At Christminster Again Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2352

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

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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

At the beginning of “At Christminster Again,” Jude, Sue, and the children return to Christminster. There are crowds gathering for a Remembrance Day procession. Jude gets caught up in a conversation about Latin and architecture and is soon expounding to a throng his love for the university, his hopes of becoming a scholar, and the sad effect of poverty on him. The family then begins to look for lodging and is rejected in two places. The third takes them, but says that they may only stay a week once Sue confesses that she and Jude are not married. Jude then goes to stay at an inn.

One evening, in Chapter II, Little Father Time, who knows the family is having problems, becomes morbidly upset and says that children should be killed if they are a burden on their parents. Sue then tells him that she is expecting a third child. In the morning, she goes out to get Jude and when she comes back she finds that Little Father Time has hanged the others and himself. The surgeon arrives too late to save them. Sue blames herself and is inconsolable. Shortly thereafter, the baby is born dead.

In Chapter III, Sue becomes fanatically religious. She believes that she caused the death of the children by violating moral laws. She spends much of her time in the church she previously shunned. Jude still wants to get married, but Sue says that she feels that she is still married to Phillotson. Arabella comes over, as she has heard about the child. Her father is back from Australia and she is living with him. Sue then tells Jude that she felt there was justice in her children killing Sue’s. She says that she loves Jude but that she must leave him. She goes off to live by herself.

In Chapter IV, Phillotson learns from Arabella the news of the children’s deaths and the separation of Jude and Sue. Phillotson writes to Gillingham, asking his opinion on the possibility of Phillotson writing to Sue and asking her to return. Gillingham advises against it, but Phillotson goes ahead, attempting to make the proposal sound sensible. Sue accepts the proposal. When she tells Jude, she is somewhat self righteous, but gives him only praise.

Sue and Phillotson prepare to be married quickly in Chapter V. In order to punish herself, Sue turns away pretty clothes in favor of plain ones. Widow Edlin tells Phillotson that she believes that Sue does not really wish to marry him. Phillotson almost relents, but Gillingham urges him on and, in the end, the ceremony takes place.

Arabella comes to Jude in Chapter VI and asks to stay, saying that her father has thrown her out. Jude finds out through her that Sue has married. He and Arabella go out drinking in Marygreen, after which she takes him to her father’s house; the story of being thrown out was a ruse to get Jude back.

Arabella tells yet another lie in Chapter VII when she tricks him into marriage, telling him that he had promised her while drunk. Tinker Taylor, Uncle Jim, and Uncle Joe, as well as some prostitutes, spend the night at Arabella’s father’s, drinking and playing cards. Early in the morning, Jude and Arabella go out and get married.

Jude becomes very sick and in Chapter VIII asks Arabella to send for Sue. She consents, provided that she can be in the room when Sue is there. Arabella does not send for Sue and finally Jude travels to Marygreen in inclement weather, even though he is weak and sick. He finds Sue at the school and they have an emotional meeting and kiss. This is their last encounter.

In Chapter IX, Jude returns to Christminster, where Arabella meets him at the station. On the way home he hears the same ghosts that he heard when he first came to live in the city. He tells Arabella he wanted to see Sue and to die, and that by traveling in the rain he might accomplish both.

In Marygreen, Sue tells Widow Edlin of her feelings for Jude. However, she says she must stay with Phillotson to punish herself. She then confesses to Phillotson that she kissed Jude and agrees to begin sleeping with Phillotson to atone. As with her refusal of attractive clothes, she is attempting to punish herself for the children’s deaths.

In Chapter X, Jude, ill again, receives a visit from Widow Edlin, who discloses that Sue is with Phillotson to punish herself. Physician Vilbert also visits, but Jude sends him away. Arabella flirts with the doctor and allows him to kiss her.

Chapter XI, the final chapter in the novel, takes place on Remembrance Day. Jude is very ill, but Arabella goes out. Finally feeling remorseful, she returns home to find that Jude has died. She leaves him, goes out to rejoin the festivities and later makes arrangements to have him laid out. Widow Edlin comes to the funeral and tells Arabella that Sue is worn and sad. The novel ends with Arabella’s statement that Sue will never be happy until she is dead now that Jude is gone.

The novel ends with a melodramatic outpouring. First, Jude waxes sentimental at the Remembrance Day festivities. Little Father Time kills himself and the other children in a melancholy fit. Sue loses control, and becomes fanatical and masochistic. Despite the horror, there is a sense of catharsis. As in Greek drama, the tragedy destroys the malaise and has a purging effect. To take the analogy a step further, it can be said that the calamity is the result of tragic flaws within Jude and Sue. Jude’s tragic flaw would be his kindness and idealism; Sue’s would be idealism, but also willfulness.

Certainly, Sue’s willfulness causes problems. All along she stands up to popular opinion, only to give in completely in previous sections. She compounds problems by being too forthright and impractical, as when she confesses to the landlady that she and Jude are not married. Her conversation with Little Father Time also seems foolish and insensitive. Rather than attempting to shield him from the concerns of the adult world, she compounds his worries with news of her pregnancy.

In thinking of Jude as a tragedy, however, it would be incorrect to see it entirely as a tragedy of character. Fate seems inextricably involved; the belief in a family curse contributes to this. It also seems that fate is a function of social forces. The power that keeps Jude and Sue apart is not entirely distinct from that which draws them together. At several times in “At Christminster” it seems that certain aspects of the disaster could be averted. In addition to the effects of Sue’s thoughtless remark, the novel at other points seems on the verge of resolving in favor of Jude and Sue when someone or something pushes against them. Phillotson almost relents and cancels the wedding. Arabella almost sends for Sue. However, overall, the odds are clearly against a happy ending.

After the children’s deaths, Jude and Sue contemplate the question of fate and essentially draw opposite conclusions. Jude accepts the tragedy as a random act of fate. Sue, however, personifies fate and sees it working to specifically punish her for her wrong-doing. She sees that the only way to overcome the horror is to atone through self-abnegation. “We must conform,” she says to Jude.

In terms of the structure of the novel, the return to Christminster suggests that Jude and Sue have no more places to run. They are returning to the place where they first met. In a sense, the status quo has been preserved. The fruits of Jude and Sue’s relationship are destroyed. Their children are dead, and Jude and Sue have returned to their original spouses. The warnings of Great-Aunt Drusilla seem justified, but again there is the sense that accepting the prediction of disaster is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The opening chapter of this section contains many parallels to the story of the birth of Christ. Like Mary and Joseph, Sue and Jude are not married, and are refused a place to stay. Little Father Time is a perverse Christ figure. He martyrs himself and his siblings to save his parents. However, his actions do not save anyone.

Earlier in the novel, Jude has frequently seen himself as emulating Christ. He wishes to begin his ministry at thirty, as Jesus did. Like Jesus, he is excluded from institutions of power. His speech to the crowd in the beginning of “At Christminster” is a sort of Sermon on the Mount. His death seems one of a martyr.

The tension between Old and New Testament philosophy, which has been evident throughout the novel, takes on a new twist. Sue begins to quote the New Testament, as Jude has done all along. However, while Jude had seen love, Sue’s interpretation is one of pain and suffering. She quotes Corinthians. Hardy clearly evokes the story of Job in Jude. When Sue quotes Christian doctrine, Jude finds himself horrified that he had once believed so fervently. Jude, just before he dies, quotes a mournful verse from Job. Thus, he has reverted to the Old Testament.

“At Christminster” resounds with echoes of earlier parts of the novel. Each of Sue’s weddings is followed by a death—the first by Aunt Drusilla’s and the second by Jude’s. Once again, Arabella tricks Jude into marriage as she did in “At Marygreen. ” Arabella finds a middle aged suitor in Physician Vilbert, as Sue found one in Phillotson. Sue’s feeling that she truly belongs to Phillotson mirrors Jude’s initial belief that he was still Arabella’s husband even after she left him. Even within “At Christminster,” there is symmetry. The section both begins and ends on Remembrance Day. This reflexiveness creates a feeling of repetition and hopelessness; more optimistically, it may also create a sense of completion as the pattern may have worn itself out.

Malthus is a nineteenth century theoretician whose influence can be seen in this section of Jude. Malthus predicted that the world’s population would grow exponentially. He felt that starvation and epidemics were necessary to halt the population growth. Little Father Time’s belief that the family’s problems are the result of too many children echoes this theory.

Literary critics have often questioned the necessity of the suicide-murders, the most grotesque event in the novel. It destroys the sense of realism and takes the story to the level of allegory. The effect of the deaths is to destroy all external links between Jude and Sue. Little Father Time is something of an unknown factor, at this point resembling neither Arabella nor Jude.

There is a sense that because he was born in Australia, the product of a new country, he is extremely intense. The “father” in Little Father Time suggests that, paradoxically, the New World is more tied to the past than the Old. If Little Father Time is not a realistic figure, he seems instead to be a representation both biblical and of the excesses of imperialism. He knows evil, not necessarily because he has been ill-treated, but intrinsically. This episode is not the only way in which Jude departs from realism. Phillotson’s willingness to allow Sue her freedom seems contrived. Also, the complete misfortune that befalls Jude seems almost as extreme and unlikely as the fortuitous coincidences of earlier Victorian novels.

The drunken locals tend to appear at low points in Jude’s life—at the bar in Christminster after he is rejected and Phillotson falls for Sue, and again after Arabella has tricked him into marriage. They are much in evidence at the end of “At Christminster. ” In Far from the Madding Crowd, Hardy treats such groups of villagers more affectionately, but in Jude, they seem affiliated with Arabella. They bring out the worst in Jude.

In Jude, sex and death are clearly present, but there is very little sense of hope. Hardy seems to be extremely pessimistic. The eventual triumph of Arabella speaks ill of the values of the society about which Hardy wrote. Love does not succeed, but rather, social custom and pettiness. It could also be said that in the end, class boundaries prevail, as Sue goes back to her middle-class husband and Jude to his working-class wife. This would contradict the standard Victorian notion of progress and social improvement. Although Jude is sometimes considered a feminist novel, traditional marriage and male dominance win out. All that Sue would seem to have gained is wiped away with her return to Phillotson and her sexual submission to him. While not portraying this submission in a positive manner, Hardy is not holding out much hope for someone who defies male hierarchy. This was, of course, also true for Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

One of the major issues to pervade Jude is that of will and determinism. Literary critics seem to agree that the novel denies the existence of God, but acknowledges the working of a malevolent will. The forces of class, sexism, and hypocritical morality seem agents of this will. For Jude and Sue, there is no escape. It is not surprising, then, that after the completion of Jude, Hardy turned to writing poetry. The world that the novelist had created, or at least depicted, seemed too barren and hopeless to bear a successor.

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