The moral, shrewd, and intelligent Oliver Goldsmith, the vicar of Wakefield lives a happy life with his household, which comprises the wife, Deborah, sons: George, Moses, Bill, and Dick, and daughters, Olivia and Sophia. The family lives a secluded and descent life. They are preparing for George’s marriage to an adorable girl, Miss Arabella Wilmot.
However, Arabella’s father, scarps the engagement after the vicar, aggravates him in a philosophical debate concerning marriage, and after the vicar loses his wealth to a dubious merchant who he later discovers that he is a thief. Now impoverished, the vicar’s family has to move to a more low-class location.
In their new locality, the vicar works as a low-rank cleric and a farmer. The vicar’s family sends George, who had graduated from Oxford, to London, hoping that he earns a living to help the families. The new neighborhood is pleasant and rural, but the women specifically find it hard to adapt to a more miserable life than they are used to.
The vicar makes friends with a cute, scholarly, and down and out young man, Mr. Burchell after he rescues Sophia from drowning. Sophia is attracted to Mr.Burchell. At the same time, the family also gets wind of their new landlord, Squire Thornhill, known to be a rascal who lives on the generosity of his uncle, Sir William Thornhill.
In the long run, the vicar’s family encounters the renowned Squire, who acts enchanting, attractive, and friendly. The vicar quickly ignores his unease as he realizes Squire’s interest in Olivia, and they begin to anticipate that their situation might turn around. In the meantime, as he hopes for a changed social status, the vicar begins to hate Mr. Burchell’s attraction to Sophia. He does not want to marry Sophia to an impoverished man.
The vicar’s family becomes arrogant as their anticipation for Olivia, and the landlord grows. However, the more proud they become, the more embarrassed they are. For example, the vicar and his son Moses are defrauded when selling off their family’s horses in exchange for more classy horses.
The landlord introduces Olivia and Sophia to two voguish ladies, who propose that they might take the vicar’s daughters to the city. The family is happy but enraged on discovering that Mr. Burchell has written a letter ambivalently menacing the girls’ reputes. Because of the letter, the ploy to move the girls to the city is thwarted. Mr. Burchell is evicted.
The vicar’s wife tries to convince the Squire to propose to Olivia and threatens to marry her to Father Williams. Although the Squire is angry and envious of the neighbor’s presence, he dares not to propose to Olivia, and her family prepares to marry her to Williams.
Prior to the wedding, Olivia elopes with the Squire. This escape disturbs the family, as it means that Olivia has given away her repute. Her father sets after her, hoping to salvage and pardon her. He finds Thornhill at home and reckons that Mr. Burchell could have committed the crime.
The vicar’s journey is draining, and he falls sick while away. He takes a three weeks rest at an inn, and then heads back home, meeting a traveling acting group on the way.
When they reach the neighboring town, he meets a wise man who invites him for a party. The vicar is astonished by his host’s beautiful mansion. He then realizes that the man is a servant when the master, Mr. Arnold, arrives. Mr. Arnold is Miss Arabella’s uncle, who is delighted to see the vicar. Arabella’s love for George has not dwindled. However, it is rumored that she is marrying Thornhill.
The vicar stays for some days. Later, they attend the acting group’s concert only to realize that George acts with it. Later, George narrates to his father his numerous mishaps.
The Squire later comes to Arnold’s house and is shocked to see the vicar. Noticing the new attraction between Arabella and George, the Squire secures a job for George in the West Indies. Since he is penniless and does not suspect Thornhill, George leaves.
The vicar returns home. One night, he stops in an inn and finds Olivia there. Olivia narrates how the Squire lured her, married her in an illegitimate event, and abandoned her in a brothel. She escaped and has since stayed at the innkeeper’s mercy.
The vicar takes Olivia but leaves her at an inn so he can prepare his family for her return. He finds his home on fire, with his two sons inside. He rushes and saves them, terribly injuring his arm. The family is shocked and forgives Olivia, who, however, remains broken.
The family tries normalizing, even after hearing of Arabella and Thornhill. One day, the vicar insults the Squire, who threatens to revenge. The following day, he sends officers to pick rent. The vicar can’t pay and is captured.
In prison, the vicar befriends Ephraim Jenkinson, who had duped him of his horses. The vicar resolves to forgive Ephraim and goes ahead to turn around other prisoners with sermons. With the help of Ephraim, they write to William about Thornhill.
Despite the vicar and Olivia’s worsening health, the vicar refuses to reconcile to Thornhill. He later learns that Olivia has died, and writes a letter of appeasement to Thornhill, who refuses to heed following the letter to his uncle.
The vicar then learns of Sophia’s abduction. Almost instantly, George is imprisoned. The imprisonment follows George challenging Thornhill to a fight. In his distress, the vicar preaches to the prisoners.
After the sermon, the vicar catches wind that Burchell has salvaged Sophia. The vicar apologizes to Burchell and blesses his marriage to Sophia. Burchell then prepares a great feast.
Thornhill is later arrested with charges of abducting Sophia. It is later discovered that Thornhill had hired someone to kidnap Sophia so that he could stage-manage saving her and then seduce her.
Arabella and her father, on learning of the vicar’s arrest, arrive at the jail. Arabella resolves to end the engagement. However, Thornhill is not moved as he had been granted the contract for Arabella’s endowment, and would not need the real marriage.
George and Arabella are happy to reunite and plan to wed. It is later discovered that Olivia is still alive. Ephraim had lied to prompt the vicar to write a reconciliation letter to Thornhill. Additionally, it is found that Jenkinson had legitimately wedded Thornhill and Olivia, and so Thornhill loses Arabella’s fortune.
Thornhill is broken and begs his uncle for pardon, where he is granted a small pay. Once Thornhill leaves, William proposes to Sophia.
As for George, he marries Arabella. Thornhill lives in desolation far away with a relative. The vicar recovers his fortune from the swindler merchant when he is caught.
Joy and prosperity are restored, and the vicar swears to be grateful to God during his good times as well as times of adversity.