Study Guide

Jude the Obscure

by Thomas Hardy

Jude the Obscure Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jude the Obscure may be thought of as the argument of Tess of the D’Urbervilles taken one step farther. Whereas the latter focuses on the loss of a unified order and meaning, the former begins with the premise of that loss and deals with the epic search for meaning. The novel is the archetypal story of everyone who searches for a basis of meaning and value. The problem for Jude is that all of the symbols of meaning for him—education, religion, the beauty of Sue Bridehead—are illusions. Jude is “obscure” because he is in darkness, trying to find an illumination of his relationship to the world but failing at every turn.

The novel begins with Jude as a young man losing his only real friend, the schoolmaster Phillotson, who has been the center of his world. Thus, from the first Jude must find a new center and a new hope to relieve his loneliness. His first projection of hope is toward the celestial city of Christminster, where his teacher has gone. In the first section of the book, his dream is like an indefinable glow in the distance. His ideal value system, represented both by the Christian and the classical framework of Christminster, is put aside, however, when he meets Arabella, described by Hardy as “a substantial female animal.” Seduced by the flesh, Jude marries Arabella when she says she is pregnant and gives up his hope of an education. His discovery that Arabella has deceived him is the first disillusionment he...

(The entire section is 593 words.)

Jude the Obscure Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When he is eleven years old, Jude Fawley says good-bye to his schoolmaster, Richard Phillotson, who is leaving the small English village of Marygreen for Christminster to study for a degree. Young Jude is hungry for learning and yearns to go to Christminster, too, but he has to help his great-grandaunt, Drusilla Fawley, in her bakery. At Christminster, Phillotson does not forget his former pupil. He sends Jude some classical grammars, which the boy studies eagerly.

Anticipating a career as a religious scholar, Jude apprentices himself at the age of nineteen to a stonemason engaged in the restoration of medieval churches in a nearby town. Returning to Marygreen one evening, he meets three young girls who are washing pigs’ chitterlings by a stream bank. One of the girls, Arabella Donn, catches Jude’s fancy, and he arranges to meet her later. The young man is swept off his feet and tricked into marriage, but he soon realizes that he married a vulgar country girl with whom he has nothing in common. Embittered, he tries unsuccessfully to commit suicide; when he begins to drink, Arabella leaves him.

Once he is free again, Jude decides to carry out his original intention. He goes to Christminster, where he takes work as a stonemason. He hears that his cousin, Sue Bridehead, lives in Christminster, but he does not seek her out because his aunt warned him against her and because he was already a married man. Eventually, he meets her and is charmed. She is an artist employed in an ecclesiastical warehouse. Jude connects with Phillotson, who is again a simple schoolteacher. At Jude’s suggestion, Sue becomes Phillotson’s assistant. The teacher soon loses his heart to his bright and intellectually independent young helper, and Jude is hurt by evidence of intimacy between the two. Disappointed in love and ambition, he turns to drink and is dismissed by his employer. He goes back to Marygreen.

At Marygreen, Jude is persuaded by a minister to enter the church as a licentiate. Sue, meanwhile, wins a scholarship to a teachers’ college at Melchester; she writes Jude and asks him to visit her. Jude works at stonemasonry in Melchester to be near Sue, even though she tells him she promised to marry Phillotson after completing her schooling. Dismissed from college after an innocent escapade with Jude, Sue influences him away from the church with her unorthodox beliefs. Shortly afterward, she marries Phillotson. Jude is despondent and returns to Christminster, where he comes...

(The entire section is 1020 words.)

Jude the Obscure Summary

Jude is an eleven year old orphan living with his great aunt in Marygreen, a provincial town about 20 miles from Christminster, the...

(The entire section is 1037 words.)

Jude the Obscure Summary and Analysis

At Marygreen Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
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

Summary
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...

(The entire section is 1488 words.)

At Christminster Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Sue Bridehead: she marries Phillotson, she is Jude’s cousin

Mrs. Edlin: friend of Jude’s aunt

Vendor: sells statues of Apollo and Venus to Sue

Miss Fontover: Sue’s employer and landlady

Mrs. Hawes: Sue’s second landlady. Chaperones Phillotson and Sue during tutoring sessions

John Marygreen: villager who asks Jude about Christminster

Uncle Jim, Uncle Joe: stoneworkers with whom Jude passes time drinking

Undergraduates: students who encourage Jude to drunkenly recite Latin in a bar

Tinker Taylor: iron worker with whom Jude drinks

Mr. Highridge: a curate; comforts Jude and urges him to become...

(The entire section is 1810 words.)

At Melchester Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Shepherd and his Mother: country people who invite Sue and Jude to spend the night in their home

Students at Sue’s College: busybodies who spread rumors about Sue after she spends the night away from school

Miss Traceley: school official whose duties include roll call

Porter: the school worker who hears splashing in the river

Mr. Cockman: flirts with Arabella

The Undergraduate: deceased student with whom Sue had a long intellectual relationship

The Musician: author of a piece of religious music; he rejects Jude because he is poor

Jude’s Landlady: the landlady at Melchester

Minister: marries Sue and...

(The entire section is 1934 words.)

At Shaston Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Gillingham: Phillotson’s childhood friend, he offers comfort when Sue leaves

Waiting Maid: hotel staff member who tells Sue that Jude was there with Arabella

Chairman of the School Committee: demands that Phillotson resign after Sue leaves

Itinerants: people who defend Phillotson at his public hearing

Summary
“At Shaston” begins with a description of the town, remote and known for its wantonness. Jude arrives to visit Sue and together they play hymns on the same piano that Phillotson had at Marygreen. Both are moved by the music and their hands clasp. They discuss religious views again. Jude is interested in learning more about the New...

(The entire section is 1503 words.)

At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Mr. Carlett: Arabella’s second husband

Little Father Time (Jude, Jr. ): Jude’s son by Arabella; he comes to live with Jude and Sue

Guard: attendant on train carrying Little Father Time to Aldbrickham

Working Woman and Other Passengers: Little Father Time’s companions on the trip to Aldbrickham

Collector: directs Little Father Time to Jude’s house

Three Brides and Bridegrooms: Jude and Sue observe their weddings at registry and church

Witness and Others: watch wedding in registry; tell Jude and Sue about bride and groom

Clerk: marries couples at registry

Messenger: informs Jude of a job at the church...

(The entire section is 2468 words.)

At Christminster Again Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Jack Stagg: stonemason who recognizes Jude during the Remembrance Day celebration at Christminster

Woman: comments on Jude’s fatigued appearance

Coach Driver: man who savagely mistreats his horse; Jude is shocked by the way he kicks his horse

Policeman: quiets crowd at Remembrance Day procession

Landladies: reject Jude’s and Sue’s requests for housing

Third Landlady’s Husband: orders his wife not to house Sue and Jude

Two Children: offspring of Jude and Sue

Surgeon: tries to help the children

Uncle Joe and Other Men: guests at the second wedding of Jude and Arabella

Summary
At...

(The entire section is 2352 words.)