The Vicar of Wakefield


In literary history books the Vicar of Wakefield is often described as a sentimental novel, which displays the belief in the innate goodness of human beings. But it can also be read as a satire on the sentimental novel and its values, as the vicar's values are apparently not compatible with the real "sinful" world. It is only with Sir William Thornhill's help that he can get out of his calamities. Moreover, an analogy can be drawn between Mr. Primrose's suffering and the Book of Job. This is particularly relevant to the question of why evil exists.

The novel is mentioned in George Eliot's Middlemarch, Stendhal's The Life of Henry Brulard, Jane Austen's Emma, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities and David Copperfield, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins, Charlotte Brontë's The Professor and Villette, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women and in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as his Dichtung und Wahrheit. Goethe wrote:

“Now Herder came, and together with his great knowledge brought many other aids and the later publications besides. Among these he announced to us the Vicar of Wakefield as an excellent work, with a German translation of which he would make us acquainted by reading it aloud to us himself. … A Protestant country clergyman is, perhaps the most beatific subject for a modern idyl; he appears, like Melchizedek, as priest and king in one person.” The Autobiography of Johann Goethe, p. 368ff

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