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 novel starts there, taking its time describing curbed ambition and stunted growth amidst rural status-quo, but pretty soon it becomes interested in matters of morality and social opprobrium. Is marriage a socially sanctioned contract that ought to be cancellable; or is it a promise made to God, and therefore eternally fixed? At what point does social disapproval and the continuation of a community's mores turn into concerted bullying?
Hardy is so very good at the plot archetype where bad things happen to good people: his main characters are unassuming people who mainly want to be left alone to pursue their own choices. Cue a crisis of faith, and a crisis of atheism, unsatisfactory work and life prospects; their resolve to pursue love and happiness is put to stringent tests unintentionally imposed by a society that simply does not get it.
And Hardy uses this outline to examine a range of class issues as well as moral / religious disagreements in his idealized setting of rural Victorian England. Hardy reserves his most direct criticism for class differences: his tale of a working class layman with scholarly ambitions is excellent at conveying frustration with the closed mindset of a self-contained academia, at expressing the resignation of reaching university only through his children and their offspring. But in Jude, Hardy never explicitly chooses sides when it comes to the moral issues. The antagonists, embodied customs and societal taboos though they are, are never portrayed in an unfair light; everyone's behaviour is at all times understandable and (from their own perspective) entirely reasonable. Lack of education, self-interested moral shortcuts and privilege-induced blindness may be deplored, but cannot be demonized, much less personified in easy allegories.
Hardy very skilfully makes readers care about his main characters -- Jude and Sue -- and then proceeds to relentlessly pummel his protagonists with all the disapproval that society and their notions of morality can muster. In this respect, [Jude the Obscure] reminds me of Eliot’s [The Mill on the Floss]: a tragedy inflicted by moral considerations that are at least partially self-imposed and that the protagonists feel unable to abandon without betraying their sense of self.
As great as this book is in addressing moral and religious quandaries, the narrator’s voice is one of the best things about Jude. Most of the narrative is told fairly straightforwardly, without omniscient interference or explicit moralizing. But the narrator's voice sprinkles wry remarks on the text -- be they explicit comments or, more subtly, choice of words and connotations. It doesn’t often make an appearance, but when it engages in a little omniscient foreshadowing or offers a general comment about human nature, it is noticeably but not intrusively different from the surrounding narrative, and the effect is much amplified.
To sum up: [Jude the Obscure] was a very engaging read, and felt like a mature novel, written by an accomplished and highly skilled novelist-- it is so satisfying to feel you're in the hands of a master at their craft. It offered moral complexity, protagonists to root for, and a world with no easy, blameable antagonists. I loved every page of it, because there was so much to keep me intellectually interested as well as emotionally invested.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The story revolves around Jude and Sue (his cousin) and their relationships, as well as their progressive view on society and marriage. Both Jude and Sue could be considered to be naive (I mean that in a good way) to their detriment. I will not detail the story here, as to not spoil it, but fair warning be given - this is a diffufcult book to digest. As always with Hardy, fate is a major player.
I strongly recommend reading (and rereading this book). The characters are well constructed (especially Arabella, who typlifies much that Hardy dislikes).
Again, Hardy's observations were keen, yet caustic (in an often witty and subtle way). Here are some of my favorite:
- "optional dimples"
- "ready to quarrel with the sun for shining on her"
- "a nest of common place school masters whose characteristic is timid obsequiousness to tradition"
- ... not their essential soundness, but their occasional outcomes"
- "... pioneers..." (from page 348 - Part 6, Chapter 3)
- "Their cup of sorrow is now full"
- "The flowers in the bride's hand are sadly like the garland which decked the heifers of sacrifice in the old times!" (wow! this says it all)
Overall, this is a cruel story of opportunities denied by traditions accepted blindly and often contrary to reason. Very thought provoking, it must have been revolutionary when first published.
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.
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
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.
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.
*make you a vegitarian
*make you shun marriage
*if you are already married, make you shun divorce
Yeah, this is a keeper, makes Madame Bovary seem downright gleesome!