THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Life is a plane in which forces of the same or similar intensity interact and result in action. In this plane achievement is dependent on ones values. (Forces of greater intensity represent higher levels of this plane or other planes of life).
There are life values, social values, and moral values. From the standpoint of physical life in nature, only life values i.e. those things that contribute to survival, have importance or meaning. Similarly in social life, it is only social values, not life values, e.g. the capacity to survive in the forest or moral values e.g. truth or fairness, that count. Money, position, and power rule. Whereas for one who lives in a moral plane of social determined, anything positive can come to him only by his allegiance to those values. Conversely by defying or neglecting those values, only destruction can result in the measure he really is of the moral plane.
The Vicar, by his birth, upbringing, profession and character is of a high moral plane. Those moral values enshrine humility and modesty and idealism. But along with his morality, the Vicar has a streak of foolish assertion and arrogance. The expression of this trait cancels whatever positive things he may otherwise merit from life.
The Vicar's life is comfortable and successful until he asserts his foolishness over the issue of monogamy at his son's betrothal, raising the issue of which George's future wife's father is most vulnerable because of his plans to remarry. The Vicar asserts that he holds truth higher than his fortune and news quickly comes that his fortune is lost followed by news that the marriage into a wealthy family is also lost.
Had the Vicar really been above money, his words may have brought a different response. But he has chosen to offend a thing which he and his family really cherish as a boast of higher idealism. Life forces him to live up to that higher idealism by depriving him of everything -- money, position, reputation, freedom, health -- he ever had. When he finally rises to the level of that idealism i.e. becomes stronger than life at that point, not only the original wealth returns and the original marriage arrangement, but abundant wealth from all sides comes.
1. After Goldsmith wrote the book, he was thrown in debtor's prison - because he wrote it. Johnson found it in Goldsmith's house, sold the rights and got Goldsmith released. The story of a debtor in prison sent him to prison and then freed him by itself.
2. Principle: Whenever man acts out of desire from a center of low, weak consciousness, he always moves toward that which will undo him (sometimes the stronger attracts him to dominate him) and rejects what can help him. Here the first event after the Vicar's loss of fortune is his meeting with Bunshell. Out of his instinctive goodness the Vicar offers help to a man he hasn't met when he hears the other has helped someone and now suffers for it. Shortly after, Bunshell saves Sophia from drowning in the river which prophesies his later "knocking her off her feet", saving him from the Squires man and saving the whole family. Vicar's miseries could have ended here with his help to a good and secretly wealthy man. But instead, the whole family acts against the good and wisdom they recognise and value in Bunshell because he is also poor. They seek and value the Squire whom they know to be a dishonest rogue or villain, because he is wealthy. i.e. the Vicar follows the lead of his own hidden lower desires for wealth and fame and prestige by weakly submitting to his wife's and daughters' desires (really indulging his own weakness while maintaining the false report of attributing it to his wife.) The result is progressive destruction of all they ever had - wealth, position, respect, honour etc.
3. Dr. Primrose is a genuinely good man of very high moral ideals. This is not supported by a strong vital. Vitally he values all normal life values but shuns overt seeking of them. When he argues with his future in-law on monogamy just before the wedding is to take place, he insists on asserting his opinions without regard to his vital strength which does not support that assertion. "How relinquish the cause of truth... You might as well advise me to give up my fortune, as my argument",) (p 23) The next instant he learns that he has indeed lost his fortune. In fact, the whole story is a working out of this oath. Because he clings to ideals his vitality doesn't sanction and support, life takes away all he has and brings him experiences which purify his vital until he is able to live with his whole being the oath he has taken. Then all good fortune descends in a moment. But not till the purification is complete and he has traveled the entire cycle from top to the very bottom (principle.) In other words, there was not sufficient strength or harmony to support his ideals. Since he insisted on holding to them, his life supports collapsed.
The wedding to Arabella Willmot was cancelled and George is sent out into the world to seek his fortune. (Arabella's wealthy father was a vicar trying to remarry for the fourth time, an act directly in contraction to the Vicar's belief.) Life offered him success only if he was willing to come down from his idealism and compromise. He was not. So he had to raise his whole life to the level of his ideal.
4. The horse deals: The Vicar's knowledge and strength are unrelated to life where he is naive and inexperienced. Furthermore, he possesses a certain inflated opinion of his own wisdom which is expressed more openly in his second son Moses. Moses displays an air of confidence in his handling of the horse sale and ends up being cheated by Jankinson. The Vicar falls prey to the same trick through the same character trait. But here it is clearly shown that he responds to Jankinson's flattery. Inflated self-image, lack of worldly experience, susceptibility to flattery at the point one flatters oneself are the cause.
5. The Landlord warns the family about Squire's reputation. The Vicar was pained by the news of the Squire's reputation but his daughter and wife were pleased by the impending danger. It is natural then that they should fall victim to it. They felt no sorrow for those who had suffered before them but felt confident of their own allurements and consented to the game. The stronger Squire won. At the moment of the landlord's warning, Bunshell enters their lives through the channel of the Vicar's goodness (generous offer of money) -- that trait is the one protection that finally saves him from his own weakness and impurity, but since he rejects Bunshell it has to travel full cycle.
6. While Bunshell narrates the story of Sir William Thornbull, his own real identity, Sophia falls in the water and Bunshell saves her. Sir William becomes the savior of the whole family. The Vicar is unable to act to save her: "my sensations were too violent", i.e. he lacks the strength to support his goodness. In a similar manner Vicar hesitates much later in the story to save his children from the burning house. But by this time he has grown stronger and does act.
Everyone likes Bunshell and his wife thinks Bunshell a good match for Sophia but for his poverty. She refuses to accept the reality of their own position; looks down on an apparent equal, and aspires through ambition for higher levels. The Vicar says "I was never much displeased with these harmless delusions that tend to make one happy". But it is these very delusions--actually self-deception, vanity, ambition, and pretension -- that bring all the misery. It is the Vicar's compromise with falsehood. The delusion, self-deception, is a weakness which deceives them than others, makes them victim to the Squire's own deceptions.
7. When the Squire first approaches during the hunt, Vicar's first reaction is to withdraw, the women's was interest and attraction. The daughter's training to remain unresponsive to a man's approach was undone the moment they learned it was their wealthy landlord, i.e. the training was superficial. The Vicar has a sense of the impropriety of courting favour with the Squire "disproportioned friendships ever terminate in disgust. There is no character more contemptible than a man that is a fortune-hunter" - but the women overrule him and the Squire's well-timed gift of venison pleaded more powerfully in his favor.
8. The women are conquered by the Squire's appearance. "The jests of the rich are ever successful" p 55
"It is not surprising that such talents (good figure, fine clothes, and fortune) should win the affections of a girl who by education was taught to value an appearance in herself, and consequently to set a value upon it in another" p 58 His wife admits her ambition to trap the Squire with a sense of satisfaction and the Vicar only mildly protests.
9. Bunshell sings a love balled. As it ends, Squire's chaplain disturbs them by shooting a blackbird which had been singing to them and their presenting it to Sophia whose mother insisted she accept. This event symbolises the temporary death of her romance with Bunshell due to her mother's ambition. The acceptance of the dead bird is both a symbol and sanction for suffering. It also begins her separation from Bunshell which is alluded to in the balled of the hermit and the wanderer. The Vicar had already become cool to the growing affection between Bunshell and Sophia and could not understand how she "could thus prefer a man of broken fortunes to one whose expectations were much greater."
10. The Squire brings two high society ladies (in reality women of no means he has earlier ruined) who are judged to be of distinction by their high talk. Even their occasional lapse into vulgar speech doesn't reveal them since to the Vicar "that appeared to me as the surest symptom of their distinction."
He judged them by appearances, fine talk and fine clothes, and took all that was incompatible with fineness as a higher expression of it. His wife responds with pride in her daughters and unbridled ambition for them. Only the Vicar's moderation and prudence save them from greater folly. "I now began to find that all my long and painful lecture open temperance, simplicity and contentment were entirely disregarded. The distinctions lately paid to us by our betters awakened that pride which I had laid asleep, but not removed."
11. In the wake of Squire's advances, the ladies lose their heads. His wife insists on travelling to church on horseback, which earlier she had refused, and as a result the ladies miss the church service completely. This marks their rejection of the Vicar's leadership and further troubles ahead. They respond to the bait of governess position for the girls. Moses sells the first horse and is tricked. He comes back only with worthless green spectacles i.e. glasses which distort or change the appearance of things, which is what they are doing. Each attempt to move up in life leads to a new loss e.g. trying to go to church on horseback, trying to sell the horse etc. "you see how little is to be got by attempts to impose upon the world in coping with our betters. Such as are poor and will associate with none but the rich, are hated by those they avoid, and despised by those they follow. Unequal combinations are always to the weaker side. p 101.
12. "he never knew a women who could find merit in a man that seemed poor" p 105
"The pain which conscience gives the man who has already done wrong, is soon got over. Conscience is a coward, and these faults it has not strength enough to prevent, it seldom has justice enough to accuse". p 106
13. The Vicar has "no doubt about acquitting myself with reputation" in his effort to sell the second horse, though it was one of his first attempts to this kind - that inflated self-confidence was the cause of his failure and it was to this which Johnson addressed his flattery.
14. After Olivia's elopement, the Vicar suspects the Squire - for which he has every good reason, but is easily thrown off the track by false leads. The ease of his distraction expresses his submission to the Squire's wealth and power, not native gullibility. He refuses to exercise his mind in that direction or to challenge the truth of a rich man's words. In contrast he was all too ready to indict Bunshell for writing to the Squire's two rich women friends despite the obvious fact that the letter was so ambiguous as to make it unclear who was being condemned, the ladies or the Vicar's daughters. But he couldn't spare a word of clarification for Bunshell, a poor man. Vicar has energy enough only to run away from the entire incident and be lost in fever for three weeks seventy miles from home. Such is his weakness.
15. From this low point life begins its upward spiral though further falls are yet to come. An acquaintance meets him while he is stranded in the tavern with fever and lends him money, a response to his own genuine goodness as extended to Benshell.
En route home he
meets the travelling players and through them his long missing son George and his
would-have-been-daughter-in-law Arabella Willmot who now is to marry the Squire. Had he
had courage to confront the Squire, life could have turned upward even then.
Next in a repetition of his earlier generosity to Bunshell, he offers money to help a penniless women in a tavern who is none other than Olivia, with whom he is reunited after she left Squire (who wanted to make her a prostitute.)
16. Vicar returns home to tell the family of Olivia only to find the house in flames. The fall of Olivia from the high moral values of a puritan family expressing in a physical sex act results in an accident, and fire, as soon as the news reaches his home.
Earlier when Sophia was drowning, Vicar was physically paralyzed and unable to act. Again he is overcome here and falls on the ground. Finally raw physical courage arises and he bursts into the house to save the little children, severely wounding his arm. It is his first decisive positive act of strength which is followed by his standing up to the Squire and further misfortune. George is found by his father after he has learned that "travelling after fortune is not the way to secure her; and, indeed, of late, I have desisted from the pursuit." During his wandering, George works out his pride, vanity, jealousy. He is a naturally cheerful man - his happiness protects him. He meets the Squire who sends him to his uncle - the key to Squire's later undoing. George sells his services as a servant underling to Squire. George has pride not to stoop so low as flatterers or liars doing anything for money, but he has not the strength of idealism to live up to his highest beliefs. So like his father he languishes without either the gains of the lower or the higher life. He stoops very low, fights a duel for Squire, accepts the lies of Mr. Cripe etc. He falls lower and lower losing all traces of self-respect and pride and finally resorts to music and dissipation and then the comedians. He shows his father's vital weakness, lack of life intelligence without his idealism. George is a very shallow, empty, non-personality, inoffensive, without a bad impulse but without strength for a good one. His cheerfulness is his only strength and he feels, even when leaving Arabella for the second time, oblivious of her feelings for him.