Jude Fawley: the title character, eleven year old orphan who lives with his great-aunt
Richard Phillotson: village schoolmaster who is leaving for the university, Jude’s early mentor
Blacksmith and Farm Bailiff: villagers who help Phillotson move
Drusilla Fawley: Jude’s great aunt; she takes in the orphaned Jude and raises him
Farmer Troutham: the farmer who catches Jude encouraging birds to eat the grain Jude was supposed to be watching
Villagers: people to whom Aunt Drusilla relates Jude’s history
Carter: a workman who meets Jude on the road
Two Workmen: help Jude climb on the roof of a barn to see Christminster
Physician Vilbert: the quack doctor who promises and fails to deliver Greek and Latin texts to Jude
Arabella Donn: the pig-keeper’s daughter; she is Jude’s wife
Mr. and Mrs. Donn: Arabella’s parents
Anny and Sarah: Arabella’s friends and confidantes
Mr. Challow: the pig-killer who arrives late, forcing Jude and Arabella to kill the pig
The novel opens with Phillotson’s departure from the Marygreen school, where he had been the schoolmaster. Jude is, at the time, eleven years old, and comes to say good-bye. Even at this stage, Jude is considered less worthy of education and has been attending night school. Phillotson tells Jude that he plans on moving to Christminster in order to gain admission and eventually get a degree. This is the first Jude had heard of a university degree.
In Chapter II, the reader learns that Jude’s parents are dead and that Jude lives with his great aunt, Drusilla, a very cynical old woman. She is not happy to have him live with her, but is resigned to doing her duty. He is working for Farmer Troutham, scaring crows from the corn. However, Troutham discovers that Jude is talking to the crows and allowing them to eat corn. Jude is flogged, then fired. Jude’s aunt, who already resents his presence, is angry with him. Jude runs off toward Christminster.
Chapter III describes Jude’s trip along the road to Christminster, a journey which widens his horizons. With the help of workmen, he climbs up on the roof of a barn in order to catch a glimpse of the city. As he is wont to do, he daydreams as he walks, and imagines seeing Phillotson through a window. As he begins to return to Marygreen, he meets some older men who encourage him by speaking of the glories of the university, most of which they have gleaned from the stories of others. These stories spark Jude’s interest in pursuing a scholarly life.
In Chapter IV, he first asks Physician Vilbert to bring him copies of Latin and Greek grammars, but when the doctor forgets, he writes to Phillotson, who has just sent for his piano, and asks for the texts. When they arrive, he attempts to read them; however, he becomes very frustrated as he has difficulty understanding them.
Chapter V takes place three years later, when he has mastered Latin and Greek. He has been helping his aunt with her bakery and also has become apprenticed to a stonemason and church rebuilder, like his uncle whom he never met.
In Chapter VI, as he is walking along ruminating about his plans, Jude is hit by pig flesh thrown from behind a bush. The thrower is Arabella Donn. He makes a date to meet her the next day, though he senses that his attraction to her is rather superficial. Although he is loath to leave his studies, he meets her for tea and a walk in the countryside in Chapter VII, and in Chapter VIII she...