Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. 5498 lines, Kindle edition. 1895.

Jude is a little country boy who dreams of attending the elite universities in the city of Christminster. From the rooftop of a house three miles outside of Marysville, he can see the lights of his beloved Christminster. Jude purchases Greek and Latin books from the local quack, Dr Vilbert, and begins years of laborous studying. However, Jude is misled into marriage by a local girl, Arabella, who later abandons him, and rejections from the Universities and the woman he actually loves, his cousin Sue, lead Jude down a heartbreaking path of broken dreams.

I’m honestly not sure what I think of Jude the Obscure; it was a very peculiar book to read mostly because if the three major characters, Jude, Sue, and Arabella. For obvious reasons I disliked Arabella. From conniving with her friends to trick Jude into marrying her, to disrupting Jude’s happy life with Sue, Arabella proved to be the manipulative driving force behind nearly all of Jude’s misfortunes. At the same time, however, neither Jude nor Sue were completely sympathetic characters. In fact, dropping the ‘sym’ is probably a more accurate assessment of both parties. Both characters became victims of their circumstances and did not have the courage or fortitude to push past the obstacles set before them. Sue was wishy-washy in her feelings towards Jude and pushed him away emotionally and physically, while Jude followed Sue around like a shy puppy. Both Sue and Jude lamented their various circumstances, but lamentation was the only action either party took. I spent much of the book wishing Jude would grow a spine or wishing Sue wouldn’t be so flighty and inconsistent.

Prevalent themes in the novel are those of longing and confinement. Jude longed for both a university education and to be with Sue. He was trapped, however, by his social circumstances as a peasant boy and by his original marriage to Arabella. He and Sue were also trapped by the histories of their family. From early ages it was impressed upon both Sue and Jude that all marriages in their family were doomed to failed. In a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts Jude’s marriage to Arabella failed, as did Sue’s marriage to Phillotson. Facades are also a prevalent theme. Much of Arabella is manufactured and fake; Jude is a stone mason who constructs building facades.

Interestingly, during the first years of their marriage Arabella and Jude slaughtered a pig because the butcher was late in arriving. The butchery drove a wedge through their already strained marriage. Later on in the novel, when Arabella again tricks Jude into remarrying her, Arabella’s father is now in business as a butcher who specializes in pig-sausages.

Anyone have any possible interpretations of those circumstances?

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2 responses to “Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

  1. I haven’t read this or, in fact, any Thomas Hardy. For some reason, I feel like I might not enjoy his books. Also, I prefer not to read books where I want to shake the characters all the time. :)

    By the way, I’m confused by the sentence where you said you said something about dropping the ‘sym’. Is this referring to their last names?

    • I’ve really liked some other Hardy novels. He does tend to fall into that Victorian writing thing of “woe is me” and he tells a lot of depressing stories, that’s for sure.

      And by that sentence I was trying to get at: sympathetic – sym = pathetic….guess it didn’t quite work out :)

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