Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 774
Jude Fawley—The title character. He begins life as a poor ward in a quiet village and becomes a stonecutter. He dreams of being an educated man and falls in love with his cousin, Sue Bridehead.
Richard Phillotson—Schoolmaster who is Jude’s early mentor. He marries Sue Bridehead. He nurtures his own dreams of social and intellectual advancement.
Blacksmith and Farm Bailiff—Villagers who help Phillotson move.
Drusilla Fawley—Jude’s great-aunt; she raises him after his parents die. She is coarse and ignorant.
Farmer Troutham—The farmer who catches Jude encouraging birds to eat his grain.
Villagers—People to whom the Fawley’s familys history is told.
Carter—A workman who meets Jude on the road.
Two Workmen—Help Jude climb on the roof of a barn to see Christminster.
Physician Vilbert—The quack doctor who promises and fails to deliver Greek and Latin texts to Jude.
Arabella Donn—The pig-keeper’s daughter. An ambitious, coarse, materialistic, deceitful woman. Jude’s wife.
Mr. Donn & Mrs. Donn—Arabella’s parents, pig-keepers. Jude and Arabella live with them after they are married the second time.
Anny and Sarah—Young women; Arabella’s friends and confidantes.
Challow—The pig killer who arrives late, forcing Jude and Arabella to kill the pig.
Sue Bridehead—Jude’s cousin, true love, and soul-mate. Impulsive, idealistic, intellectual, school-teacher. She marries Phillotson.
Mrs. Edlin—Friend of Jude’s aunt.
Vendor—Marketer of religious icons. He sells pagan statues to Sue.
Miss Fontover—Sue’s employer and first landlady in Christminster. She breaks Sue’s statues.
Mrs. Hawes—Sue’s second landlady in Christminster. Chaperones Phillotson’s tutoring session with Sue.
John Marygreen—Villager who asks Jude about Christminster.
Shepherd and his mother—Country people who invite Sue and Jude to spend the night in their home.
Uncle Jim, Uncle Joe—Stonemasons who drink with Jude and attend his second wedding to Arabella.
Undergraduates—Encourage Jude to recite in Latin in a bar.
Tinker Taylor—A blasphemous iron worker with whom Jude drinks.
Mr. Highridge—A curate, encourages Jude to enter the clergy.
Neighbor—Confirms Drusilla’s stories about Sue.
Students at Sue’s College—Busybodies who spread rumors about Sue after she spends the night away from school.
Miss Traceley—School official whose duties include roll call.
Porter—The school worker who hears splashing in the river.
Jude’s Landlady—The landlady at Melchester.
Nurse—Woman who looks after Jude’s great-aunt.
Mr. Cockman—Flirts with Arabella.
The Undergraduate—Mentioned in conversation; deceased student with whom Sue had a long intellectual relationship.
The Musician—Author of a piece of religious music; rejects Jude because the stonecutter is a poor man.
Gillingham—Supports Phillotson when Sue leaves.
Waiting Maid—Hotel staff member who tells Sue that Jude was there with Arabella.
Chairman of the School Committee—Fires Phillotson when he finds out that Sue is gone.
Itinerants—People who defend Phillotson at his public hearing after Sue has left.
Mr. Carlett—Arabella’s second husband.
Little Father Time—Jude’s son by Arabella. He is being raised by Sue and Jude along with their two children.
Biles and Willis—Contractors who hire Jude to help restore a church.
Old Vicar and Churchwarden—Church officials at a building where Sue is helping Jude do a restoration job.
Church-Cleaner, Village Women—Gossips who make it impossible for Jude and Sue to work at the church.
Little Girl—Lets Jude into the house in Shaston.
Minister—Marries Phillotson and Sue in Melchester.
Ada—Servant who brings tea to Jude and Sue in Shaston schoolhouse.
Guard—Attendant on train carrying Little Father Time to
Working Woman and Other Passengers—Little Father Time’s companions on the trip to Aldbrickham.
Collector—Directs Little Father Time to Jude’s house.
Soldier and his Bride—Couple whose wedding Jude and Sue observe at the registry.
Messenger—Informs Jude of a job at the church in Aldbrickham.
Charwomen and Two Ladies—Gossip about Sue’s marital status.
Auctioneer—Sells Jude’s and Sue’s belongings.
Two Children—Born to Sue and Jude.
Surgeon—Tries to help the two children.
Woman in the Crowd—Comments on Jude’s fatigued appearance.
Coach Driver—A man who savagely mistreats his horse while a crowd watches.
Jack Stagg—A man who recognizes Jude during the Remembrance Day celebration at Christminster.
Policeman—Reacts to the Coach Driver beating the horse.
Landladies—Reject Jude’s and Sue’s requests for housing.
Third Landlady’s Husband—Orders his wife not to house Sue and Jude.
Carpenter and his Wife—Landlord and landlady of the lodgings Sue and Jude take after the children are dead.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2402
The characters in Jude the Obscure are for the most part fully realized and effectively developed. Some, like Jude's aunt Drusilla and Arabella's second husband Cartlett form a one-dimensional contrast for the complex struggles of his major characters who contend unsuccessfully with inner demons we can all understand. While some of the lesser characters do not get far beyond stereotypes, such as Arabella, exercising variations of the seductive and unscrupulous "floozy," the major characters impress their inner angst upon us. For this discussion we shall restrict out focus to the most tragic, Jude; the most enigmatic, Sue; and the most surprising, Phillotson.
Hardy characterizes Jude as the quintessential victim, of others, of society, of himself, of his aspirations, and perhaps most importantly, of his own idealism. An orphan, Jude is cruelly treated as a child by his aunt, and as readers we are immediately oriented toward him as a sympathetic, victimized hero. Further sympathy is developed through a scene that is reiterated several times in the novel, in which Jude loses his job working as a living scarecrow in a farmer's field. Aware that the birds are starving, the child simply lets them eat the grain. When discovered, he is fired, and his act of kindness leads to lost income and public humiliation. After he has been trapped by Arabella, he has a terrible time killing a pig for food. Again his kindness places him in opposition to society, and he is scorned in his wife's eyes for not fulfilling a manly role. Much later, he and Sue overhear the frightened cry of a snared rabbit, and Jude puts the creature out of its misery. Much like the scene in which the heroine of Tess of the D 'Urbervilles ends the suffering of pheasants hunters have wounded, this Hardy hero is distinctive for his willingness to relate empathetically to nature, whereas the culture as a whole is cruel or exploitative.
Kind and trusting as he is, Jude is easily manipulated. Phillotson almost unintentionally puts the idea of an education into the child's mind, and it becomes the guiding passion of his life, despite the fact that when he sees Phillotson a few years later the mentor cannot even remember him. A medical quack exploits the child's passion for learning by using him to scam orders for his useless concoctions, then failing to keep his end of the bargain. Arabella seduces Jude with sexual allure and the illusion of responsibility. Moreover, he succumbs to his dreams with a naiveté that is both admirable and ridiculous. Aspiring toward an education without considering the costs involved in getting one, Jude is day-dreaming about becoming a Bishop when Arabella makes her first move. Similarly, his idealization of Sue is both noble and pathetic. He places her on an ivory tower and forgives all her flightiness and inconsistencies without considering that she may not deserve all his patience and kindness. While there can be no doubt that Jude's love for Sue is noble, sincere, and elevated, she continues to manipulate him, especially concerning marriage, just as Arabella did, but for the opposite reason— to delay, rather than to hasten, the wedding. One of the novel's greatest moments is the scene in which Sue visits Arabella at the Aldbrickham hotel. Arabella's advice, that Sue hurry up and get Jude locked into a contract, has the plot effect of causing Sue to delay even further (she later argues that Arabella's formal marriage is "too vulgar" for Jude and her to emulate!); but the scene also points out what is subliminally clear throughout the book: that Sue and Arabella, while in most ways opposites, take advantage of Jude's high ideals and moral sense to manipulate him and, perhaps unintentionally, to prevent his happiness.
Finally, while Jude is the victim of his own high ideals, such as his determination to abandon the clerical calling when he fails to meet his own lofty ethical standards for a clergyman, Jude has a "Mr. Hyde" to counterpoint this "Dr. Jekyll." From the time he is married to Arabella through his early quest for Sue he is tempted to find forgetfulness in a bottle. The most dramatic incident of Jude's anti-self occurs when he realizes that the academic dream is denied him. In a tavern, drunk as can be, he proves his education by reciting Latin loudly. Throughout the rest of his short life, Jude must contend with his own temptation to seek refuge from his disappointments by getting drunk. After the murder-suicide of his children and Sue's decision that she must return to Phillotson as wife, Jude has nothing left except the bottle. Arabella does resume their relationship, but Jude, while physically sick and grief-absorbed, really drinks himself to death.
If Jude is one of Hardy's most complex characters, Sue Bridehead is one of his most enigmatic, one of the very hardest for the reader to come to terms with, because the only consistent feature of her character is her inconsistency. Hardy's omniscient narrator sums Sue up beautifully with the clause, her "logic was extraordinarily compounded." She is in some ways the thoroughly modern woman, in others the most "romantic" of heroines. For example, she claims sympathy with pagans rather than Christians and buys classical statues that are sure to get her in trouble at the religious house at which she works. When she and Jude visit Melchester for the first time, he suggests that they sit in the cathedral, but she sounds the note of paganism Hardy wants to associate with her character by stating her preference for the railroad station: "That's the centre of the town life now. The cathedral has had its day!"
It is true that, despite her penchant for melodramatic gestures, such as wading a river to escape the training school when she gets into trouble after an outing with Jude, Sue is Hardy's spokesperson for certain themes relating to marriage throughout the novel. At one moment her sense of irony thoroughly mirrors her creator's: "I think I should begin to be afraid of you . . . The moment you had contracted to cherish me under a government stamp, and I was licensed to be loved on the premises by you." She openly questions the power of the state to bind people beyond their attraction, and her qualms about entering such a contract for the second time are one way in which Hardy reminds us how dangerous an institution marriage can be. In one note to Jude, she strikes a note of modern feminist thinking about the whole business: "According to the ceremony as there printed, my bridegroom chooses me of his own will and pleasure; but I don't choose him. Somebody gives me to him, like a she-ass or a she-goat, or any other domestic animal."
If Sue is a thoroughly modern critic of marriage and the diminishment of female autonomy traditional marriage implies, she is also the most capricious, dependent, coquettish of the heroines of popular romantic fiction. Outraged by Phillotson as a lover, she hides in a closet to avoid him; she tortures Jude unmercifully, demanding that he delay their marriage and its eventual consummation again and again. But when Arabella shows up at their dwelling, she agrees to marry Jude immediately because his ex-wife is nearby; then, once Arabella returns to marry Cartlett, legally this time, Sue changes her mind yet again. Arguing from a position far more sympathetic to Sue's complex and often manipulative patterns than the present one, Rosemarie Morgan (in Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy, 1988) lays the blame for her capriciousness on the system she cannot escape:
Conditioned to behavioural patterns associated with enforced dependency, and motivated to compete, under a system of rewards and punishments, for attention and approval from those in authority over her, Sue instinctively employs manipulative behaviour to secure recognition of her own needs.
After Father Time comes into their lives, Sue's attitude toward marriage undergoes yet another shift. Now she sees it as a duty to the child, but she is frightened into retracting her intention when she sees the civil and the church weddings. After Father Time has suffered beatings and insolence from his schoolmates because of the scandal of his parents' lives, she and Jude make a trip to London and come home claiming to be married. They are of course not, and after they move for the final time—again because of diminished trade coming Jude's way because of suspicions about their cohabitation (by this time she and he are living as man and wife, but without the ceremony, and she has borne his children and is again pregnant)—Sue makes the novel's greatest blunder by admitting to a prying landlady that, while she considers herself married, "in the landlady's sense she was not." This kind of forthright disclosure, while admirable for its honesty, is tantamount to waving a red flag before a charging bull. The family is told to leave the lodging, and as a result of Sue's confession that "All is trouble, adversity, and suffering!" Father Time kills his half-brother, his half-sister, and himself. As a result of this tragedy, Sue miscarries the child in her womb, another victim of Sue's insistence on being frank about a subject her past experiences with proper Victorian matrons should have persuaded her would be sure to result in an expulsion.
In her final transformation, one brought about by profound grief, Sue enacts seriously what Cartlett's death caused Arabella to undertake frivolously. She finds religion. Persuaded that the multiple tragedies are God's judgment for her adulteries, she becomes the prim and conventional woman she has so despised throughout the book. Her sending Jude away hastens his death, and her return to Phillotson entraps a bitter, submissive Sue in a marriage that has no life, no love, and no beauty about it. She is now as fanatic an advocate of prim Victorian marriage roles as she was once a mocker of them.
Sue's character is full of contradictions and her change, from a liberated woman to a submissive, sexually-conflicted drudge is in some ways the novel's central catastrophe. But as Jude once cried in exasperation, Sue is, for a modern, liberated woman, a painfully conventional person at heart. Her dual nature is, however, quite the opposite of the kind of thing we encounter most often in life and art. While the world and the books are full of individuals who try to keep up an appearance of propriety, while living a secret life that is unconventional or even vicious, Sue wants the appearance of unconventionality with the substance of Victorian propriety. For the most part of her relation with Jude, she accepts the appearance of being a "wicked woman" in the eyes of the community, while being prim and even neurotic in her private dealings with Jude. After her tragedy, Sue has learned that the price of unconventionality is emotional torment. She has become conventional in both substance and appearance.
Our final character is Richard Phillotson, whose transformation complements Sue's perfectly, and who in some ways emerges as the least deluded character in the book. When we meet him for the second time, after Jude has come to Christminster, Richard strikes many readers as pompous, arrogant, and a failure. After all, he has not realized his dream of the University life, and has pretty middleclass ideas about getting a better situation as a schoolmaster. He does not even remember the child in whom he kindled the passion for learning, and there is little question that the job he offers Miss Bridehead is going to have strings attached to it. We later see him in an equally foolish pose, pretending to do research on Roman antiquities, but actually mooning over old letters from and pictures of Sue like an adolescent lover. And although he is financing her education, there can be no doubt that he has an ulterior motive.
Phillotson changes from stereotype to a character with an evolving morality through his suffering. When his young wife clearly cannot stand physical intimacy with him, he is greatly hurt. Instead of demanding her submission—both his friend Gillingham and Arabella remonstrate with Phillotson for not using violence to bring her "to her senses" and Richard feels that she's "committing a sin in not liking me"—Phillotson tries to accommodate Sue by agreeing to separate quarters, and eventually to her going to live with Jude. In his decision, that he can neither coerce her love nor deny the attachment Jude and Sue have for one another, Richard proves the most adaptive and "liberated" character of the novel, one who recognizes the precedence of individual needs over public policy. More than consenting to her departure, Phillotson recognizes that the community will frown on his tolerance. He loses a lucrative teaching post, toward which he has long worked, and on principle refuses to resign because he feels that resignation would be a tacit admission that he was ethically wrong to let Sue go. Because he will not resign, he cannot get a good teaching post; after he has been dismissed, he eventually ends up back at Marygreen, working for one-fourth the salary he commanded at Shaston.
In spite of all the scandal that attaches to Sue after the tragedy, and in spite of all the pain she has caused him, Phillotson receives her as his wife with the understanding that he will make no sexual demands on her. While we as readers are focused on Jude's suffering because Sue leaves, it is worth noting that Phillotson is the one character who successfully transforms himself with this act. Out of no emotion other than love, he forgives and accepts the person who has caused him the most pain. While other characters speculate that his motive is to recover his lost status as a husband, he is self-aware enough not to rule out this motivation. But he has a much stronger, and nobler, one. He loves Sue, in spite of everything. This involves a defiance of convention as well as a spiritual forgiveness. Some churches would not even let "women like her" letter the commandments on the wall. With Phillotson Hardy provides a minimal, but viable, alternative to the sorrow and catastrophe so very central to his final novel. Although human victories are small and finite, at least moral growth is possible and liberated thought can at times lead to liberating actions.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support