Author: Oliver Goldsmith
First published: 1766
Locale: Rural England
Plot: Domestic realism
Time: Eighteenth century
Dr. Charles Primrose, the vicar of Wakefield, “a priest, an husbandman, and the father of a family.” He is generous, kindly, honest, and given to strong opinions (as on monogamy). A homely philosopher, he admonishes his wife and daughters on their vanity, warns them against Squire Thornhill (who later takes him in), urges them to be temperate, and frequently delivers himself of wise saws and modern instances, all the while remaining a good-hearted fool who is easily duped by villains. His fortitude is amazing during his train of calamities. He is so completely a good man that he is lovable despite his frequent gullibility and his occasional absurdity.
Deborah Primrose, his wife, an ambitious woman whose chief interest is in getting her daughters well married. She is vain and, through George, she seeks vengeance on Olivia's betrayer.
George Primrose, the oldest son. Bred at Oxford for one of the learned professions, he (somewhat like the author himself) tries various occupations, succeeding at none. Through Squire Thornhill, he obtains an army commission. George at long last marries Arabella.
Sophia (Sophy) Primrose, the younger daughter, soft, modest, and alluring, a girl whose beauty increases upon better acquaintance. She marries Sir William Thornhill.
Olivia (Livy) Primrose, the older daughter, strikingly and luxuriantly beautiful, open, sprightly, commanding, and coquettish. Deceived by Squire Thornhill, she elopes with him and is deserted shortly afterward. She suffers remorse, especially when she learns that her marriage apparently was false. Later, learning that she is not the fallen woman she thought herself, she recovers and even offers to consider forgiving herbetrayerifhereforms.
Mr. Burchell, in reality Sir William Thornhill, the uncle of Squire Thornhill. Sir William is famed for his great generosity and whimsicality. An experienced observer and judge of people, he is a self-admitted humorist and eccentric. Fond of children, he is very popular with them. After aiding various members of the Primrose family several times, he reveals himself, helps to bring happiness to the whole family, and marries Sophia.
Squire Thornhill, Dr. Primrose's landlord and Olivia's betrayer. He is a handsome, unscrupulous rake. Guilty of multiple villainies, he is exposed before he is able to bring utter ruin on the Primrose family and also before he is able to marry Arabella and gain control of her fortune.
Arabella Wilmot, who is betrothed to George. She is the daughter of a neighboring clergyman. After Olivia's seduction and desertion and George's long absence, Arabella plans to marry the squire, who convinces her that George has married and gone to America. She learns of the deception just in time and becomes George's wife.
Mr. Wilmot, Arabella's thrice-married father.
Mr. Williams, a farmer neighbor of the Primroses who plans to marry Olivia and is dismayed when she runs away.
Moses Primrose, the fourth child and second son of the Primroses. Being intended for business, he received a miscellaneous education at home. He is talkative, naïve, and as gullible as his father.
Dick and Bill Primrose, the two youngest Primrose children.
Solomon Flamborough, a neighbor who loves to hear himself talk and who talks too much and too repetitiously. Moses is interested in one of the two Flamborough daughters.
Lady Blarney and Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs, two strumpets, friends of the squire posing as town ladies.
Ephraim Jenkinson, a venerable old man (under his disguise, he is many years younger), a spouter of bogus learning who cheats Moses out of money and Dr. Primrose out of a horse. He and Dr. Primrose later meet in jail. A crony of the squire, Jenkinson tricked him by bringing a real priest to perform the marriage ceremony for Olivia and the squire.
Mr. Symmonds, a keeper of a public house who informs Dr. Primrose of the squire's unsavory reputation as a seducer. Dr. Primrose learns that Olivia has been staying at the public house after her desertion by the squire.
Timothy Baxter, the squire's hireling and the abductor of Sophia, who is saved from him by Sir William.