The Vicar of Wakefield (Oliver Goldsmith, 1766)

Life’s pretty good for Vicar Primrose. Work is easy, he’s liked by his parishioners, his wife loves him, his children are his pride and joy, his eldest son is about to marry into the prestigious Wilmot family, and he’s got £10,000 in the bank. Then it all goes to hell. His accountant runs off with the money, his son’s engagement is broken, they lose everything they own, and are forced to move far away to a tiny cottage, where every day will be a struggle for existence. Still, the Vicar is content, because he still has his family. Then their lecherous landlord runs away with his daughter, she withers and dies from shame, his son is condemned to death for defending her honor, the cottage burns down, the Vicar is injured and unable to work, and at last is sent to prison for his debt.

Still, could be worse; he still has his other daughter left– oh, she’s just been abducted as well. All hope is now officially lost. The Vicar consoles himself with redemption in the afterlife when who should enter but Mr. Burchell. Burchell was a poor, itinerant laborer who befriended the Primroses when they first arrived in town and often worked alongside them in the field. Burchell now, it seems, is actually Sir William Thornhill — uncle and guardian to their nasty landlord. The tide begins to turn. The Vicar’s debt is forgiven, the son is acquitted and his engagement is un-broken, the second daughter is recovered, the first is resurrected (actually, she was never dead — it was part of a scheme meant to… never mind) and the false marriage between her and the landlord turns out to be authentic. Sir William proposes to Daughter #2 and a festive double-wedding ensues, following which the Vicar learns that the accountant has been apprehended and his fortune restored.

Inscriptions: surprisingly none, given the book’s age.

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