Jude The Obscure

by Thomas Hardy

Paperback, 1990

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Quality Paperback Club (1990), Edition: Book Club Edition.

Description

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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jmchshannon
I thought I loved Thomas Hardy. He has a way with words that places the reader at the scene and brings those scenes to life for any modern reader. However, after careful reflection, I am not too certain I stand by my conviction that I like Thomas Hardy. See, he's too depressing. Most of his characters are put into unfortunate situations, find their way out for a bit and then end up worse than when the reader is first introduced to them. This holds true with Tess of the D'Urbervilles and holds true with Jude the Obscure as well.

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.
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LibraryThing member williamcostiganjr
Encompasses Hardy's flaws and strengths. The narrator is phlegmatic and almost stilted, but somehow enjoyable to "listen" to. The plot has Hardy's hallmarks--the past coming back incessantly to haunt you, incredible coincidences, and forgotten individuals returning to the main character's life at key points.

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.
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LibraryThing member pallavi11
Jude the Obscure is Hardy's masterpiece. As in, the work an apprentice submits to prove that he is now good enough become a master. There is no other way to read this polemic against church, marriage and higher education. It is coming-out-of-the-closet, showing-his-colours, rest-on-his-laurels masterpiece. And though it was recieved with more brickbats than laurels, he did rest on it, and never wrote any other novel after this. Once you read this book, you realize why. There was nothing more to say. He has said it all.

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.
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LibraryThing member raistlinsshadow
Thomas Hardy doesn’t seem to be one of the more well-sung Victorian writers, particularly alongside the Brontë sisters and Dickens, but his text is just as full of semicolons and Victorian English slang as theirs are. This book in particular was the source of some trouble for him; his first wife, for example, thought that the book would be perceived as autobiographical and thus divorced him because she feared being considered his cousin—as Jude’s love was his cousin, Sue Bridehead—not to mention that it was wildly unpopular with critics of the time, who criticized it as being morally outrageous and instigated book burnings for it and the like.

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.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
As a young boy, Jude Fawley reads everything he can get his hands on and dreams of going to college. He’s an orphan living in the English countryside yearning to move to Christminster (based on Oxford). When he finally gets the opportunity to begin to make his way in the world he meets a saucy milkmaid, Arabella, and is lured away from his goals.

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.
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LibraryThing member AlisonY
This Hardy novel tells the tale of Jude, a rural stonemason whose ambition is to better himself through the higher education of Christminster (Oxford), and his tragic love affair with his cousin Sue. Their relationship made for an enthralling read, particularly as it was very modern, daring and unconventional for it's time.

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.
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LibraryThing member cappybear
Dreary, implausible codswallop from the nineteenth century's most overrated author. One can only rejoice that Hardy didn't write any more novels after it.
LibraryThing member HankIII
This is the kind of book that spans the critical reader's spectrum: from a total and complete loathing of the novel to recognizing it as a masterful writing work of a literary genius. Yes, it's terribly depressing, and it doesn't pull any punches with reality itself. It's not a Victorian gala affair, nor is it a Dickensian ending. Hardy possesses a great voice for narration, and an even better voice for description and characterization:A powerful novel that still resonates 12 years later after I read it. I still haven't got the initiative to read it again. I still remember the ending. WOW!… (more)
LibraryThing member Clara53
What marks a great fiction writer, in my view, is this: you don't want to skip a single line. Not because it is an action packed thriller, but simply because it totally draws you in. Thomas Hardy's style and his phraseology are of an older pattern and might be a bit puzzling to a contemporary eye, not that easy to digest at first, but you persist, and after a few pages the old-fashioned turn of a phrase or an outdated word not only doesn't matter any more - it becomes essential to the writing. Lengthy, heart-rending, impassioned dialogues and soliloquies might seem a bit histrionic to a modern mind. But not unless you place yourself in that era; that's what I tried to do.

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.
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LibraryThing member meggyweg
Midway through this, I called my boyfriend, who has an English lit degree, and asked, "Um, besides all the spouse-swapping, is anything actually going to happen in this book?" He laughed and said, "Trust me. Something's going to happen."

Something did.

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.… (more)
LibraryThing member mjmbecky
Jude Fawley, the central character of the novel, has hopes for a future wherein he can get an education, and rise out of poverty. In this pursuit, he meets a young woman named Arabella, who convinces him to marry her after tricking him into believing she might be pregnant. Although the couple do eventually have a child together, Arabella abandons Jude before revealing her pregnancy. Jude delves back into work by becoming a stone-mason, wherein he meets young Sue Bridehead and falls madly in love with her. A strange relationship develops between the two, however, as Sue like Jude, but seemingly fights and withholds her feelings from him, eventually marrying the schoolmaster she works for out of some sense of obligation. Strangely, Sue instantly regrets her decision and leaves her husband before the marriage is consummated, and moves in with Jude.

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.
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LibraryThing member Luli81
Duty or freedom? Marriage or passion? Faith or despair? A book full of contrasts, it marked a deep change at the time.
LibraryThing member seldombites
Like most books written in the period, Jude the Obscure does have several passages that can be difficult to wade through. However, unlike many such classics, Jude is worth the effort. This book is a bitter-sweet love story set in a time filled with conventions and behavioural expectations that could make life very difficult for those who did not conform. I highly recommend this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member gypsysmom
When this book was first published there was such an outcry about the subject of the book that Hardy decided to stop writing fiction. What was the subject that created such opprobrium? A couple who could have married each other decided to forego the contract of marriage but live together and have children. It's hard to believe that an action that is almost commonplace now could excite such rage in 1896. Hardy was obviously ahead of his time.

Jude Fawley was raised in the small village of Marygreen by his great-aunt after his parents died. His great-aunt was too poor to send him to school but he had gone to night school with Mr. Phillotson until that teacher decided to go off to try to get a degree at Christminster (a made up name for Oxford). Jude has a great passion for reading and conceives a notion to follow in the schoolmaster's footsteps. He manages to teach himself the rudiments of Latin and Greek but, realizing that he must have a way to earn money, also learns the trade of stone cutting. While he is still apprenticing he catches the attention of Arabella Donn, the daughter of a pig farmer. Arabella manages to entice Jude into her bed and then, claiming to be pregnant, into marriage. Both of them soon rue their marriage and Arabella goes off to Australia with her parents. Jude finally realizes his dream of going to Christminster. He also realizes his dream of meeting his cousin Susanna whose picture was in his great-aunt's house. When they meet they are drawn to each other but since Jude is still married he fights the attraction. When Susanna is dismissed from her employment Jude introduces her to schoolmaster Phillotson. Phillotson hires her as an assistant and soon is smitten by her.

Phillotson and Susanna marry but Susanna is repulsed by the idea of physical love with him and asks him to let her go to live with Jude. Phillotson agrees, causing the local people to get him fired from the school. Susanna lives with Jude but does not share a bed with him. Finally the marriages between Phillotson and Susanna and between Jude and Arabella are dissolved but Susanna is reluctant to marry Jude for fear that the love they have will disappear with marriage. They pretend to get married and they do have children together. Then a tragedy occurs (as in most Hardy novels) and Jude and Susanna separate.

Even though you know tragedy is coming it was still a shock when it occurs. No-one could read this book and not feel sorry for Jude and Susanna. Even Phillotson is a tragic figure and I felt badly for him. Arabella, on the other hand, is such a conniving, heartless woman that it seems strange that Jude would get caught by her. It is certainly not strange that the bloom goes off the rose of their marriage very quickly.

Hardy shows his true feelings about marriage pretty clearly in this book. His wife, Emma, is said to have disapproved of Jude the Obscure. Hardy and Emma spent more and more time apart after its publication and Hardy started seeing other women. However, after Emma died Hardy apparently felt remorse and revisited places where they had been happy together.

We have two more works by Hardy to read but they are short stories. I have a new appreciation for Hardy after reading all of his novels although it is hard to say that I have enjoyed them. Hardy, like the playwright Chekhov, isn't meant to be enjoyable. Instead they show us the human condition and let us draw our own conclusions.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
2011, Blackstone Audiobooks, Read by Frederick Davidson

“Remember that the best and greatest among mankind are those who do themselves no worldly good. Every successful man is more or less a selfish man. The devoted fail ...” (Pt 6, Ch 4)

Jude Fawley, a stonemason raised by his working-class aunt, dreams of a university education at Christminster, having been inspired by schoolmaster, Richard Phillotson. But his plans are thwarted when he is tricked into marrying the rough-and-tumble Arabella. The marriage goes awry, not surprisingly, and Jude resolves to go to Christminster at last. Regrettably, when he attempts to enroll at the university, his plans are again stymied. Still, he is pleased to make the acquaintance of his cousin, Sue Bridehead. To no avail, Jude tries desperately not to fall in love with her; and he is devastated to learn that she has become engaged to Phillotson. However, this is another marriage doomed from its inception. Eventually, both Jude and Sue, who “seem to be one person split in two,” are divorced; but Sue does not wish to remarry. When Arabella reveals she has Jude’s son, Jude and Sue raise the boy together, along with two other children of their own, until tragedy – unspeakable tragedy – strikes. Sue, “creed-drunk” and manic with guilt, believes the tragedy to be her fate for having left Phillotson. Hopeless, they both eventually remarry their former spouses. Jude begs Sue to return to him, but she cannot:

“No – let me make my last appeal. Listen to this! We've both remarried out of our senses. I was made drunk to do it. You were the same. I was gin-drunk; you were creed-drunk. Either form of intoxication takes away the nobler vision ... Let us then shake off our mistakes, and run away together!” (Pt 6, Ch 8)

Jude the Obscure, while not my favourite of Hardy’s Wessex novels, is beautifully written, adorned with characters who’ll live on with me (as I’ve come to expect when reading Hardy) – and, oh, so tragic! Hardy uses his narrative superbly to expose the harm created by the absolutely unyielding social codes of his time as regards marriage, higher education, and social class. One of the things I love most about classics is their echoes for our modern times. We’ve certainly loosed the rigid thinking on marriage and divorce that Hardy called for – to a fault, I would argue. But I think we have a long way to go in making higher education more accessible and social mobility more achievable.

I thoroughly enjoyed, and this audiobook edition is fabulously read by Frederick Davidson – great characters’ voices! Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member Carmenere
Jude Fawley is a kind, gentle and at times gullible young man. His is the story of a man's struggle to realize his dream by furthering his education to become a minister. "He considered that he might so mark out his coming years as to begin his ministry at the age of thirty - an age which much attracted him as being that of his exemplar when he first began to teach in Galilee."
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.
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LibraryThing member edwardhenry
I've avoided Thomas Hardy for most of my life: first from ignorance, then on the advice of a few friends whose taste I trust. Then I read an inspirational article in the TLS this summer, on the relationship -- both personal and working -- between Hardy and Henry Ibsen, which directed me towards Jude the Obscure. The description I found there led me to hope that the novel's themes (anticlericism, the emerging modern person, etc) would be right up my alley. So I took the dive.

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.
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LibraryThing member hemingwayok
Oh my goodness! Could a book be any more depressing and lovely? In my opinion, this is one of his best. The plot is so real. He hides nothing and so, shows the grotesque along with the tender. You hope for Jude the entire book - that he will finally find happiness and realize his dreams. No matter what obstacles befall him throughout the story, you continue to hope from somewhere inside the human spirit. At the end, you are almost left breathless as you watch his love walk away and you know that a happy ending is not in order for him. I love that. Hardy doesn't lie to the reader. Sometimes, happy endings don't exist in reality. He explores this world of pain and sorrow wonderfully.… (more)
LibraryThing member la2bkk
This was my second Hardy novel, following The Mayor of Casterbridge, which I believe contains more appealing characters and story lines. Nonetheless, Hardy's writing ability is superb, hence Jude the Obscure flows seamlessly throughout. Kudos also for Hardy's ending, which was superb.

Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member Lord_Boris
This book was published in 1895 to such adverse criticism that Hardy didn't write another novel. Clearly it wasn't the done thing to question the institution of marriage, the influence of the church on society and to speak up for the poor. Never mind the (extremely mild) references to sex, which by the standards of the day, were considered too much. The story focuses on a young man with ambitions to better himself by striving to make it to a college at the university town of Christminster. However, the mistakes he and (his cousin / lover) Sue, make in their youth are not forgiven in the eyes of the community - wherever they go. Unable to free themselves, things begin to spiral.

Usually regarded as the most depressing of Hardy's novels but it would be wrong to dismiss it on those terms as there is a lot going on in this book and it keeps you turning the pages. But yes, it does contain probably the most shocking scene I have ever read.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Jude the obtuse. Jude the feckless. Jude the petty. Jude the wet. If ,Far from the Madding Crowd is essentially anachronistic, and Tess very much of its moment, this book is kind of about what happens when those worlds come screeching together - like, in idyllic no-madding Wessex Jude and Arabella would have stuck by one another and he would have found his dream, and in a putative Sue she would have been the heroine and been spit out with all her stupid Greeks, but this is neither fantasy or cautionary tale - Hardy seems to be trying to be real with us, but he doesn't know what real is and ends up with characters that oscillate between purple harlequin-romance prose and clumsy sensationalism (he actually seems to seriously for real be arguing that Jude was brought low by drink, and that it was up to the women to stop him). Everybody in this book is a pointless waste sleepwaling their way through life, though, and I guess it's real and contemporary in that sense. Everybody comes out bad, but the women have to take responsibility for the men as well as themselves, and that allows the men to come out somewhat better, and that troubles me. Ugh, Victoria England!… (more)
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
Typical Hardy - full of sex (minus the descriptions of course) and some desperate sadness. I like the way he doesn't find it necessary to have everyone living happily ever after by the end of the book.
LibraryThing member xine2009
One of the most powerful books I've ever read. I found the impact shattering. The tragedies of men's and women's struggles against the social system are portrayed as hopeless and seemingly eternal.
LibraryThing member C.Vick
Tess has to be one of my favorite novels of all time. I devoured it. Devoured Far From the Madding Crowd after that and you can just imagine how much I was looking forward to Jude.

"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.
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LibraryThing member BayardUS
Once I realized I hadn't yet read any Thomas Hardy, I felt obliged to pick up one of his works, since Hardy is mentioned frequently enough that I'd put him into my mental category of Authors I Should Have Read. Jude the Obscure did not reward my decision. Characters, prose, plot, message, every element of this book was lackluster, to the extent that, even though it was the last of Hardy's novels, at times it seems downright amateurish.

Every character in Jude the Obscure is frustrating, largely because Hardy usually doesn't provide any characterization. The titular character of Jude studies all the time, but is he smart? Does he grasp the material he's reading? Or is he just memorizing without understanding? This is not addressed at all for a long portion of the novel, and remains murky to the last. Later on Jude starts a relationship with Arabella, who decides at their first meeting that she wants a man like Jude for a husband- we aren't told why, nor are we shown why the pair is incompatible. Instead we get a not-at-all-subtle Samson and Delilah reference and then are told by Hardy that the marriage isn't working out, without ever getting a sense of why that is the case. For the rest of the book Arabella fills the role of "female antagonist," being vaguely petty and manipulative and slutty in ways that were boring and cliché long before Hardy put them onto paper. The character with the most characterization is Sue, who, despite getting more development, is still frustrating due to Hardy never having her articulate what she wants. For a long stretch of the book it seems as though she desires emotional companionship without physical intimacy, which would be fine, but Hardy never has her communicate this, so multiple male characters are strung along for dozens and dozens of pages trying to puzzle out what she wants. After a skip forward in time, however, Sue has evidently embraced physical intimacy in a way never previously indicated, making Sue's desires muddled to the point of indecipherability. There's also a child sociopath that seems like he's pulled right out of a horror film, who is introduced by being such a killjoy that it makes abundantly clear that his inclusion isn't going to be making the book any more enjoyable.

And this is a book that could well use some added entertainment value. I can see how Dickens' prose might not be everyone's cup of tea, but in contrast I can't see how Hardy's prose can be anyone's cup of tea: it reads like the prose of Dickens stripped of any color or artistry. The best I can say about it is that it is functional, though archaic. This entire book feels like a remnant from a previous literary era, since, despite being written in 1895, it reads as overly formal and completely unexciting. It is stunning when you realize that this was a book written long after Stendhal, Austen, Gogol, and Flaubert had been published. All of those writers feel more modern and vibrant, both in their prose and in their exploration of their subject matter. Hardy sermonizes on the way the marriage system should be reformed through the conversations of Mr. Phillotson, in speeches that seem shoehorned in and which are painfully boring to read. It is of course true that the system of marriage in Hardy's era was far from perfect, but in Jude the Obscure he beats his readers over the head with his message instead of allowing them to come to the conclusion on their own. He also mentions some of the practical reasons behind marriage as a legal institution but never bothers to address or refute those reasons, instead sweeping the material considerations for marriage under the rug by having Mr. Phillotson and Sue essentially competing over who can take the least property after they agree to divorce (perhaps Hardy did not feel the need to address the reasons he raised because those reasons came out of the mouth of Arabella, and therefore are de facto lies). Hardy also undercuts his messages at times, like when he portrays Arabella as the one derailing Jude's scholarly ambitions, when it is clear that those ambitions were thwarted from the very beginning by the circumstances of Jude's birth. By inserting in poorly-crafted arguments Hardy not only makes Jude the Obscure more tedious to read, he also fails to convincingly support his positions as well.

Hardy has the main characters fall on hard times at around the 4/5ths mark of the book in a way that feels inorganic and unsatisfying, so that he can give us a tragic ending to a book that doesn't much need one: you can illustrate the unfairness of the educational and social institutions without having your main character meet a cliché end, in fact I think the couple continuing on as a lower class family with all of their loftier ambitions frustrated would have been a more poignant and interesting ending than the melodramatic deaths that Hardy gives us. It doesn't help that Hardy's prose is unable to capture the emotions of the tragic scenes he paints. The low-grade groan that had been in the back of my mind since about fifty pages in got a lot louder at the scene where it is revealed that Jude Jr. has killed his half-siblings and himself, not just because it was so blatantly meant to shock the audience, but because I immediately knew that Hardy didn't have the writing chops to pull it off. Jude quoting Agamemnon on the next page confirmed this.

This is one of those books that I'm giving 2 stars not because it did anything too terribly, but because it did nothing well. There is no line of prose I found impressive, no character that felt real, no theme or message that struck home. Just a lot of words and pages and a feeling of boredom throughout. Perhaps the highest compliment I can give this book is that it's themes at times made me think about The Red and the Black, a far better book that you should definitely read in place of this.
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