In Jude the Obscure, how are the Victorians' anxieties about science displayed?

1 Answer | Add Yours

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

If learning and science are equated together, it is easy to see how the rather ambivalent presentation of these factors is presented in the form of the city of Christminster, where Jude hopes to study, and where, he is told, even the washerwomen speak Latin. Jude becomes convinced early on in the novel that Christminster is a "place of light" where the "tree of learning grows," and determines to study there, yet he never manages to actually travel the few miles to reach this city and it remains aloof and distant from him. Note how in Part I he climbs a ladder and sits on a roof to try and gain a glimpse of the city. Initially, he sees a glorious shining image of this place of learning, yet note what happens afterwards:

The spectator gazed on and on till the windows and vanes lost their shine, going out almost suddenly like extinguished candles. The vague city became veiled in mist. Turning to the west, he saw that the sun had disappeared. The foreground of the scene had grown funereally dark, and near objects put on the hues and shapes of chimaeras.

The association of Christminster with "funereally dark" objects and "chimaeras" express some of the disturbing ambivalence the novel contains with ideas such as progress, learning, and science. Jude throughout his entire life longs to study at Christminster, yet his inability to actually go there could be down to his own deep-seated fear of failure. Again and again, for a variety of reasons, he finds his path to his own self-improvement blocked, and the novel suggests that he would have been happier had he accepted his lot in life and not had exalted ambitions and hopes. This of course could be viewed as Hardy expressing his own doubts about the full extent to which science and learning actually helped individuals, or whether it only increased their unhappiness and difficulties in life.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,955 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question