Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Qualities As Would Wear Well

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 


  1. Karen,

    Thank you for the book recommendation! I am off to add it to my wish list.

    The bookmarks are so cute and I am adding those to my To Craft list. ;o)

  2. Dearesr Karen,
    What an absolutely delightful visit I have had here! I am looking forward to visiting often, and happily am a new follower!
    Thanks for visiting me and I hope you shall enjoy rug making soon ;-D
    Many Blessings Linnie

  3. I found an old, dusty,yellowed copy this summer. I enjoyed reading it, before bed every night. Amusing, wasn't it?
    Thank you for the post. It was a welcomed warmth tonight, thank you.

  4. I've not read it but I believe I would enjoy it as would my daughters!

    The bookmarks are very nice...a good idea for gift giving season, indeed!


  5. Karen,
    Thank-you for bringing this book to my attention.I haven't read it.As you've piqued my interest,I'm sure I'll be caught up in its charms soon.
    I really enjoy your blog.Thanks for taking the time to write.
    Kathy S.

  6. Thank you for posting about this book, I have requested this book from my library.

  7. Oooo...I'm adding this to my reading list! LOVE LOVE the book mark idea! :)

  8. I started reading an old paperback copy but had to give up as my eyesight is not what it used to be. :)

    Now, I will be looking for it at library sales.

    It is a shame they used the title on the BBC comedy (which has nothing to do with the book except the woman is a vicar in a small village).

    I am reading a biography of Grace Livingston Hill right now, published the year after my husband was born!

    In the preface, the author talks about how the morals of society were already changing back then and what life was like in Pennsylvania when GLH was growing up.

  9. Dear Karen,

    No wonder we are kindred spirits, this also is a favorite of mine and over the years have read it a few times.

    Mine is a copy from England and illustrated by Hugh Thompson. This illustrator was a favorite of Tasha Tudor's and she also recommended the book heartily. Also, in the back is an announcement for "New Cranford Series".

    Your friends bookmards are lovely! I collect old keys and what a wonderful idea to tie a pretty ribbon and use as a bookmark.

    Lovely talking and visiting with you:-)



  10. An old copy of The Vicar of Wakefield has been sitting on my shelf since I found it at a library sale last year. I guess it's time I took a closer look.

    The bookmarks are such a creative, simple gift idea.

  11. This is going on my book list, thank you for the recommendation. I have not read many 18th century authors either. I'm much more familiar with 19th century literature but this looks like a good start to broaden my horizons:)

    I love the bookmarks, what a thoughtful and practical handicraft. I think Charlotte would approve;)

  12. This sounds like a perfect winter book for the fireside. I am in need to a good book like this. Life has been so full and hectic and I am happy to start hibernating starting this Tuesday. Life should slow down after my craft fair. ( pictures on my latest post)

    I love those bookmarks I will for sure try to make some. I love beading.

    Blessings in Him<><

  13. Karen, thanks for the recommendation. I have not read it, but ordered it from our library (and Suzanne, I was glad to see your comment about Hugh Thompson, the copy I requested was illustrated by him). Can't wait for it to come through the system. It will have to wait, though, for the five books I am determined to finish by the end of November. I have a terrible habit of piling up partly read books. This book will be my treat for completing them. The bookmarks are a great gift idea, too, thanks!

  14. I almost bought it once but passed it up - always wished I hadn't.

    We are listening to Little Women right now and we just heard the scene where Jo reads it to her aunt Josephine.

  15. Thank you for the book recommendation...I will be looking for it at our local library.
    Beautiful bookmarks! I made some a few years ago with ribbon and buttons at either end of the ribbon. The children still are using them today!


  16. Karen,

    I have never read this book. I too am much more familiar with literature from the 19th century.

    Speaking of book recommendations, I read Village School and Village Affairs. Miss Read is a delight! I just finished The Christmas Mouse, and am now wanting to add it to my own collection. My father is a retired school principal who, I think, will enjoy reading these books as well. So, you see, you've helped with my Christmas shopping this year. Many thanks!

    I'm curious about 18th century literature. A search of our shelves has revealed that we are lacking in this area. Our only titles are within the pages of two anthologies. I thought maybe Hawthorne, but he was born early in the 1800's.

    You've given me something to think about today.


  17. I take your book reccomendations to heart.

    I agree that these splendid bookmarks would be a wonderful gift idea!

    thank you for sharing them:)

  18. This is why I love to read books from the Lamplighter collection of rare & old books. They are from a time long past but, are still so enjoyable and teach many great lessons in both grammar and in virtue.


  19. Karen, thank you for this recommendation! I have had an old copy of this book, that belonged to my grandmother's brother, on my shelf for years but have never picked it up. I have now done so and I'm really enjoying it! My copy is lavishly illustrated by Hugh Thompson - there is a drawing on almost every page.

    I love the idea of the bookmark. It would be fun to go the craft store and look at all the little charms and pendants they have for jewelry making. I'll have to do that some time!

  20. Thanks for sharing about this book. I tend to find myself picking up 19th century author's so this will be a new page to turn! I am a lover of George MacDonald. His writing entertains and inspires me.

  21. I recently picked up an antique copy of Lorna Doone, written in 1906. The vocabulary is wonderfully rich and the expressions used throughout, are sheer perfection. The speech in the 18th century was so much more pleasant and elegant than that of today, even in children's literature.
    I am enjoying a lovely read here, on your blog, you are a wonderful writer.
    I make the bookmarks you mention in an earlier post. I create miniature paper cuttings which I then place between 2 layers of glass.
    Thank you for your visit to my little world of Hopalong Hollow. I will return here again!

  22. This looks like a perfect book for the winter. I am in real need a something new and fun. This looks like it would fit the bill. I also love the bookmark idea. I will be making some gifts and this looks simple and perfect. Thank you for sharing all this with us.

    Blessings in Him<><

  23. I read this novel many, many years ago (checked it out from the local library), and I can still remember how much I enjoyed reading it. Lately, I have pondered the thought of reading it again because I am a firm believer that some books must be revisited. You've rather confirmed my ponderings. Thank you!

    Oh, I love the picture of your little "pumpkin", all cuddly and sweet wearing the sweater you knitted for him.

  24. Thank you for sharing. We have some ribbon about. Perhaps we'll make some bookmarks one day this summer.