Jude the Obscure

by Thomas Hardy

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Last Updated June 26, 2023.

Introduction: 

Jude the Obscure is a novel written by Thomas Hardy and published in 1895. Set in the late 19th century in England, the novel follows the life of Jude Fawley, a working-class young man with ambitions of becoming a scholar. Jude the Obscure explores themes of love, social class, societal expectations, and the limitations imposed by English social and religious conventions of the time.

What Happens: 

Part I: At Marygreen

  • Jude Fawley dreams of attending the prestigious University of Christminster.
  • He becomes infatuated with a portrait of his cousin Sue Bridehead
  • Jude is tricked into marrying Arabella Donn, who pretends to be pregnant.
  • Jude is depressed by his marriage but comes home to find a letter from Arabella saying she is moving to Australia with her parents.

Part II: At Christminster

  • Jude arrives in Christminster, where he is meant to try to enter the University. 
  • Jude finds work as a mason and also spends time looking for his cousin, Sue, and his former schoolmaster, Philotoson, who he believes is a Parson at the University. 
  • Jude finds Sue, who is unhappy in Christminster, and Philotoson, who has failed in his ambition at the University but is a schoolmaster. 
  • Jude does not pursue Sue, since he is married, and they are cousins, but thinks of her often. He introduced her to Philotson, and she begins to work with him. 
  • Jude is not able to enter the University and loses his job as a mason. He walks back to Marygreen. 

Part III: At Melchester

  • Jude decides to follow the path of the clergy and become a low-level church employee. 
  • Sue sends a letter that she is entering training college at Melchester. Since there is also a theological school there, Jude decides to join her. 
  • When he arrives, Sue reveals that she has agreed to marry Philotson in two years. 
  • Jude and Sue spend a day together, which turns into an evening because it gets dark. Because she does not return to her lodgings, Sue is kicked out of her training program., 
  • Sue sends Jude mixed messages about her feelings for him. Jude tells Sue about his marriage to Arabella, and Sue is angry about the revelation.
  • Sue and Philotson are married, and Jude leaves Melchester. He plans to return to Marygreen to visit his aunt before she dies. 
  • Jude first goes to find work in Christminster, where he runs into Arabella in a pub. They spend the night together in an Inn. 
  • The next morning, Arabella reveals that she got married in Australia. Jude is upset and leaves and, shortly after, runs into Sue. 
  • Sue and Jude go to visit his dying Aunt, and Sue confesses that she is unhappy in her marriage. 

Part IV: At Shaston

  • Jude goes to visit Sue in Shaston, where she is teaching school. 
  • Jude and Sue’s relationship gets closer as they both confess their difficulties with their spouses. Sue regrets marrying Philotson, and Jude feels he missed his chance with Sue because of his marriage to Arabella. 
  • Sue tells Philtoson that she no longer wants to be husband and wife with him, and the two begin sleeping in separate rooms. Sue reveals to him that she has feelings for Jude. 
  • Philotson tells Sue she may do as she wishes, and he will not block her from being with Jude, even though they are married. 
  • Jude and Sue go to a hotel together, but they do not consummate the relationship because Sue feels Jude is being dishonest about his relationship with Arabella. 
  • Jude declares he will divorce Arabella. Philotson is told he might be fired from his...

(This entire section contains 1047 words.)

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  • job for allowing Sue to be unfaithful, and he decides to divorce her.  

Part V: At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere

  • Some months have passed, and Jude and Sue both get their divorces but have still not married each other. 
  • Arabella returns and presents Jude with a son she says is his. The boy is named Jude but goes by the nickname “Little Father Time” because he is so serious.
  • Jude and Sue do not get married but live as a married couple. Neighbors speculate on the legitimacy of their marriage.
  • Jude proposes moving to London, where they can be anonymous and have fewer questions about their relationship. 
  • Jude gets sick, and says when he gets better, perhaps they should move to Christminster, even though he is hated there. 

Part VI: At Christminster Again

  • Jude and Sue now have two children in addition to Little Father Time and do indeed move back to Christminster. 
  • They are ostracized from society for being unmarried, divorced, and having children together. 
  • Little Father Time kills the younger children and then himself, leaving a note that says, "Done because we are too menny." 
  • Sue believes that God has punished her for leaving her marriage and having children out of wedlock, and decides to return to Philotson. She moves in with him. 
  • Meanwhile, Arabella again tricks Jude into remarrying her. 
  • Jude becomes ill and decided he wants to see Sue one last time. Sue tells him she loves him but will stay with her husband and not see Jude again. 
  • Jude returns home and dies. He is not mourned by Arabella, and Sue does not come to the funeral. 

Why it Matters: 

Jude the Obscure remains an important work in literary history due to its exploration of controversial themes and its criticism of Victorian society's moral and social conventions. The novel challenges traditional notions of marriage, religion, and social class, highlighting the hypocrisy and constraints imposed by societal norms.

The book faced significant backlash upon its publication due to its frank discussions of sexuality and its portrayal of unconventional relationships. Hardy's critique of marriage, religion, and education systems sparked debates about morality and the limitations placed on individuals by society.

"Jude the Obscure" reflects the shifting social landscape of the late 19th century, when traditional values clashed with the emergence of new ideas and changing societal norms. It examines the struggles of individuals who aim to break free from the constraints of their social status and pursue personal and intellectual fulfillment.

The novel's exploration of love, sacrifice, and the tragic consequences of societal repression resonates with readers, prompting discussions about personal freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and the price individuals pay for defying societal expectations.

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