The Vicar of Wakefield Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1766

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Eighteenth century

Locale: Rural England

Characters DiscussedDr. Charles Primrose

Dr. Vicar of Wakefield, TheCharles 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

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

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

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

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 her betrayer if he reforms.

Mr. Burchell

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

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

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

Mr. Wilmot, Arabella’s thrice-married father.

Mr. Williams

Mr. Williams, a farmer neighbor of the Primroses who plans to marry Olivia and is dismayed when she runs away.

Moses Primrose

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

Bill Primrose, the two youngest Primrose children.

Solomon Flamborough

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

Lady Blarney and

Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs

Miss Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs, two strumpets, friends of the squire posing as town ladies.

Ephraim Jenkinson

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

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

Timothy Baxter, the squire’s hireling and the abductor of Sophia, who is saved from him by Sir William.

Sources for Further StudyAdelstein, Michael E. “Duality of Theme in The Vicar of Wakefield.” College English 22 (February, 1961): 315-321. Argues that Goldsmith changed his theme in the course of writing this novel, shifting from the theme of providence to that of fortitude, thus changing Dr. Primrose from an innocent simpleton to a resolute hero.Battestin, Martin C. The Providence of Wit: Aspects of Form in Augustan Literature and the Arts. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1974. Accounts for the biblical allusions, Christianity, and providence in the design of the novel.Bellamy, Liz. Commerce, Morality, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Addresses several eighteenth century novels, including The Vicar of Wakefield, in an attempt to see the rise of the novel as a genre in the context of the century’s concern with economic theory, public versus private morality, and commercial versus anticommercial ethics.Church, Richard. The Growth of the English Novel. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1961. Analyzes the novel and sees its tone as characteristic of the national style, praising particularly the ease of his writing.Dahl, Curtis. “Patterns of Disguise in The Vicar of Wakefield.” English Literary History 25 (June, 1958): 90-104. Dahl addresses the issue of the novel’s coherence; its coincidence and improbabilities are counterbalanced, he asserts, by the unifying effects of the disguise theme. Characters disguise themselves both literally and figuratively and exhibit their growth by their ability to see through deceptions.Emslie, Macdonald. Goldsmith: “The Vicar of Wakefield.” Great Neck, N.Y.: Barron’s Educational Series, 1963. Assesses the vicar, nature and society, wealth and charity, and language.Ferguson, Oliver. “Dr. Primrose and Goldsmith’s Clerical Ideal.” Philological Quarterly 54 (1975): 323-332. Examines Primrose in the context of the eighteenth century Church and clergy.Goldsmith, Oliver. The Vicar of Wakefield. Edited by Arthur Friedman with an introduction and notes by Robert L. Mack. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Mack’s introduction to Friedman’s edition provides context and background for the novel.Hopkins, Robert H. The True Genius of Oliver Goldsmith. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969. Argues that the novel is more satiric than comic and sentimental.Jeffares, A. Norman. Oliver Goldsmith. London: Longmans, Green, 1965. Discusses how the novel’s theme of Primrose’s submission to adversity joins with Goldsmith’s gentle irony, which emerges from the straight-faced style of the vicar-narrator. Notes the similarity between Goldsmith’s vicar and Fielding’s Parson Adams.Phelps, Gilbert. A Reader’s Guide to Fifty British Novels, 1600-1900. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1979. Offers a brief biography, a summary of the novel’s plot, and a section of critical commentary. Faults the novel’s proportions but praises its clarity of style.Quintana, Ricardo. Oliver Goldsmith: A Georgian Study. New York: Macmillan, 1967. Explains the comedy in the novel.Rothstein, Eric, and Howard D. Weinbrot. “The Vicar of Wakefield, Mr. Wilmot, and the ’Whistonean Controversy.’” Philological Quarterly 55 (1976): 225-240. Argues that this controversy on marriage was quite minor and that Primrose’s disputing it so heatedly is comic.
Categories: Characters