Qualities As Would Wear Well
A friend of mine with a master’s degree in English once told me, “The best way to “pick-up” good English grammar and vocabulary is to be absorbed in an 18th century novel - monthly. Hmmm, this seemed sensible. But I remember only nodding my head to it. I felt dumb. Few 18th century novels came to mind. To rely upon 19th century novelists seemed more conceivable. I did, however, hand my children (two young ladies and one young man) when they reached high school, my old copy of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield. The story was published in England around the time of our American Revolution.
None in my circle of friends has mentioned reading this book so I am coming straight out and asking. Have you read it? Because it seems to be a lesser-read novel I bring The Vicar of Wakefield to your notice. It is delightful. So many of the kinds of things I like in a novel live there. The atmosphere of home and family ring as clear a bell. Historically it provides an interesting peek at 18th century domesticity.
Oliver Goldsmith’s refined language makes his descriptions of the vicar’s life (in first-person) both charming and humorous. As men sometimes do he writes a little over-the-top. His subtle touch of the ridiculous is intentional. It’s meant to make us smile. It makes me smile. And yet as Shakespeare said it, “Many a truth is spoken in jest.”
I could place dozens of amusing excerpts on this post but I must resist. The first paragraph will have to suffice in giving you a taste. Dr. Primrose, the vicar, begins:
I was ever of the opinion that the honest man who married and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population. From this motive, I had scare taken [ordination] a year, before I began to think seriously of matrimony, and chose my wife, as she did her wedding-gown, not for a fine glossy surface, but such qualities as would wear well. To do her justice, she was a good-natured, notable woman; and as for breeding, there were few country ladies who could show more. She could read any English book without much spelling; but for pickling, preserving, and cookery, none could excel her. She prided herself also upon being an excellent contriver of housekeeping; though I could never find that we grew richer with all her contrivances.
How kind hearted the vicar is. He is sincerely unworldly. Take this up a notch and we can even say Dr. Primrose is a little naive. What a refreshing change from being bombarded by the opposite (in the news). If you are looking for a book to read by the fireside, with humor to lighten darkening days, a book of refined English, The Vicar of Wakefield will satisfy. My choice for Mother Culture, it carries mature but clean amusement and honest-to-goodness English Literature for high school students, too.
Within this fairy-tale-like plot are lessons to be observed. For instance, the etiquette of Englishmen (specifically gentleman callers) in those days could mask true character until it revealed itself in consequence and secrets came to light. At the turn of the page the “moral of the story” becomes plain and it is interesting to hear a student’s spin on matters.
Those who are fond of the novels of the Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott might be interested to know that The Vicar of Wakefield was thoroughly enjoyed by them. We know this because they have referenced this book within their own novels.
Very few writers gain immense wealth by writing. Nevertheless – writers write to pay the rent and sometimes “back” rent. This is exactly what The Vicar ofWakefield enabled Oliver Goldsmith to do during a time of financial distress. One of the conflicts in the story is a change in finance. Another difficulty is the question of who will marry his daughters. You’ll notice that these themes are also woven with success by the subsequent and well-loved authors above.
Laying over the pages of my book are three elegant bookmarks made by a friend. I show them here because they are a simple craft that matches the skill of most mothers’ nibble fingers. Creative flair is employed in choosing beads and charms to be threaded on the ribbon. Would you or your children enjoy designing a ribbon bookmark for gift-giving days ahead? It is sure to please the 18th century novel reader.
Thank you for visiting.
As always, Karen Andreola