Small Complete World of ‘The Vicar of Wakefield’

What compelled me to pick The Vicar of Wakefield from the shelves of the Perfect Bookshop last week I no longer recall, perhaps Virginia Woolf’s regard for Oliver Goldsmith’s only novel: ‘once we begin to read we read on, not to reach the end but to enjoy the present moment. We cannot dismember this small complete world. It hems us in, it surrounds us.’

It’s a silly story with little to commend it beyond the excellence of its sentences and what Woolf describes as its ‘tart eighteenth century humour’. I read with satisfaction—much against the grain—and the better for it.

‘However, 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 a horse of small value, and I always had the satisfaction of finding he never came back to return them.’