3 1/2 years before printing it. The reason for delay is suspected to be that they waited until Goldsmith had established a reputation, such as through his poetry, allowing the manuscript to make more money.

How the manuscript found its way to be published is a story of some myth and variation. Although what is consistent is Goldsmith was monetarily motivated. One such account appeared in James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson.
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I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and, as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was drest, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion. I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had got a bottle Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me that he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it, and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return, and having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I borught Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill.

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Old 05-13-2018, 11:57 PM   #5
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It's nice to hear both of you are looking forward to it, and that information is very interesting BG. Bad landlady! Heh. His pre-success reminds me a bit of Dickens with the money troubles and writing for pressing needs yet still coming up with something worth being discussed all this time later.

I'm about a fourth of the way through. In case we try it in a few months I'm already giving a go to planning to read a certain amount per week, in this case a fourth each week so I'm up to Chapter 11. So far I like it, and think it's an easy read considering its age. The plot moves quickly without much bother to detail usually, there's certainly moralising and nothing too fantastic has happened yet but I am enjoying the humorous aspects. One in particular is when the mother and sisters decide they all (minus the vicar) need to take the horses to travel to church rather than walking to look properly fashionable to their new acquaintance. The description of the result is quick and straightforward but just picturing it all gave me a good chuckle, and I think Goldsmith seems to have a knack for understanding how to present these humorous situations as it still comes across well even after all this time. And adding up the numbers led me to notice that the book celebrated turning 250 just a couple of years ago.
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Old 05-14-2018, 09:15 PM   #6
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I am enjoying the humorous aspects...
Yes, his satire is quite good. The image of the army of sponging relatives ("Our cousins too, even to the fortieth remove, all remembered their affinity, without any help from the Herald’s office, and came very frequently to see us.")

The supposed tribute to his wife ("I wrote a similar epitaph for my wife, though still living, in which I extolled her prudence, economy, and obedience till death; and having got it copied fair, with an elegant frame, it was placed over the chimney-piece, where it answered several very useful purposes. It admonished my wife of her duty to me, and my fidelity to her; it inspired her with a passion for fame, and constantly put her in mind of her end.")
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Old 05-15-2018, 06:38 PM   #7
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It's a delightful read so far. It is rather straight-forward, and the eighteenth century phrasing and spellings aren't a distraction. I too am enjoying the humor, and the moralizing isn't overly preachy. I just got to the horse misadventure to church that sun surfer mentioned.
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Old 05-15-2018, 09:12 PM   #8
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I was surprised by Mr. Burchell's interjections of Fudge! I would have thought it a more modern word. Here's what Oxford says:
Quote:
EXCLAMATION dated
Nonsense! (expressing disbelief or annoyance)
‘‘You know how she despises me!’ ‘Fudge! She dotes on you’’

Origin
Early 17th century: probably an alteration of obsolete fadge ‘to fit’. Early usage was as a verb in the sense ‘turn out as expected’, also ‘merge together’: this probably gave rise to its use in confectionery. In the late 17th century the verb came to mean ‘fit together in a clumsy or underhand manner’, which included facts or figures being cobbled together in a superficially convincing way: this led to the exclamation ‘fudge!’
Lambswool sounds delicious. It would certainly make up for listening to your neighbor's long and dull stories. I'll have some please!
http://oakden.co.uk/lambswool/
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Old 05-18-2018, 09:57 AM   #9
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I'm going to hop into my first discussion in this club because I read this earlier this year! My English degree focused on William Faulkner, so I did not read much of this period beyond what was required of me. I tend to find the men ridiculous and the women trapped, and this book did not change that opinion.

However, I did find this book immensely funny. I was aided by an excellent librivox recording by Tadgh Hynes, who is an absolute Irish delight. He knew that some of the characters were shallow and idiotic and wasn't ashamed to make them sound like it.

There is also an excellent anecdote from Samuel Johnson about the publication of the book that gives it more color as well:

Quote:
I received one morning a message from poor Goldsmith that he was in great distress, and, as it was not in his power to come to me, begging that I would come to him as soon as possible. I sent him a guinea, and promised to come to him directly. I accordingly went as soon as I was dressed, and found that his landlady had arrested him for his rent, at which he was in a violent passion: I perceived that he had already changed my guinea, and had a bottle of Madeira and a glass before him. I put the cork into the bottle, desired he would be calm, and began to talk to him of the means by which he might be extricated. He then told me he had a novel ready for the press, which he produced to me. I looked into it and saw its merit; told the landlady I should soon return; and, having gone to a bookseller, sold it for sixty pounds. I brought Goldsmith the money, and he discharged his rent, not without rating his landlady in a high tone for having used him so ill.
Perhaps Goldsmith was more like his characters than I knew...
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Old 05-18-2018, 10:30 AM   #10
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Welcome to the discussion, astrangerhere! I am halfway through the book. It is funnier than I expected despite the family's continual decline and accumulation of misfortunes. Some chapters have no plot and are simply meant to be humorous.

The book is supposed to be autobiographical in many ways, although I haven't researched how in-depth yet to avoid spoilers. I know that the Vicar shares his name Charles with Goldsmith's father, also a Vicar who farmed neighboring land for extra income. There were 8 children, and his father was devoted to them. Goldsmith uses his childhood as a source for the happy and loving vignettes of family life in the novel. Because of that upbringing they had generosity and innocence that made them easy targets for the sharpers of the world.The Vicar is said to be a composite of his father, uncle and brother who were all clergymen. The boys George and Moses mirror attributes of himself. He also uses the Vicar's speechifying to express his own opinions on subjects such as the theatre and politics. The Vicar's speech on the monarchy is said to match Goldsmith's views expressed in An History of England.
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Old 05-20-2018, 11:04 PM   #11
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Welcome, astrangerhere! I hadn't heard of Tadgh Hynes before so thanks for the recommendation, and trapped women and ridiculous men are interesting ways of describing the characters. I'm halfway through now and thinking through all the men; it does seem they get to be smart and moralising on one hand and ridiculous and stupid on the other, which honestly still carries through to today such as with the sitcom star dads. I'm not sure I quite see the theme of trapped women in this book yet but I think I understand the viewpoint- most women of the time were trapped compared to men. An argument could be made for Olivia being more or less trapped into an engagement with the farmer she didn't really love but she agreed to those circumstances herself to try to get her other beau to propose to her.

BG, thanks for that info; it will give a new flavour to reading the rest of the book with knowing it's based on his own life.

The comedy is still keeping pace. I thought the whole portrait situation was hilarious. It's funny enough as it is, but I misread the neighbours as being drawn as seven oranges instead of with which honestly seemed plausible enough in this story so I ran with it in laughter until reading back and noticing my mistake. I've just reached Olivia running away and the mother's immediate 180 degree turn of opinion and her proclamations of "Vile strumpet!" are also giving me a good chuckle.

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The supposed tribute to his wife ("I wrote a similar epitaph for my wife, though still living, in which I extolled her prudence, economy, and obedience till death; and having got it copied fair, with an elegant frame, it was placed over the chimney-piece, where it answered several very useful purposes. It admonished my wife of her duty to me, and my fidelity to her; it inspired her with a passion for fame, and constantly put her in mind of her end.")
Who wouldn't love a husband like that?
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Old 05-22-2018, 07:56 AM   #12
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I was poking around on the Literature Resource Center and found some interesting tidbits about Goldsmith:

Quote:
Oliver Goldsmith's reputation is made up of paradox. His blundering, improvident nature nevertheless won him the loyalty and friendship of figures like Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Edmund Burke. While in society he was a buffoon, his writing testifies to personal charm and an ironic awareness of his own and others' absurdity.
I am not sure that I would have inferred such an awareness from reading The Vicar of Wakefield. I suppose that best demonstrates that we always bring something to a text before we ever open the book.
Quote:
Critical opinion of his work similarly varies from acceptance of Goldsmith as the sensitive apologist for past values to appraisal of him as an accomplished social and literary satirist. Indeed, his work can operate on both levels, a fact perhaps recognised by the young Jane Austen in her Juvenilia when she took Goldsmith's abridgements of history for young persons as a model for her own exercise in irony.
!!! Now that I did not expect. I am an adoring fan of Austen and did not know this.

Quotes taken from: Oliver-Morden, B. C. "Oliver Goldsmith: Overview." Reference Guide to English Literature, edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick, 2nd ed., St. James Press, 1991
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Old 05-23-2018, 01:02 AM   #13
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Very interesting, astrangerhere! Since you are an Austen fan, here is a reference to The Vicar of Wakefield within Emma.

Quote:
“Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business? He does not read?”

“Oh yes!—that is, no—I do not know—but I believe he has read a good deal—but not what you would think any thing of. He reads the Agricultural Reports, and some other books that lay in one of the window seats—but he reads all them to himself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts, very entertaining. And I know he has read the Vicar of Wakefield. He never read the Romance of the Forest, nor The Children of the Abbey. He had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but he is determined to get them now as soon as ever he can.”
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Old 05-23-2018, 06:22 PM   #14
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Bookworm_Girl and astrangerhere, I was intrigued by your posts on Jane Austen in relationship to The Vicar of Wakefield.

There is a phrase in The Vicar of Wakefield:
"and to assist at tattering a kip, as the phrase was, when we had a mind for a frolic." That basically means trashing a bordello, which made me wonder who the contemporary readers were. Jane Austen would have been reading it a bit later, of course.
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Old 05-23-2018, 08:29 PM   #15
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I was delighted by the phrase "the diffusive productions of fruitful mediocrity", but it reflects a painful reality for Goldsmith. There is quite a lot of autobiography in the Vicar's son's peregrinations. After settling in London and trying to support himself in various occupations, including as an school usher, Goldsmith maintained himself indifferently as a Grub Street hack for several decades. He could rarely have had the time available to produce works of high calibre. Like Edward Thomas, it speaks for his talent that he managed to produce some enduring works.

He really nails the humiliations of dependency here:
"I had twenty other little employments in the family. I was to do many small things without bidding; to carry the cork screw; to stand godfather to all the butler’s children..."
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