At Christminster Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1810

New Characters:
Sue Bridehead: she marries Phillotson, she is Jude’s cousin

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Mrs. Edlin: friend of Jude’s aunt

Vendor: sells statues of Apollo and Venus to Sue

Miss Fontover: Sue’s employer and landlady

Mrs. Hawes: Sue’s second landlady. Chaperones Phillotson and Sue during tutoring sessions

John Marygreen: villager who asks Jude about Christminster

Uncle Jim, Uncle Joe: stoneworkers with whom Jude passes time drinking

Undergraduates: students who encourage Jude to drunkenly recite Latin in a bar

Tinker Taylor: iron worker with whom Jude drinks

Mr. Highridge: a curate; comforts Jude and urges him to become a minister

Nurse: woman who looks after Jude’s great aunt

Neighbor: confirms Drusilla’s stories about Sue

In the opening chapter of this section, Jude moves to Christminster, in part to be near the university which he longs to attend, and in part because his cousin, Sue Bridehead, lives there. They have never met, but Jude has seen her picture at his aunt’s house and is curious about her. When he arrives in the town, he finds a room in which to stay. As he walks around Christminster, he imagines the famous people who have studied there. They seem so real to him that he begins to hold conversations with them. When he goes back to his lodging, he dreams of poets and statesmen, but in the end his mind drifts back to Sue.

Jude has finished his apprenticeship, and in Chapter II looks for work as a stonemason. Eventually, he is employed and sets out to look for his cousin. He finds her working in a shop that sells religious statuary. He considers approaching her but does not. He spends a great deal of time thinking about her and about what establishing contact with her would entail, as he feels himself attracted to her. He is self-conscious of their difference in social status; he is also afraid that if a romantic relationship developed it would be morally questionable, as he considers himself still married to Arabella. Finally, he fears that his aunt may be right, both about Sue’s character and about the curse on marriage in both families. However, he sees her several times by chance. In Chapter III, he begins to attend the same church as she does.

Meanwhile, Sue buys statues of the pagan gods Venus and Apollo from a vendor in the countryside. Jude continues to admire Sue from afar when, in Chapter IV, she comes to the stonemason’s yard and asks after him. He arranges to meet her, and together they go to see Phillotson. At first, Phillotson does not remember Jude, but eventually he does and he offers Sue, who has previously worked as a teacher, a spot in a training school for teachers.

In Chapter V, Phillotson must give Sue private tutoring, and he begins to fall in love with her. They take their students to see a model of Jerusalem and argue over the relevance of the Holy Land in Christian religious life. When Jude finds out about their relationship, he is very upset. When, in Chapter VI, Jude’s aunt becomes ill, he returns to Marygreen to care for her. She and a neighbor tell Jude more about Sue’s past—that Sue had always been unconventional and intellectual. Shortly thereafter Jude writes to the university officials regarding admission and is rejected. He is told that a working-class individual is better off sticking to his trade.

In Chapter VII, when Jude goes to a pub to drink and forget his problems, he gets involved in a conversation with some Christminster undergraduates. They prod him and he begins to recite in Latin, clearly understanding more than they do. He curses them for their ignorance and runs out of the bar. He goes directly to Sue’s and falls asleep in her living room. However, when he awakes, he is ashamed and starts back to Marygreen. Upon arriving, he goes to the church and speaks with Mr. Highridge, the clergyman. Highridge urges him to enter the church, which Jude wishes to do, although he has doubts that he is actually cut out for the ministry.

In “At Christminster,” the important conflicts of the novel are developed. Jude is denied admission to Christminster and the love triangle of Jude, Sue, and Phillotson begins. Also, Sue Bridehead, one of the most distinctive heroines in nineteenth-century literature, is introduced. She is attractive, intelligent, and unconventional, yet she faces many difficulties and dilemmas.

Sue is categorized by many literary critics as a “New Woman”. One of the emerging female types in the late 1800s. This categorization is distinct from that of the feminist. In the 1890s, feminists were individuals who believed in and fought for political and social rights for women. They pushed for suffrage, the right to own property, marital rights, and equality of opportunity. Feminists included women and sympathetic men, such as John Stuart Mill, who worked together to achieve a goal.

New Women, on the other hand, were free spirits. They differed from traditional Victorian women in that they acted on their instincts. They did not see themselves as part of a cause, but as individuals with strong feelings. Independence might be expressed through relationships with several men at the same time.

Jude’s and Sue’s paths cross several times before they actually meet. Significantly, it is she who makes the first move. He has been hesitant to approach her despite his feeling of desire for her, and to some extent, this reluctance foreshadows the eventual troubles in the relationship.

Clearly, Jude’s initial attraction to Sue is physical, as was his attraction to Arabella. Seeing her photograph gives him the desire to meet her. However, before he does so, he has formed a more complete picture through observation. He discovers that she is more than just a pretty girl; her education and talent seem products of the world he aspires to enter.

This section of the novel shows Jude’s frustration, not only in terms of his relationship with Sue, but in terms of his inability to fulfill his dreams of an education. His timidity at approaching a man whom he believes to be a provost is similar to his fear of approaching Sue. He is rejected by the university in the same chapter that he learns that Phillotson has fallen in love with Sue. In both these situations, he feels that his working-class background makes him less attractive to those he desires.

Jude’s feelings about the university also have a somewhat mystical, religious quality. In his visions, he almost deifies religious scholars whom he admires. His fantasies make accessible to him that which he realistically cannot achieve. While he strives to learn, he lacks the critical perspective which might show him the human, fallible side of his idols.

The religious philosophers admired by Jude are generally of the Tractarian School. This movement sought to resolve the distinction between the Catholic and Anglican churches. Jude is drawn to this movement, not only because of its prevalence in intellectual circles at the time, but because it allows for a more mystical, emotional outlook on religion. Major figures in the Tractarian movement were Cardinal Newman, John Keble, Edward Pusey, and William Ward.

Sue’s religious views differ from the traditional, although she veers in the opposite direction. She prefers the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome to the Holy Land, as is evident in her choice of statuary. She believes that the Holy Land has little significance in modern life. Her argument with Phillotson over the importance of the Holy Land shows her willingness to question authority. In her theological tendencies, Sue is along the lines of Puritans and other dissenters, opposing a highly structured church.

Even before he actually applies for admission to the university, Jude, for a moment, doubts his own quest for education. His love for Sue seems a worthy substitute, but also he feels, at times, that the trade in which he has been trained and at which he excels is as significant as university study. When the letter arrives rejecting him, saying that he is better off as a stonemason, he does not disagree entirely with its contents.

One might expect someone in his position who has longed fervently for an education to fight the university’s rejection, but he accepts it fatalistically.

The issue of the permanence of marriage is also raised frequently in “At Christminster.” Jude feels that somehow, even though Arabella left him, he is still her husband. Also, his marriage to Arabella has left him cynical about such a relationship. He suspects that the problems between them may not just be those of personality and goals, but the result of a problem with the institution of marriage.

There is a sharp contrast between Hardy’s view of marriage as expressed through Jude and that of earlier Victorian novelists such as Charlotte Brontë. In Jane Eyre, the novel ends happily with Jane’s marriage. Even Hardy’s earlier novels, such as Far from the Madding Crowd, portrayed marriage in a more positive light. Possibly Hardy’s difficulties with his own first marriage are reflected in the lives of his characters.

Throughout the novel, there is an important contrast between Jude and Phillotson. On the one hand, Phillotson has served as a role model for Jude and on the other, he becomes a rival. Phillotson, too, is somewhat frustrated with his life, having not achieved his goal of becoming a parson. Jude, in seeking out the schoolmaster, has created the situation in which the object of his affections chooses someone else. His idealism and propensity to worship others have caused him to betray his own desire.

Hence in all areas of his life, Jude feels great trepidation and uncertainty. Psychologically speaking, the loss of both his parents at an early age, as well as his aunt’s coldness, might create these feelings. However, Hardy clearly intends that Jude be a reflection of his times as well. The late Victorian Age lacked the confidence of the earlier part of the era. The negative effects of industrialization were beginning to reach the countryside. To some extent, Jude is ahead of his time, as is Sue, but in another sense he is deeply tied to the past.

Jude has been trained to reconstruct Gothic, medieval churches. Hardy placed great value in historical preservation, believing urbanization to be the source of the destruction of the rural past. To some extent, Hardy’s commentary on this is tangential to the plot; the contrast between country and city is also evident in the relationship between Jude and Sue. Hardy’s father was a church rebuilder, and Hardy himself was trained as an architect. He imbues Jude with the same sort of love for old churches that he feels.

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