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This novel certainly offers a commentary on the way that marriage was such an institution in Victorian England, and how those that did not "conform" to the expected norms of living in a married state were treated and ostracised. Consider Hardy's sympathetic treatment of both of his main protagonists. Jude and Sue both make loveless marriages that cause them despair and hurt. However, when they "find" each other, they are able to experience a love and union that they had never experienced prior to this point, in spite of their socially acceptable marriages. However, it is clear that the ostracism they experience shows the cruelty and the negative side of religion and social norms and expectations. The fact that both main characters return to their original marriages at the end of the tale perhaps suggests Hardy's unwilling recognition of the strength of this institution rather than a final judgement on the value of marriage as a social institution.
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