Jude The Obscure

by Thomas Hardy

Paperback, 1990




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


The schoolmaster was leaving the village and everybody seemed sorry.

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
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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
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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
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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
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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 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,
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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
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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.
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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 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
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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 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
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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!
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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 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
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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 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 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
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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 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
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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!
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
From my first reading of The Return of the Native when I was a sophomore in high school I have been in love with the novels of Thomas Hardy. While I have not read them all, I have read his last, Jude the Obscure, and find solace in the tragic sadness of the life of Jude Fawley. I guess the aspect
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of his life that I admired the most was his desire to be a scholar and to go up to a great university. His desire fuels his personal study in preparation for this life. However, his own tragic nature, faults that he cannot overcome and some that he blames on others intervene to lead him in other directions.
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.
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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
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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 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.

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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
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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 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
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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 japaul22
This was what I expect from Hardy: excellent writing, brutal social commentary, and utterly depressing. This novel has a narrower set of characters than I remember from other Hardy novels I've read. Basically, there is Jude and his first wife, Arabella, and Jude's cousin, Sue, and her first
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husband, Phillotson. Both Jude and Sue end up separating from their first marriages and live together, loving each other but choosing not to marry. Well, Sue chooses not to marry. There is a lot in this novel about marriage and sex and whether these two things really must coexist. Is marriage without sex a true marriage? Is a deep relationship and love without sex enough? Can you cheat on a spouse without actually having intercourse? I was surprised at how explicit Hardy is in this novel about making clear that Sue was revolted at the idea of sleeping with her first husband and that she holds off with Jude for a long time too. And once she starts sleeping with Jude, things go down hill fast.

There's also an exploration here of whether the legal act of marriage is necessary to a couple for them to have a meaningful relationship. And of course how society judges those who live together and don't marry. Interesting that this is still an issue today in America. Obviously, it's much more socially acceptable now for couples to live together before they marry and a small percentage choose to continue to live together and never marry, but it's tough legally.

There is also the inevitable Hardy theme that upward mobility is all but impossible for the poor. Jude starts out a hard-working, ambitious young man. He makes mistakes, but most of his bad luck is imposed on him by society and culture of the time.

Certainly not a pleasant read, but I'll keep coming back to Hardy every few years.
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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
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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.
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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
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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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LibraryThing member MathMaverick
I read Thomas Hardy: Behind the Mask by Andrew Norman earlier this year and it spurred my interest in rereading Jude the Obscure. I had read Jude the first time about 25 years ago. I had recollections of the book, but honestly most were negative. By negative, I do not mean a bad story or a poorly
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written book, instead, I mean a diffucult story to like. On the second reading (being 25 years older), I appreciate the book much more. Having read all of Hardy, I find this book his most caustic and critical. It is essentially an indictment of traditional (i.e. 19th century religious) marriage and it's inherent pitfalls to individual opportunity and improvement.

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.
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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
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could make life very difficult for those who did not conform. I highly recommend this book.
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