Jude the Obscure tells the story of a stonemason, tricked into a loveless marriage, who craves a formal education and a finer existence. Separated from his wife, Jude begins a new life with his cousin, and the couple defies social convention at every turn.
With Jude, Hardy presents the dreamer beset by reality. This is a clear sign that not all will bode well for dear Jude. As this is a general theme in Hardy's works, one has to wonder that Hardy just did not like those who dreamt of a better life and sought ways to improve themselves. It is such a negative attitude as well as the exact opposite of the American dream.
One cannot mention Jude the Obscure without mentioning marriage, as this is where the novel gets all of its tension, which drives the plot forward. As it is believed that Jude the Obscure is relatively autobiographical, make no mistake that Hardy does not have a very positive view of the status of marriage. His is rather a very modern point of view in a Victorian era that is not ready for such ideas. The idea of marriage is a continual issue for Sue, which is where the reader can see the biggest conflict. In Sue, Hardy presents the dichotomy between individual values (no marriage) and society's values (marriage required). According to Hardy, one cannot coexist with the other, and a person must choose between either set of values. However, to choose against society requires a thick skin and a level of patience and/or ignorance of society's scorn - neither of which could be used to describe Sue. As for the institution itself, Hardy still is rather pessimistic. At one point in time, the narrator mentions that a truly married couple did not act affectionate but rather should yell and argue and throw furniture at each other. Both Sue and Jude marry people that repulse them, yet their love for each other is not allowed to flourish because it is not contained within the institution of marriage. The message the reader cannot help but take away from these occurrences is that love has no place in marriage. Interesting, no?
Hardy's discussion of children is just as depressing. There is much talk about whether children would be better off never having been born if they are to be born into a poor family.
"'I think that whenever children be born that are not wanted they should be killed directly, before their souls come to 'em, and not allowed to grow big and walk about!'" (pg. 355)
This begs the question whether Hardy is trying to tell us that Jude was essentially doomed to a life of suffering from the moment he was born. Either way, it is a powerful statement, about an issue that has been an ongoing, and passionate debate for years.
All of these issues leads to a very dark, morose novel. I struggled to get behind the characters, as Sue drove me insane with her waffling and inability to make a decision and stick with it, and Jude was not forceful enough. I kept waiting for the moment for Jude to stand up for his beliefs and his happiness. Rather, he sits back and accepts everything that happens to him, without making an effort to change it for his own benefit. It wasn't that Jude lacked backbone; he just lacked a desire to stand and fight. I remained disappointed with Jude and distracted by Sue throughout the novel, even while I kept hoping that either character would change. Neither one did.
Overall, I cannot say that I truly enjoyed Jude the Obscure, but I did glean a bit more about life in Victorian England for the desolate and downtrodden. Having to leave one town for another when the work ran out, having to past muster with a potential landlord just to rent a room, living in such small towns that were geographically close together so that gossip easily spread from one village to another - it was a rough life, one that requires spirit, drive, and an unwillingness to succumb to the pressures of life. Unfortunately, neither Sue nor Jude had any one of those characteristics, and therein lies my issue. I would have appreciated more character growth from both main characters. I feel like I should not have supported the two minor characters more than I did the two main ones, but as they showed the most gumption, they earned my admiration. Hardy is a must-read for any classic lover only because he portrays various milieu of English life with precision. It isn't the happiest of pictures most times, but as a learning experience for an understanding of English life outside what is taught in history books, he is one of the best.
One key problem I had was that I don't think Jude's love for his cousin was ever properly explained. I could not figure out his infatuation with her.
I don't know what it is about Hardy, because his plots are absurd, the writing does not seem particularly impressive, but somehow I find him fun and readable. This is the second one I've read by him, and would not hesitate to try another.
And said it well. Not even once does this book drag, there are no paragraphs spanning pages and pages. In a book which is meant to decry everything that was wrong- and indeed is still wrong- with society, there are no 4 page speeches to skip. Hardy's characters show, and do not tell. His working class, self taught hero never gets into Oxford, and his 'luminously' intelligent lover doesn't even think of it- you don't need speeches about stultified education after that. And Hardy manages to depict bad marriages between essentially good people, without demonizing anyone, and even Arabella is treated with more kindness that she can expect from a novel like this- which is about all that is fine in humanity, storybook fine, that is. Not practical, cheerful, cut-your-lossses-and-move-on there-is-a-life-to-be-lived fine, the way Arabella is.
Sue Bridehead on the other hand, is certainly not practical, whatever else she might be. In fact, she is more than a character, she is a compilation of the reasons this novel exists. She is the mouthpiece for Hardy's views on all that is holy, she is the mirror he holds up to reflect society's hypocrisy, she is every bit a dream lover, and her impracticality is the only justification we get for the rather flimsy plot.
This pretty lady almost certainly drives three men to early graves, but even then, I suppose that if you had to look for a lover in Victorian literature, she would be a much better option than, say, Elizabeth Bennett. One, ten minutes with her will perhaps be more interesting than any amount of time with Miss Elizabeth, who is actually not all that uninteresting herself, and two, she lives in a world where sex exists. I read somewhere that Sue is among literature's first feminists, and indeed, she is one of the greatest heroines of literature. She has the burden of carrying the novel on her slim shoulders, and she manages it with grace, though it proves too much for her in the end.
This is the sort of book that has to be read in fairly large chunks, because that’s about the only way that the story gets a reaction of anything more than, “Oh, well, nothing’s happening.” Due to that, I can’t fathom that this will be a popular novel with most modern readers, particularly those who might be attracted to it because of its perceived scandalous nature (or for the popularity of the Beatles song “Hey Jude”—they’re really very different).
Coming from a less modern perspective, though, it’s extremely easy to see why this would have been extremely risqué subject material in 1895. For a population who covered their pianos with skirts so as not to show their inanimate legs, heavily implied premarital sex and living in sin with one’s cousin wouldn’t be acceptable at all, particularly when combined with various blasphemes of Jude’s.
As a modern reader, I can’t say that I was too terribly interested in the book aside from the general idea of it. Had the book been published even about fifty years later, I could see where it would have been heavily edited to condense it from around four hundred pages in a trade paperback format to about half its size in something closer to a mass-market edition. Certain scenes would have to be emphasized to appeal to readers and others would have to be cut out completely. However, in spite of the slow-moving story, the writing is still interesting stylistically. When read, it seems vaguely more conversational than the usual Victorian novel, yet still fairly high-brow; as if someone were trying to describe a convoluted thesis paper in the simplest terms possible and not doing particularly well in that endeavor.
This promises to hold interest for readers who can keep themselves in a Victorian mindset; for others, it wouldn’t be deemed particularly interesting or necessarily well worth reading. Still, the implications from the Victorian era are interesting enough for me to have read the whole thing through.
The rest I hate to reveal, as much more drama occurs, including the return of Arabella with a son that Jude never knew he had, and Arabella's marriage to another man, which was considered illegal because of her prior marriage to Jude. Sue and Jude seem well matched though, and are on the path to weather out the storms of life that confront them, but like all Hardy novels, tragedy is just around the corner.
After having a friend of mine read this novel and vehemently declare how much she hated it, I had a good deal of curiosity about the story. I will say though, that my own feelings are quite different. While I understand the frustration that comes from reading a novel with twists and tragedies as Hardy's novels do, I also really found the subject intriguing. Not only did I find Sue's evasive toying with Jude nearly unbearable to take, but also failed to comprehend why such a nice man as Jude would put up with the manipulation and whining that seemed to come from any and all of the women in his life. I tried to take into account the time period, realizing that Jude's life would be nothing but one big scandal, which actually made me like Jude more. As a character, I found him to be filled with honor, and merely a man dealing with the cards life had dealt him. As for Sue, Arabella, Phillotson (Sue's first husband), and a parade of other characters, I would say that the broad spectrum of human characters and their traits didn't fare well in this novel.
I finished the book at 3:00 a.m. and couldn't sleep all night. I staggered down to breakfast and sat in the cafeteria with such a traumatized expression that several friends asked me what had happened. Thomas Hardy happened, that's what. Little Father Time happened.
In this novel, Hardy raises two essential questions: he points out that the desire to learn is classless, and, to an even greater detail, he questions the fairness and validity of the institution of marriage - in those days!...- which was totally unexpected, for me, at least: for, of course, there are prejudices about this even now (always will be) but to much smaller extent...
Our Jude is torn between religious aspirations (which seem to be more equated to a desire for enlightenment and learning than actual longing for God) and love for a woman who is his soul-mate - his idealistic, whimsical, well-read, precocious Sue, whom he follows in mind and deed, himself being not as strong-willed as she, with whom he has such unique mutual understanding. And even here it's all unpredictable - the tragedy strikes and Sue's personality alters altogether. She erroneously decides that the tragedy is God's punishment for her hedonistic way of life (erroneous here as well - as her life was just driven by sober thinking, that's all). Jude, in resignation, calls himself "a paltry victim to the spirit of mental and social restlessness, that makes so many unhappy in these days". In frustration, in the end he is resigned to do carving on the stone walls of colleges he could never enter.
Passionately written and at times very lyrical, Hardy captures his protagonist's mental agony to a most compelling extent. A very worthy read.
Sue is a fabulously complex heroine who derives both feelings of admiration and frustration in the reader as she stays resolute to her convictions however misplaced, whilst Jude is a typical Hardy protagonist who makes you root for him the whole way through the novel.
Unlike the other two Hardy's I've read to date, this one felt like it took quite a while to get going, and I would say it was only about halfway in that I got properly hooked. For that reason I'm deducting a star, but nonetheless it was a great read and the second half was a definite page-turner. I enjoy that Hardy gives such a real sense of place in rural England through the eyes of the lower and middle classes especially, and he's the grand master of social tragedy.
4 stars - not my favourite Hardy so far, but another wonderful Wessex tale.
Jude’s true love is his cousin Sue Bridehead, who shares his passion for intellectual pursuits. Unfortunately their timing always seems off. When he’s tied to Arabella, Sue is free and when he’s free, Sue is tied to a school teacher named Phillotson.
Jude is such a tragic character. His every effort to attain a happy life seems to be thwarted by things that are out of his control. The tragedy seems unavoidable even when you’re hoping the characters make different decisions. Without Hardy’s beautiful writing this book would be unreadable because it’s so depressing, but he makes it enthralling.
In some ways it reminded me of a more likeable version of Wuthering Heights. The same premise of two souls made of the same stuff, but both ill-matched in marriages and kept apart. Only in Jude there’s no crazy, selfish character and in Wuthering Heights there’s less religion.
One of the novel’s main themes is marriage. The characters are constantly at odds with the union, which surprised me because it was published in 1895. I’m sure the book caused quite a stir when it first came out.
This was my first foray into Thomas Hardy and from what I’ve heard his other books have similar themes. This one was hard to rate, because though I loved the writing, the story leaves you aching for Jude and wishing you could have made his life better. So it’s not a book I feel like I loved. I will definitely read more of his work, (I’ve got Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Far From the Madding Crowd on my TBR list), but I may have to wait a bit before diving into another heartbreaker.
It is crushingly sad, but the truth of the situation is psychologically real and mature, born out of extreme frustration and despair at the social reality of the time, the limitations of class and poverty. He was angry, and his passion saturates the book. The dysfunctionality of the characters is all too familiar and believable, the self-deception, the misplaced loyalties, the character flaws they can't get past, the real experience of poverty and failure. How many people have you known who didn't or couldn't live up to their youthful dreams, never made use of their most obvious talents because of a lack of education, money, connections, resourcefulness, early parenthood?
The sadness and tragedy of his life do not mean that this is not a novel that can be enjoyed. If you find the countryside of Hardy's Wessex an interesting world all of his stories are filled with wonders for the intrepid reader.
Thomas Hardy is a fascinating guy and excellent writer, though depressing as hell. He liked to eavesdrop on his neighbors and then put them as characters in his novels, which is why said neighbors all hated him. He also had a huge chip on his shoulder because he wasn't allowed to divorce his wife to marry another woman, which has major significance in Jude because
That said, I HATE Jude with a passion greater than the force of a gabillion suns imploding. It is the only book that has ever left me feeling so impotent with depression and rage that all I could do was lie in bed and watch as it sucked all of the happiness from my soul like a colossal Hoover. I might be overstating a tad, but it really is my most-hated book of all time forever and ever amen.
If it were possible, I'd give it negative stars, I hate it that much.
But Jude is torn between two women, the one he loves and the one to which he is married. Both are responsible for his complete downfall. He desires to do what is right in the eyes of the church and society but that is in direct contrast to the beliefs of his lover, Sue Bridehead, a woman 50 years ahead of her time. Through tragedy, Sue turns to the church while Jude turns away. Jude's desire to do right is now Sue's to the extent that she's become fanatical. Sue believes that in order to save her soul she must leave the man she loves.
Hardy's last novel is long, tedious and wordy yet the love quadrangle needs to be rectified so one plods on. I have found Hardy to be a very forward thinking man who's many thoughts in this book have come to fruition. He delves into subject matter that was, no doubt, shocking for his time. I am certainly happy to have read Jude the Obscure and thought it a fascinating study of humanity in the late 19th century but it's certainly not for everyone. If you have enjoyed Hardy in the past and know what to expect from him I would recommend this one.
I wish I hadn't. The themes I was looking for are present in this novel, but Hardy's breathless, exuberant style was hard to handle. The first half of the book wasn't great, but I knew the good stuff -- Jude's relationship with Sue and their struggle with the external world -- was yet to come. It came, and kept coming until the book's final pages, but Hardy's overbearing style (especially the dialog) made the final 200 pages, which should have been deeply tragic, a chore to read. I truly wanted this novel to be good, even great, but unfortunately that was not the case.
Sorry, Hardy: I've had enough of you, and won't try again, unless I have no choice.
"The masterpiece," I was told. "Classic!" "Like Tess, only better!"
Imagine my horror when going through my LibraryThing account looking for books to tag, star, and review, when I can across Jude and realized I had forgotten I was reading it.
Sure, sometimes I'll be reading one book, and one that has more claims on my time will come along (obligated to read and review, has holds on it at the library), but I don't think I've ever put a book down before, and simply forgotten about it.
And that pretty much sums up the problems I had with Jude. Maybe the ending is magnificent, but the middle is so dreadfully dull that it is awfully hard to get to. I don't mean it is bad, I just mean it is, well, forgettable.
If you want to read a good Hardy novel of self-destruction, I'm afraid I'm still going to have to recommend Tess.