At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2468

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

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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 in Aldbrickham

Old Vicar and Churchwarden: observe Jude’s work; are surprised that Sue is helping him.
Churchwarden tells a story about painting commandments

Charwomen and Two Ladies: gossip about Sue’s marital status

Willis: contractor who hires Jude to work on the church; fires him because of relationship with Sue

Auctioneer: sells Jude’s and Sue’s belongings

In Chapter I of this section, Jude and Sue have moved into a house in Aldbrickham and are both attempting to secure divorces from their previous spouses. Jude is eager for them to marry but Sue is uncertain. One day, in Chapter II, when Jude is not home, Arabella comes by seeking money, as her husband has abandoned her. She does not reveal her identity, but Sue suspects that it is Arabella. Arabella returns and speaks to Jude, but Sue will not let her in the house. Against Sue’s wishes, Jude goes after Arabella, but cannot find her. He comes back for his boots, because it is raining and he wants to continue searching. Sue begs him not to go back out and she says she’ll marry him. He stays and they plan their wedding.

In Chapter III, Jude learns from Arabella that she gave birth to his child eight months after leaving him. The child looks strangely old. He has been living with Arabella’s parents, but they can no longer care for him, so he comes to live with Jude and Sue.

In Chapter IV, Jude and Sue learn that the boy is nicknamed “Little Father Time” due to his appearance. For the sake of the child, Sue agrees to marriage. Widow Edlin comes from Marygreen to serve as a witness. She tells more stories of the marital problems of Jude’s and Sue’s ancestors. One of Jude’s ancestors had split with his wife and subsequently their child died. In an effort to steal the child’s coffin for burial with his family, he was caught and hanged for burglary. Widow Edlin ascribes this incident to bad luck. Little Father Time, vexed by the story, urges Jude and Sue not to marry.

While waiting at the registry to be married, Jude and Sue observe the wedding of another couple. The bride and groom appear unhappy. Sue feels uneasy, so they go to the church to be married. Again, they observe a less than enthusiastic pair, so Sue again has doubts and calls it off. They continue to live together.

Chapter V takes place at an agriculture fair attended by Arabella and Carlett, her husband who has returned to her. They spot Jude and Sue, who have made a model of Christminster which they are showing at an art exhibit, and Arabella begins to speak about how odd a couple they make. She shares her feelings with her friend Anny and with Physician Vilbert, who sells her a love potion that she plans to use to get Jude back.

Jude and Sue are the subject of more gossip in Chapter VI. Little Father Time is teased at school for living with a “nominal mother” and Jude is fired from his job at a church after the Churchwarden sees them working together. They sell their furniture and move on to Kennetsbridge.

Chapter VII takes place three years later in Kennetsbridge at another fair, where Sue runs into Arabella again. Arabella has been widowed and Sue now has two children of her own. She tells Arabella that Jude is unwell. At the time of the conversation, Sue is selling cakes shaped like buildings at Christminster. This is the business that she and Jude have set up.

Arabella, in Chapter VII, has ostensibly become religious, and meets her friend Anny for the opening of a new church headed by a preacher from London. She is still somewhat in love with Jude, and seeing Sue has rekindled her interest.

As Arabella and Anny go toward Marygreen, they see Phillotson and offer him a ride. Arabella recognizes Phillotson and tells him that she was once married to Jude. She also convincingly implies that Sue is not doing well, and tells him that he has “the law of Moses on his side.” The narrative then shifts back to Sue who is disheartened by her encounter with Arabella. She returns home from the fair to find that Jude has decided that he wants to move the family back to Christminster.

At this point in the novel, various threads begin to come together. Little Father Time’s childhood recalls Jude’s own in that he has lived with relatives, away from his parents. As Jude did, he seems somewhat alien and apart from his surroundings.

The name Little Father Time results from the child’s prematurely old appearance. He has seen more of the world and has a perspective that Jude and Sue lack. He is, like both Jude and Sue, hypersensitive, as can be seen in his apprehension at Jude and Sue’s decision to marry.

The child has the effect of eliciting passion within Sue, as do her encounters with Arabella. When Jude suggests moving to London, she does not want to, since that is where Arabella lives. She begins to be able to show a sense of possessiveness with regard to Jude, whereas before she seemed other worldly and cerebral.

Much of “At Aldbrickham” focuses on the interplay between Sue and Arabella. Initially, it is Sue who feels jealous and threatened by Arabella’s appearance, but paradoxically, once Arabella’s husband returns, it is she who becomes possessive. She tells her husband that the child is still rightfully hers even though he lives with Jude and Sue. Arabella’s tendency to follow Sue will continue through the end of the novel.

Aside from feelings for Jude, other superficial similarities between Sue and Arabella appear. Unlike Jude, both have spent time in London. Also, both have a sense of skepticism that Jude lacks. Their goals and motives, however, remain substantially distinct. Arabella aims for social acceptance, whereas Sue tries to break free from social restrictions, although she fears social disapproval.

Arabella and Sue are thrown together, now not just by involvement with Jude, but by Little Father Time. Not only is Sue raising Arabella’s son, but as she and Jude are cousins, Arabella and Sue now have a common relative. The child plays a role not unlike that of Aunt Drusilla, in that he warns against the marriage of Jude and Sue, and has a basically cynical outlook.

Within the novel there are several weddings in addition to Jude and Sue’s aborted attempts—the weddings they observe. None of these ceremonies are especially happy and all seem to confirm Widow Edlin’s statement that “Weddings be funerals.”

Jude and Sue’s attempts at marriage seem the culmination of Sue’s fears about marriage. She cannot stand to think of losing her individuality and falling into the prescribed role of wife as she had ostensibly done with Phillotson. Particularly to Sue, the couples she and Jude observe speak ill of marriage. Neither party in each wedding seems pleased with the other. The debate between Jude and Sue that follows is central to the theme of marriage within the novel. Underlying the debate seems to be Sue’s fear that marriage to Jude will be no different than being wed to Phillotson. She states that she would be different from the brides that she sees, but this assertion lacks confidence.

The wrestling over the issue of marriage that takes place in Jude the Obscure is in a larger sense a function of the definition of the self which takes place throughout the nineteenth century.

Jude and Sue are not so much concerned with the legal and social institution as with the effect of the institution on their inner lives. For Jude, Arabella destroys the boundaries of his fragile self, and Phillotson does much the same to Sue. For a brief time, while Jude and Sue are together, they feel themselves, and others believe them to be, “two in one. ” They are so much in harmony as to have the same self. Paradoxically, this is ideally the aim of marriage, but from Hardy’s cynical vantage point, the effect is to the contrary.

The other pivotal events of “At Aldbrickham” are the Great Wessex Agricultural fair and the Kennetsbridge fair. These are microcosms of the rural community. The first fair shows the juxtaposition of the two couples, while at the second, only Arabella and Sue meet. This difference signals the breakdown of the experiment that Jude and Sue have made. The talk of the neighbors inhibits Jude and Sue’s public appearance as a couple.

Physician Vilbert represents the superstitious mentality that controls the rural people. Like the belief in the curse on Jude’s and Sue’s families, these superstitions are so real that they become self-fulfilling prophecies. In the end, both the curse and the love potion will seem genuine.

Jude the Obscure is full of numerous old women who are observers as well as enforcers of social norms. Widow Edlin is one such character whose views are not so harsh as those of the charwomen and the landladies. She is, on the whole, a neutral figure who eventually becomes sympathetic to Sue and Jude.

The focus of the novel has moved from Jude’s theoretical pondering to the intellectual and emotional discourse of Jude and Sue, and is now on the practical consequences of Jude’s and Sue’s relationship. This change is reflected in the shift of narrative perspective to Arabella. The reader is asked to look at Jude and Sue through her eyes.

To an extent, Arabella’s perspective mirrors popular opinion. Certainly, the townspeople, both in Aldbrickham and Shaston, are almost a character in the novel. Their views are usually stated briefly by one person, but their force is great. Sue cannot anticipate the problems that living with Jude out of wedlock will cause, although she has lived with an undergraduate in London. Here emerges a distinction between country and city: a different set of morals applies, particularly for women.

The antagonism Jude and Sue feel from the townspeople, like the opposition Phillotson experiences, evokes the ideas of John Stuart Mill in “On Liberty.” Mill is quoted throughout the novel; he wrote about the dangers of the tyranny of the majority. He feared the abrogation of the rights of the individual. While no physical or legal force is taken against these characters, they are socially and economically penalized for their unwillingness to conform.

At this stage, Sue’s hesitance regarding marriage seems almost self indulgent and certainly foolish, considering its disastrous consequences. It will become increasingly difficult to sympathize with her position. Hardy is criticizing the narrow mindedness and hypocrisy of the townspeople, but he also seems to be suggesting that Sue’s views are extreme. It seems that if Sue had been able to make the concession of simply marrying Jude, whom she does in fact love, she would face fewer problems. If Sue had more faith in Jude’s love for her and agreed to move to London, even though Arabella was there at the time, the couple might have faced less criticism.

As in other sections of the novel, biblical language appears frequently. The allusions usually are made by Jude. Interestingly, he is not phased by the diversion of his lifestyle from the Anglican interpretation of the Bible. The townspeople of Aldbrickham, however, see a discrepancy. It is considered inappropriate for Jude to paint the ten commandments on the wall, as he is committing adultery and thus breaking a commandment. The story the Churchwarden tells in Chapter VI about the scandal created by commandments being left incomplete without the “Nots” is a satirical commentary on the importance of the letter, rather than the spirit, of the law in the minds of the townspeople. Sue’s inference that the sight of the couple brought the story to mind proves correct.

Arabella also mentions the commandments when she tells Phillotson that he “has the law of Moses on his side.” Placing these words in the mouth of Arabella is Hardy’s way of demonstrating the way in which such words can be twisted. This distortion refers back to the opening quote of the book, which is “The letter killeth.” This is from Corinthians, and suggests the danger of literal interpretation.

Animal imagery is evident, as it has been throughout the novel. Sue’s release of the pigeons echoes Jude’s feeding of the birds at the beginning of the novel and his reluctance to kill the pig. To Sue, the sale of the pigeons is not unlike marriage—she cannot go through with it. After observing the church wedding, Sue comments that the flowers held by the bride are like those placed on a sacrificed heifer. Both Jude and Sue identify with animals and cannot stand to see them in pain. They see their own suffering reflected in the suffering of animals. The hunger of the birds is symbolic of Jude’s spiritual and emotional hunger. One night, Jude puts a rabbit caught in a trap out of its misery. For him, marriage to Arabella is a similar type of trap. A comparison is also made between Little Father Time and a kitten carried by a woman in the carriage that brings the child to Aldbrickham. The child, however, lacks the kitten’s playful nature, and thus is unable to appreciate the kitten as the other passengers are.

Hardy’s use of animal imagery stems, in part, from his interest in the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. He considered himself to be one of the early readers of Darwin. That man had descended from animals made the suffering of animals more pitiable, as it was not unlike human suffering.

The effects of the encroaching urban culture can be seen in “At Aldbrickham” and throughout the novel. Sue’s ideas are developed in London; even Arabella returns from London with newfound evangelism. The preacher who has come to the countryside represents the usurpation of the country institution by urban sophistication.

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