Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy
The following entry presents criticism of Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure (1895). See also Thomas Hardy Criticism (Introduction), Thomas Hardy Short Story Criticism, and Far from the Madding Crowd Criticism.
Hardy's last and by most accounts bleakest novel, Jude the Obscure details the failed life and ignoble death of Jude Fawley, a bright and ambitious, but ultimately inconsequential, man. The central dieme of the work is the inability of individuals to surmount the social and psychological forces that determine their lives. This theme also appears Hardy's earlier novels, notably Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Return of the Native, which likewise dramatize his belief that individuals are powerless to affect their own lives in an attempt to achieve happiness. In Jude the Obscure Hardy further explores this theme in relation to the constricting forces he observed around him in Victorian society: class, religion, and sexuality. Thus, the novel recounts Jude's unrealized dream to enter the university at Christminster (Hardy's fictionalized version of Oxford University), and his powerlessness to remain happily with the woman he loves, Sue Bridehead, outside of the socially accepted institution of marriage.
Plot and Major Characters
Jude the Obscure opens as a young Jude Fawley watches his school teacher, Mr. Richard Phillotson, depart the small town of Marygreen and travel to the university at Christminster. Sharing Phillotson's goal of earning a degree, Jude hopes to one day follow the same path and so studies intently. Meanwhile, he lives with his great-aunt, Drusilla Fawley, and learns the trade of stonemasonry in order to earn money for his future. Several years pass and Jude, now nineteen years old, meets Arabella Donn, the daughter of a local pig farmer. Sensuous and physically attractive, Arabella pursues Jude, and the two become lovers. Eventually Arabella convinces Jude that she has become pregnant by him, and they marry. Quickly growing tired of her new husband, however, she leaves him and emigrates to Australia. Jude than resumes his original plan and journeys to Christminster. There he meets his distant cousin Sue Bridehead, an intelligent, unconventional woman with whom he immediately falls in love. He later learns that Sue has also attracted the attention of Phillotson. Disheartened by this news and his inability to gain acceptance to the university, Jude departs Christminster for Melchester, where he hopes to pursue theological studies instead. Now also in Melchester at a training college, Sue spends time with Jude, but grows cold when he professes his love to her. After a fearful Jude reveals to her that he is married, she responds by proclaiming her own marriage, to Phillotson. However, the marriage is not to Sue's liking, and the return of Arabella, who has since married an Australian man, prompts Sue to change her mind about Jude.
At the funeral for Jude's recently deceased aunt, Sue kisses Jude passionately. Thinking himself no longer suitable for a career in the Church, Jude forsakes his theological studies. Sue, meanwhile, asks Phillotson for his permission to leave. Sue and Jude move in together in the nearby town of Aldbrickham, while Phillotson eventually grants Sue a divorce. After a year Sue still refuses to make love to Jude, until Arabella appears once again, and Sue and Jude, though unmarried, consummate their relationship for the first time. Arabella notifies Jude that they have a son together, a gloomy boy who is called Little Father Time. The boy arrives shortly from Australia to live with Jude and Sue. Meanwhile, public dislike for the couple's unwed lifestyle costs Jude his job, and the two leave Aldbrickham for Kennetbridge. More than two years pass, and Jude and Sue now have two children of their own, while Sue carries another unborn. When Little Father Time hears his adopted mother's unhappy reaction to the pregnancy he mistakenly believes that he and the other children are the source of the family's woes. He responds by hanging his siblings and then himself. He leaves a note nearby that reads "Done because we are to menny." Soon after, Sue delivers her child stillborn. Jude, meanwhile, falls ill and works only irregularly. Arabella then reappears—her Australian husband has since died—with a revived interest in Jude. She contacts Phillotson, who writes to Sue, urging her to return to him. Sue, feeling that she has been wrong to live with Jude unmarried, agrees. Arabella then contrives to get Jude back, and the two remarry. Jude, who has grown more and more ill over time, professes his enduring love for Sue, but both remain, unhappily, with their former spouses. When Jude dies one year later, having never realized his ambitions, he is attended only by Arabella and Mrs. Edlin, a family friend.
Hardy called his final novel "a tragedy of unfulfilled aims," and critics have since interpreted Jude the Obscure as his most thoroughly pessimistic statement on the inability of human beings to escape the deterministic forces of nature, society, and internal compulsion. For Jude such an escape lay in his dream of attaining a degree from the university at Christminster, yet the reality of Christminster proves wholly unlike Jude's fantasy. Because Jude is unable to enter the university, it becomes a source of bitterness and a symbol of defeat. Likewise, Jude's relationship with Sue Bridehead ultimately yields only futility and leads to another of the crucial conflicts critics perceive in the novel, that between the flesh and the spirit. Unable to give herself physically to Jude, Sue is trapped both by Victorian conventions of marriage and by her deeply held fear of sexuality and desire. Ironically, critics observe, Jude's love for Sue forces him to forsake the spiritual path he had set out for himself at Melchester, as he thinks himself unfit for the Church because of his physical longings for her—longings that she avoids for most of the novel. The result is to reinforce Hardy's overall theme of human inconsequentiality in the face of an insurmountable fate.
The first complete appearance of Jude the Obscure in 1895 provoked a considerable uproar among Hardy's contemporaries. Most negative assessments objected to its frank portrayal of a man and woman living together out of wedlock, taking this to be a critique of the institution of marriage and the religious foundations upon which it is based. Hardy objected, contending that his novel was moral, but soon capitulated. He wrote in his postscript to the 1912 edition of Jude the Obscure that these reactions had the effect of "completely curing me of further interest in novel-writing," causing him to devote his literary attentions from that point forward solely to poetic and dramatic works. Still, many during Hardy's lifetime disagreed with this narrow interpretation and hailed the novel as a masterful work of art. Later criticism has generally shared this conclusion. With certain reservations, such as Hardy's occasional lapses into melodrama, critics have acknowledged Jude the Obscure as one of the masterpieces of late Victorian literature and a story that offers a glimpse of the ensuing modern era, an age forced to reckon with the crumbling certainties of the past.
SOURCE: A review of Jude the Obscure, in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited with a commentary by Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom, Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1968, pp. 115-17.
[In the following review, which was originally published in Harper's Weekly in December 1895, Howells praises the "artistic excellence" of Jude the Obscure and defends it to his contemporaries, many of whom found certain images and events in the narrative displeasing.]
It has never been quite decided yet, I believe, just what is the kind and what is the quality of pleasure we get from tragedy. A great many people have said what it is, but they seem not to have said this even to their own satisfaction. It is certain that we do get pleasure from tragedy, and it is commonly allowed that the pleasure we get from tragedy is nobler than the pleasure we get from comedy. An alloy of any such pleasure as we get from comedy is held to debase this finer emotion, but this seems true only as to the whole effect of tragedy. The Greek tragedy kept itself purely tragic; the English tragedy assimilated all elements of comedy and made them tragic; so that in the end Hamlet and Macbeth are as high sorrowful as Orestes and Oedipus.
I should be rather ashamed of lugging the classic and the romantic in here, if it were not for the sense I have...
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SOURCE: A review of Jude the Obscure, in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited with a commentary by Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom, Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1968, pp. 117-22.
[In the following excerpt from a review that originally appeared in Cosmopolis in January 1896, Gosse remarks favorably on characterization and plot in Jude the Obscure, calling the novel "irresistible." Gosse also notes that the Jude wanders into some improprieties, but observes that censure "is the duty of the moralist and not the critic."]
[Jude the Obscure] is a study of four lives, a rectangular problem in failures, drawn with almost mathematical rigidity. The tragedy of these four persons is constructed in a mode almost as geometrical as that in which Dr. Samuel Clarke was wont to prove the existence of the Deity. It is difficult not to believe that the author set up his four ninepins in the wilds of Wessex, and built up his theorem round them. Here is an initial difficulty. Not quite thus is theology or poetry conveniently composed; we like to conceive that the relation of the parts was more spontaneous, we like to feel that the persons of a story have been thrown up in a jet of enthusiasm, not put into a cave of theory to be slowly covered with stalactite.
Jude the Obscure is acted in North Wessex (Berkshire) and...
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SOURCE: A review of Jude the Obscure, in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited with a commentary by Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom, Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1968, pp. 126-30.
[In the following excerpt from a review originally published in Blackwood's Magazine in January 1896, Oliphant describes Jude the Obscure "as an assault on the stronghold of marriage."]
THE ANTI-MARRIAGE LEAGUE
[The] inclination towards the treatment of subjects hitherto considered immoral or contrary to good manners, in the widest sense of the words—and the disposition to place what is called the Sex-question above all others as the theme of fiction—has gradually acquired the importance of a parti pris. It may be said that this question has always been the leading subject of romance; but this never in the sense of the words as now used. Love has been the subject of romance, and all the obstacles that have always come in its way, and the devotion and faithfulness of Lovers, the chosen Two, the perennial hero and heroine in whom the simpler ideals of life have been concentrated. What is now freely discussed as the physical part of the question, and treated as the most important, has hitherto been banished from the lips of decent people, and as much as possible from their thoughts; but is now freely given forth as the favourite subject...
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SOURCE: A review of Jude the Obscure, in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited with a commentary by Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom, Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1968, pp. 138-44.
[In the following excerpted review, originally published in The Savoy in October 1896, Ellis calls Jude the Obscure "a singularly fine piece of art," adding "this book, it is said, is immoral, and indecent as well. So are most of our great novels."]
… Your wholesome-minded novelist knows that the life of a pure-natured Englishwoman after marriage is, as Taine said, mainly that of a very broody hen, a series of merely physiological processes with which he, as a novelist, has no further concern.
But in novels, as in life, one comes at length to realize that marriage is not necessarily either a grave, or a convent gate, or a hen's nest, that though the conditions are changed the forces at work remain largely the same. It is still quite possible to watch the passions at play, though there may now be more tragedy or more pathos in the outcome of that play. This Mr. Hardy proceeded to do, first on a small scale in short stories, and then on a larger scale.…
I was not without suspicion in approaching Jude the Obscure. Had Mr. Hardy discovered the pernicious truth that whereas children can only take their powders in jam,...
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SOURCE: "Jude the Obscure As a Tragedy", in Southern Review, Vol. 6, 1940-41, pp. 193-213.
[In the following essay, Mizener argues that Jude the Obscure is not a tragedy in the sense that it represents the contrast between the ideal life and the "permanently squalid real life of man," but rather a "history of a worthy man's education."]
… who cannot see
What Earth's ingrained conditions are.
—"Seventy-four and Twenty."
I suppose no one will question Hardy's right to the title of "the first great tragedian in novel form," taking tragedy in its looser sense. Yet there seems to be a general feeling that somehow his novels are not successful, are not, for all their deep sense of the horror of ordinary life, really tragic. "There is," as Mr. E. M. Forster says, "some vital problem that has not been answered, or even posed, in the misfortunes of Jude the Obscure." The cause of that feeling is, I think, an attitude which is probably more the product of his age than of Hardy's own understanding. In a sense the courage of Hardy's profoundest conviction failed him, precisely as Tennyson's did, under the pressure of the reasoning of his age.
Hardy, to be sure, refused to identify what he called "the ideal life" with the conventional views of his times, and this refusal saved him from the superior fatuousness of people like Tennyson and...
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SOURCE: Hardy's "Seeming or Personal Impressions: The Use of Image and Contrast in Jude the Obscure", in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1960, pp. 233-50.
[In the following essay, McDowell explores the symbolism of Jude the Obscure, contending that the novel's images "parallel events and deepen realistic and psychological aspects of the narrative" and afford the work a "richer texture" and greater depth of meaning.]
Sixty years after publication, Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure still elicits controversial judgments. The majority of recent critics, such as William R. Rutland, Lord David Cecil, R. A. Scott-James, Douglas Brown, and Evelyn Hardy, have judged the book a relative failure because of its violations of probability, its morbidity, or its philosophical pretentiousness.1 Other critics, such as Lascelles Abercrombie, H. C. Duffin, Joseph Warren Beach, Arthur McDowall, and Albert Guerard, have acclaimed the book as possibly Hardy's best.2 I agree with the most recent critic in this group, Albert Guerard, who finds Jude the Obscure, despite the "naturalistic paraphernalia," a haunting symbolic rendition of the modern age as it appeared to a compassionate pessimist.3 In order to arrive at a sound approach to the novel, I have had recourse less to book-length studies of Thomas Hardy—except for...
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SOURCE: Jude the Obscure, in Beyond All This Fiddle: Essays 1955-67, Penguin Books, Ltd., 1968, pp. 178-87.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1961, Alvarez claims that "the power of Jude the Obscure is … fictional rather than poetic" and sees the novel as essentially a study of loneliness rather than of character or of the workings of fate.]
Jude the Obscure is Hardy's last and finest novel. Yet its publication in 1896 provoked an outcry as noisy as that which recently greeted Lady Chatterley's Lover. The press attacked in a pack, lady reviewers became hysterical, abusive letters poured in, and a bishop solemnly burnt the book. The fuss may seem to us, at this point in time, incredible and even faintly ridiculous, but its effect was serious enough: '… the experience', Hardy wrote later, 'completely cured me of further interest in novel-writing.' After Jude he devoted himself exclusively to his poetry, never returning to fiction.
What caused the uproar? It was not Hardy's fatalism; after Tess his public had learned to live with that and even love it. Nor was his attack on social and religious hypocrisy particularly virulent, though there was certainly a good deal of entrenched resentment of his criticism of those two almost equally venerable institutions: marriage and Oxford. Zola's name was invoked by one...
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SOURCE: "Hardy's Sue Bridehead", in Nineteenth Century Fiction, University of California Press, Vol. 20, No. 4, 1966, pp. 307-23.
[In the following essay, Heilman examines Hardy's complex portrayal of the character of Sue Bridehead, calling it "an imaginative feat" that expresses Hardy's perception of modern human reality.]
In Jude the Obscure, a novel in which skillful characterization eventually wins the day over laborious editorializing, Thomas Hardy comes close to genius in the portrayal of Sue Bridehead. Sue takes the book away from the title character, because she is stronger, more complex, and more significant, and because her contradictory impulses, creating a spontaneous air of the inexplicable and even the mysterious, are dramatized with extraordinary fullness and concreteness, and with hardly a word of interpretation or admonishment by the author. To say this is to say that as a character she has taken off on her own, sped far away from a conceptual role, and developed as a being whose brilliant and puzzling surface provides only partial clues to the depuis in which we can sense the presence of profound and representative problems.
Sue's original role, of course, is that of counterpoint to Arabella: spirit against flesh, or Houyhnhnm against Yahoo. Sue and Arabella are meant to represent different sides of Jude, who consistently thinks about them together,...
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SOURCE: "Modes of Perception: The Will to Live in Jude the Obscure", in Studies in the Novel, Vol . 11, No. 1, 1970, pp. 31-41.
[In the following essay, Benvenuto observes two differing modes of perception in Jude the Obscure: an objective, amoral mode that is indifferent to humanity and Jude's idealist, personalizing mode wherein lies the stonecutter's desire to live.]
The Fury that greeted the first appearance of Jude the Obscure has long since subsided, yet we are no closer than its reviewers were to an agreement upon Hardy's intent in the novel or the caliber of his performance in it. Jude is not an especially difficult novel; it continues to divide its readers, however, because it imposes upon them what are, by Victorian standards, rigorous and unusual demands. Until the final chapters of Jude, Hardy commits himself and the reader to the life of his hero and to the high-minded courage and independence Jude shows in adversity. His character is one of Hardy's strongest arguments for the value and dignity a man can possess in a world that is alien to the ideals of humanity. When Jude says, "Well—I'm an outsider to the end of my days," not knowing how close he is to the end, he brings down the novel's condemnation on a system that behind its walls isolates itself from intelligence and integrity. 1 At the end of the novel, faced with...
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SOURCE: "Character and Theme in Hardy," in English, Vol. 22, No. 110, Summer, 1972, pp. 45-53.
[In the following essay, Rachman perceives two major themes in Jude the Obscure—those relating to the flesh and those relating to the spirit—and describes how these two themes come into conflict in the novel.]
Whether it be The Return of the Native, Tess of the D'urbervilles, or Jude the Obscure that is Hardy's best, all-round achievement in the field of the novel is a matter not yet indisputably settled. Divided opinion in this respect can only lead to further fruitful critical discussion. What needs to be recognized however, is that Jude has a particular importance, not only among Hardy's own novels but among all English novels of the close of the nineteenth century. This importance confers upon Jude a singular position, not so much in terms of the developing craft of fiction as in the history of the novel as a reflection of man in society and in the cosmos. Both in date of publication, 1895, and in the vision of the world it embodies, Jude marks the point of division between nineteenth-century moderate optimism and twentieth-century pervasive gloom. The book looks back to early nineteenth-century Romanticism, and foreshadows the restlessness, the isolation of the individual, the collapse of old values, and the groping towards...
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SOURCE: "Sue the Obscure," in Essays in Criticism, Vol. X X V , No. 3, July, 1975, pp. 304-28.
[In the following essay, Jacobus accepts Hardy's contention that Jude the Obscure is a novel of contrasting ideas, and thus analyzes the work by focusing on the character of Sue Bridehead, rather than that of Jude.]
Hardy's account of Jude the Obscure raises the problem at once:
Of course the book is all contrasts—or was meant to be in its original conception. Alas, what a miserable accomplishment it is, when I compare it with what I meant to make it!—e.g. Sue and her heathen gods set against Jude's reading the Greek testament; Christminster academical, Christminster in the slums; Jude the saint, Jude the sinner; Sue the Pagan, Sue the saint; marriage, no marriage; &c, &c.
The degree of Hardy's success in executing these strongly-marked contrasts remains the central question about Jude. The bare bones of its design lie dangerously close to the surface, and the urgency of Hardy's commitment constantly threatens its imaginative autonomy. Its realism and its diagrammatic plotting pull in opposite directions, and Hardy's disconcerting tendency to translate ideas into physical realities sometimes leave us uncertain of the intention behind his effects. This apparent discrepancy between...
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SOURCE: "Sue Bridehead: The Woman of the Feminist Movement," in Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900, Vol. XVIII , No. 4, 1978, pp. 703-20.
[In the following essay, Blake probes Hardy's portrayal of the feminine in Jude the Obscure, noting that Sue Bridehead, in repressing her sexual urges as part of a "deliberate effort at widening her possibilities" represents "a daring and plausible try at personal liberation."]
Curiously enough, I am more interested in the Sue story than in any I have written.
Sue is a type of woman which has always had an attraction for me, but the difficulty of drawing the type has kept me from attempting it till now.
Hardy's fascination with Sue Bridehead has been shared by many readers, some of whom feel she takes over Jude the Obscure from Jude. She is complex to the point of being irresistible, mystifying, or for some exasperating. She seems to Yelverton Tyrell, writing in 1896, "an incurably morbid organism," and to Desmond Hawkins, more than half a century later, "just about the nastiest little bitch in English literature."
Sue Bridehead will be more fascinating than frustrating to those who can find a thread that makes her windings worth following, and who can recognize in her mazes something more than the uniqueness of neurosis. Tyrell asks, "Why dwell...
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SOURCE: "Sue Bridehead and the New Woman," in Women Writing about Women, edited by Mary Jacobus, Croom Helm, 1979, pp. 100-13.
[In the following essay, Goode concentrates on the character of Sue Bridehead as he examines Jude the Obscure in terms of late nineteenth-century feminism, and explores the means by which the novel exposes the mystifications of ideologically structured reality.]
Criticism of Jude the Obscure usually takes it to be a representation; hence, however hard such analysis tries to come to terms with the novel's radicalism,-it is inevitably ideological. Criticism of this kind necessarily dissolves the specific literary effect of the text, the author's 'production', into its component sources which are situated in 'reality'—that is to say, the ideological structure of experience by which we (including Hardy) insert our-selves into the hegemony. But Jude is such a truly radical novel precisely because it takes reality apart; that is, it doesn't merely reproduce reality, even as a 'series of seemings', but exposes its flaws and its mystifications. You cannot come to terms with the novel either as a moral fable or as an exhibition of social reality because it is the very terms of those structures, their ideological base, that it interrogates. After the death of her children, before she has, as they say, broken...
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SOURCE: "A Perspective of One's Own: Thomas Hardy and the Elusive Sue Bridehead," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. XII , No. 1, Spring, 1980, pp. 12-28.
[In the following essay, Langland investigates Hardy's portrayal of Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure, concluding that she is an "unevenly conceived character" riddled with inconsistencies, but that these flaws point to the novel's "distinctly modern" narrative sensibility.]
Form and content are inseparable. Story depends on technique, depends, Henry James claimed, on "every word and every punctuation point." Although Thomas Hardy could be expected to resist his contemporary's strict attention to minutiae, James's broad point about the inter-dependence of idea and form nonetheless helps explain problems in Hardy's Jude the Obscure and particularly in that elusive character, Sue Bridehead, who is a touch-stone for many of the difficulties posed by Hardy's final novel. Critics have called this character childish, selfish, sadistic, masochistic, narcissistic, and frigid, all in explanation of what has been defined as her dominant trait: inconsistency. But these conclusions have not satisfied even their authors, among whom Irving Howe is representative in cautioning: "Yet one thing, surely the most important, must be said about Sue Bridehead. As she appears in the novel itself, rather than in the grinder of analysis, she is an utterly...
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SOURCE: "Order and Disorder in Jude the Obscure," in English Literature in Transition: 1880-1920, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1981, pp. 6-15.
[In the following excerpt, Sonstroem focuses on Jude's at times "disorderly, random, [and] repetitive" migrations within the structured course of Jude the Obscure to illustrate the thematic implications of Hardy's framing of chaos in "intricate order."]
In his thought-provoking "A propos de la construction de Jude the Obscure,"1 Fernand Lagarde presents Hardy's novel as a rigidly balanced quasi-architectural construction, within which characters dance an intricate "ronde" or quadrille. In support of his view he points to the symmetrical disposition of chapters within each Part of the novel and among the six Parts, to the placement of a crisis at the precise center of each Part, and to many other such structural harmonies. He notes, too, the extensive network of similarities and contrasts among the personalities and careers of the four leading characters—implicit relationships that Hardy carries into even minute details: "Le roman tout entier est un subtil entrelacs de correspondances" (211); "On n'en fimirait pas de dresser une liste de ces rapprochements, de ces répétitions de l'expérience" (208). In short, for Lagarde Jude the Obscure is a thoroughgoing "recherche de la symétrie" (191).
At least one...
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SOURCE: "A n Affinity for Birds: Kindness in Hardy's Jude the Obscure," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. XII I No. 3, 1981, pp. 250-65.
[In the following essay, Fischler comments on the bird motif in Jude the Obscure and its relation to the theme and structure of the novel.]
Though the manuscript evidence concerning the first pages of Jude the Obscure is still open to differing interpretations, those who have considered it agree on two points: (1) that the opening of the novel as we have it is not part of Hardy's original draft; and (2) that Hardy composed it, obviously with great care, after deciding that his heroine, Sue, should not be Jude's prime attraction to Christminster. The "deadly war" (p. 23) [all page references are to the New Wessex edition of Jude the Obscure, 1977] that Hardy set out to present, according to his Preface, required that Jude follow alternately the call of the spirit and the call of the flesh. Clearly, it was more appropriate to make the call to a place like Christminster spiritual. In the new opening, as a result, it is the schoolmaster, Phillotson, who invites Jude to visit him in the Heavenly Jerusalem, and it is his figure, not Sue's, that appears to Jude in the halo which glows over the city on the horizon (pp. 42-43). Yet, although he is possibly the best that out-of-the-way Marygreen has to offer, Phillotson is an uninspiring...
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SOURCE: "Jude the Obscure: A Psychoanalytic Study", in University of Hartford: Studies in Literature, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1981, pp. 78-90.
[In the following essay, Edwards and Edwards interpret the unconscious motivations of Jude, arguing that he "fails ultimately because he is too rational and too controlled."]
When Thomas Hardy wrote Jude the Obscure, he hoped that the novel would be "cathartic," but it isn't. Despite the fact that Jude becomes increasingly rational and, in some important ways, comes to know himself, the ending offers no consolation, no purgation. Instead, it fizzles out before Jude can discover answers to the questions which baffle him. So the elevation of feeling which accompanies Oedipus's discovery of the awful truth is replaced, in Jude the Obscure, with depression.
Attempts to explain Jude's string of failures and, consequently, the depressing ending, generally focus on Jude's passion or on what Hardy himself called "the opposing environment." Both are overwhelming and destructive, many critics maintain; both practically guarantee that Jude will fail. But in reality Jude escapes from his environment repeatedly; he leaves Marygreen, leaves Christminster, leaves Melchester, leaves Shaston, and leaves Aldbrickham. And he is by no means the victim of his passion. In fact, the very opposite is true. Jude fails ultimately because he is...
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SOURCE: "The Felicity and Infelicity of Marriage in Jude the Obscure," in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 38, No. 2, 1983, pp. 189-213.
[In the following essay, Goetz explores elements of Jude the Obscure that form a critique of marriage.]
Matrimony have growed to be that serious in these days that one really do feel afeard to move in it at all. In my time we took it more careless; and I don't know that we was any the worse for it!
—the Widow Edlin in Jude the Obscure
When Jude the Obscure was published in 1895, it was interpreted in many quarters as Hardy's contribution to the growing contemporary debate on the "marriage question." The prominence of the public debate, as well as Hardy's candid and even sensational treatment of marriage and sex in his novel, tended to draw attention to this aspect of the work rather than to the other theme that Hardy apparently had in mind when he first conceived Jude, the educational one. In a letter of 10 November 1895 to his friend Edmund Gosse, Hardy expressed surprise at the way the novel was being received: "It is curious that some of the papers should look upon the novel as a manifesto on 'the marriage question' (although of course, it involves it)." Hardy's suggestion here that Jude is not about marriage as...
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SOURCE: "Jude the Obscure: Reading and the Spirt of the Law", in ELH, Vol. 50, No. 3, 1983, pp. 607-623.
[In the following essay, Saldívar probes the nature of meaning and referentiality in relation to Hardy's novel, contending that "the narrative of Jude the Obscure, while telling the story of Jude's and Sue's unhappy marriages, also dispels the illusion of a readable truth."]
The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
Concern for the nature and response of an author's audience is, in some respects, one of the original tasks of literary criticism. Over the past decade, however, attempts to incorporate rhetorical, linguistic, and cognitive theories into literary criticism have led to the development of a hefty bibliography on the nature of the reader's role in the communication network of author, text, and reader. These reader-oriented studies stress, from their various perspectives, that the reader, as much as any character, contributes to the shaping of the novel's fictive world through his interpretive actions.
The value of this recent emphasis on the reader's role in fiction and of "reception history" in general could very well be tested by a text such as the author's "Postscript" to Jude the Obscure. There, the reading public is accused of "curing" the...
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SOURCE: "Hardy's Jude: The Pursuit of the Ideal as Tragedy," in The Existential Coordinates of the Human Condition: Poetic-Epic-Tragic, D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1984, pp. 307-18.
[In the following essay, Abdoo maintains that Jude the Obscure is a tragic novel in the classical tradition.]
All tragedy is grotesque. (Thomas Hardy, Life, August 13, 1898)
Virginia Woolf's tribute to Thomas Hardy was written shortly after his death on January 11, 1928. In it she said: "if we are to place Hardy among his fellows, we must call him the greatest tragic writer among English novelists." She goes on to assert that although it is "the most painful" and "pessimistic" of his novels, Jude the Obscure "is not tragic." Hardy, himself, in the 1895 Preface to the First Edition of the novel referred to Jude as "simply an endeavor to give shape and coherence to a series of seemings, or personal impressions … not of the first moment." Superseding, however, is his later statement, which under the stimulus of the early critical attacks on Jude, identifies the novel's central interest for him:
the greater part of the story—that which presented the shattered ideals of the two chief characters, and had been more especially, and indeed most...
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SOURCE: "Sexual Ideology and the Narrative Form in Jude the Obscure" in English, Vol. X X X V I I I , Autumn, 1989, pp. 211-24.
[In the following essay, Mallett discusses the relation between the confines of language and those of gender ideology in Jude the Obscure; he observes that "through its interruptions, silences, and juxtapositions, the narrative form of the novel dramatises and echoes the predicament of its heroine."]
Critical discussion of Jude the Obscure has quite properly concentrated on Sue Bridehead. There have been two main points of departure: the first is Hardy's own account of her in 1912 (teasingly offered as the opinion of an 'experienced reviewer' from Germany) which sees her as the first delineation in fiction of 'a woman of the feminist movement' who represents 'the intellectualized, emancipated bundle of nerves that modern conditions were producing'. The second major departure-point is the pseudopsychological reading offered two years later by Lawrence in his Study of Thomas Hardy, which is in effect an attack on what he sees as Sue's denial of her true female nature ('that which was female in her she wanted to consume within the male force'). But in running these two lines of inquiry—Sue as in some way representative, Sue as a warped individual—critical accounts of the novel have seemed to echo the question, or accusation, with which Jude...
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SOURCE: "Infanticide and Object Loss in Jude the Obscure," in Narcissism and the Novel, New York University Press, 1990, pp. 176-98.
[In the following essay, Berman examines the bleak psychology of parents and children that appears in Jude the Obscure.]
Little Father Time's suicide in Jude the Obscure (1895) is the turning point of a novel demonstrating the cruelty that pervades nature and society. As if the boy's suicide is not terrible enough, Hardy has him hang his younger half-brother and half-sister, the three children suspended from closet hooks. Located near Father Time's body is a note with the victim's last words: "Done because we are too menny." The suicide letter reveals the boy's belief that his father, Jude Fawley, and stepmother, Sue Bridehead, would be better off without the children, who only add to the couple's woes in a Malthusian world. Jude sees his son's suicide as symbolic of an impending universal death wish, and he mournfully reassures Sue that she could not have averted the tragedy. "It was in his nature to do it. The doctor says there are such boys springing up amongst us—boys of a sort unknown in the last generation—the outcome of new views of life." These boys, adds Jude, see all the terrors of life before they are strong enough to resist them. "He says it is the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live. He's an advanced man, the...
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SOURCE: "Individuation and Consummation in Hardy's Jude the Obscure: The Lure of the Void," in The Victorian Newsletter, No. 82, Fall, 1992, pp. 62-64.
[In the following essay, Kelly studies Jude's existential separation from society and his desire for "a sense of belonging and integration."]
"He could not realize himself."
(Jude the Obscure 60)
The peripatetic motif in Jude the Obscure, Hardy's final novel, is obvious to any reader confronted with Jude's wanderings in Hardy's six Parts: from Mary green to Christminster; from Melchester to Shaston; from Aldbrickham and "Elsewhere"—back to Christminster again, where Jude chooses finally to die, to become unreal. The fact of Jude's rootlessness clearly enhances his isolation from community, his obscurity (read worthlessness) in society's eyes, and his pain in existing as an individual—his rootlessness demonstrating Every-modern-man's predicament: the struggle to overcome disconnectedness and fragmentation. Jude's isolation, separateness, and obscurity remit only suffering. In Jude's struggle to flee the isolation and the void, he learns, eventually, and paradoxically, that the void is in fact home, a state which he need no longer flee. Though Hardy insisted he was conveying only his impressions of existence, the philosophical basis of...
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SOURCE: "Becoming a Ma n in Jude the Obscure," in The Sense of Sex: Feminist Perspectives on Hardy, edited by Margaret R. Higonnet, University of Illinois Press, 1993, pp. 32-48.
[In the following essay, Langland evaluates Jude's dilemma of identity in terms of his struggles with the social ideologies of class and gender.]
Because Thomas Hardy's representations of women, by and large, exceed the simple stereotypes scholars initially identified as characteristic images of women, feminist critics early turned to his novels. While those first studies opened up possibilities of a rewarding feminist approach to Hardy, recent work looks more broadly at gender, exploring the problem of masculinity as well as femininity. Poised between centuries (nineteenth and twentieth), between cultures (rural and urban), and between classes (peasantry and middling), Hardy engaged profound social dislocations in ways that disturbed the stability of gender classifications. His representation in Jude the Obscure of the social and material construction of masculinity and femininity reveals something that feminist and gender critics are only beginning to explore: the extent to which patriarchal constructions of masculinity become constrictions and, when inflected by class, create contradictions for individual males. To speak of "patriarchy" in this way exposes a basic truth. Patriarchy (like the resistance to...
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Adelman, Gary. Jude the Obscure: A Paradise of Despair. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992, 137 p.
Summarizes the historical context and critical reception of Jude the Obscure, followed by an interpretive reading of the novel that highlights its prevailing mood of despair.
Alden, Patricia. "A Short Story Prelude to Jude the Obscure: More Light on the Genesis of Hardy's Last Novel." Colby Library Quarterly XIX , No. 1 (March 1983): 45-52.
Observes the "germ" of Jude the Obscure in Hardy's short story "A Tragedy of Two Ambitions."
Bloom, Harold, ed. Thomas Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure.' New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 152 p.
Collection of nine critical essays on Jude the Obscure.
Dellamora, Richard. "Male Relations in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure." Papers on Language & Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature 27, No. 4 (Fall 1991): 453-72.
Studies the juxtaposition of erotic and ambitious male desire in Jude the Obscure.
Freeman, Janet H. "Highways and Cornfields: Space and Time in the Narration of Jude the Obscure." Colby Library Quarterly XXVII , No. 2 (June 1991): 161-73.
Argues the ultimate congruence of "space, time, and narrativity in Jude...
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