Jude the Obscure

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jude Fawley, a stonecutter’s apprentice, teaches himself Greek and Latin and plans to go to Christminster to become a scholar. His plan is interrupted by Arabella Donn, a vulgar woman who tricks him into marriage. When the marriage fails, he makes his way to Christminster but is again kept from the university when he falls in love with his cousin, Sue Bridehead, an intellectual but emotionally cold woman.

When she learns Jude is married, she leaves him and marries the elderly Mr. Phillotson out of spite. Some time later, both Jude and Sue divorce their spouses and live together, unable to face the idea of marriage again. Financially burdened and socially shunned, Jude is unable to attend the university in whose shadow he now lives.

After the death of their children, Sue becomes extremely religious and leaves Jude to return to Phillotson, hoping in that way to atone for her behavior. Jude, deathly ill, is tricked again into marrying Arabella and dies in Christminster while she is out watching the boat races.

Sometimes criticized for its reliance upon coincidence to drive home its fatalistic message, the novel dramatizes Hardy’s belief in the indifference of nature to man, but it also criticizes the Victorian social institutions of marriage and education. Jude’s tragedy is one of missed fulfillment stemming from being denied entrance to the university and from his own natural impulses which lead him into two disastrous sexual...

(The entire section is 555 words.)