The enduring fame of this little book is partly due to young Charles Dickens's devotion to the slender volume in the small collection of books given him by his father, John. Dickens mentions it as one of the volumes left to David Copperfield by his father:
My father had left a small collection of books in a little room up-stairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, The Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time, — they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii, — and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. [David Copperfield, Chapter 4]
Dickens also remarks upon it genially in American Notes for General Circulation, The Old Curiosity Shop, and Pictures from Italy. Moreover, Dickens seems to have used its plot and characters for a point of departure in writing his 1846 Christmas Book The Battle of Life.
Goldsmith's short novel was a favourite among other nineteenth-century readers and writers. For example, George Eliot alludes to it in Middlemarch, StendhalinThe Life of Henry Brulard, Arthur SchopenhauerinThe Art of Controversy, Jane Austen inEmma, Charles Dickensin numerous works, Mary Shelley in Frankenstein, Sarah Grand in The Heavenly Twins, Charlotte Brontë in both The Professor and Villette, Louisa May Alcott in Little Women, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in The Sorrows of Young Werther, as well as in Dichtung und Wahrheit. Goethe commented:
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. 368]
Last modified 19 April 2018