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Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy

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The following entry presents criticism of Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure (1895). See also Thomas Hardy Criticism (Introduction), Thomas Hardy Short Story Criticism, and Far from the Madding Crowd Criticism.

Hardy's last and by most accounts bleakest novel, Jude the Obscure details the failed life and ignoble death of Jude Fawley, a bright and ambitious, but ultimately inconsequential, man. The central dieme of the work is the inability of individuals to surmount the social and psychological forces that determine their lives. This theme also appears Hardy's earlier novels, notably Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Return of the Native, which likewise dramatize his belief that individuals are powerless to affect their own lives in an attempt to achieve happiness. In Jude the Obscure Hardy further explores this theme in relation to the constricting forces he observed around him in Victorian society: class, religion, and sexuality. Thus, the novel recounts Jude's unrealized dream to enter the university at Christminster (Hardy's fictionalized version of Oxford University), and his powerlessness to remain happily with the woman he loves, Sue Bridehead, outside of the socially accepted institution of marriage.

Plot and Major Characters

Jude the Obscure opens as a young Jude Fawley watches his school teacher, Mr. Richard Phillotson, depart the small town of Marygreen and travel to the university at Christminster. Sharing Phillotson's goal of earning a degree, Jude hopes to one day follow the same path and so studies intently. Meanwhile, he lives with his great-aunt, Drusilla Fawley, and learns the trade of stonemasonry in order to earn money for his future. Several years pass and Jude, now nineteen years old, meets Arabella Donn, the daughter of a local pig farmer. Sensuous and physically attractive, Arabella pursues Jude, and the two become lovers. Eventually Arabella convinces Jude that she has become pregnant by him, and they marry. Quickly growing tired of her new husband, however, she leaves him and emigrates to Australia. Jude than resumes his original plan and journeys to Christminster. There he meets his distant cousin Sue Bridehead, an intelligent, unconventional woman with whom he immediately falls in love. He later learns that Sue has also attracted the attention of Phillotson. Disheartened by this news and his inability to gain acceptance to the university, Jude departs Christminster for Melchester, where he hopes to pursue theological studies instead. Now also in Melchester at a training college, Sue spends time with Jude, but grows cold when he professes his love to her. After a fearful Jude reveals to her that he is married, she responds by proclaiming her own marriage, to Phillotson. However, the marriage is not to Sue's liking, and the return of Arabella, who has since married an Australian man, prompts Sue to change her mind about Jude.

At the funeral for Jude's recently deceased aunt, Sue kisses Jude passionately. Thinking himself no longer suitable for a career in the Church, Jude forsakes his theological studies. Sue, meanwhile, asks Phillotson for his permission to leave. Sue and Jude move in together in the nearby town of Aldbrickham, while Phillotson eventually grants Sue a divorce. After a year Sue still refuses to make love to Jude, until Arabella appears once again, and Sue and Jude, though unmarried, consummate their relationship for the first time. Arabella notifies Jude that they have a son together, a gloomy boy who is called Little Father Time. The boy arrives shortly from Australia to live with Jude and Sue. Meanwhile, public dislike for the couple's unwed lifestyle costs Jude his job, and the two leave Aldbrickham for Kennetbridge. More than two years pass, and Jude and Sue now have two children of their own, while Sue carries another unborn. When Little Father Time hears his adopted mother's unhappy reaction to the pregnancy he mistakenly believes that he and the other children are the source of the family's woes. He responds by hanging his siblings and then himself. He leaves a note nearby that reads "Done because we are to menny." Soon after, Sue delivers her child stillborn. Jude, meanwhile, falls ill and works only irregularly. Arabella then reappears—her Australian husband has since died—with a revived interest in Jude. She contacts Phillotson, who writes to Sue, urging her to return to him. Sue, feeling that she has been wrong to live with Jude unmarried, agrees. Arabella then contrives to get Jude back, and the two remarry. Jude, who has grown more and more ill over time, professes his enduring love for Sue, but both remain, unhappily, with their former spouses. When Jude dies one year later, having never realized his ambitions, he is attended only by Arabella and Mrs. Edlin, a family friend.

Major Themes

Hardy called his final novel "a tragedy of unfulfilled aims," and critics have since interpreted Jude the Obscure as his most thoroughly pessimistic statement on the inability of human beings to escape the deterministic forces of nature, society, and internal compulsion. For Jude such an escape lay in his dream of attaining a degree from the university at Christminster, yet the reality of Christminster proves wholly unlike Jude's fantasy. Because Jude is unable to enter the university, it becomes a source of bitterness and a symbol of defeat. Likewise, Jude's relationship with Sue Bridehead ultimately yields only futility and leads to another of the crucial conflicts critics perceive in the novel, that between the flesh and the spirit. Unable to give herself physically to Jude, Sue is trapped both by Victorian conventions of marriage and by her deeply held fear of sexuality and desire. Ironically, critics observe, Jude's love for Sue forces him to forsake the spiritual path he had set out for himself at Melchester, as he thinks himself unfit for the Church because of his physical longings for her—longings that she avoids for most of the novel. The result is to reinforce Hardy's overall theme of human inconsequentiality in the face of an insurmountable fate.

Critical Reception

The first complete appearance of Jude the Obscure in 1895 provoked a considerable uproar among Hardy's contemporaries. Most negative assessments objected to its frank portrayal of a man and woman living together out of wedlock, taking this to be a critique of the institution of marriage and the religious foundations upon which it is based. Hardy objected, contending that his novel was moral, but soon capitulated. He wrote in his postscript to the 1912 edition of Jude the Obscure that these reactions had the effect of "completely curing me of further interest in novel-writing," causing him to devote his literary attentions from that point forward solely to poetic and dramatic works. Still, many during Hardy's lifetime disagreed with this narrow interpretation and hailed the novel as a masterful work of art. Later criticism has generally shared this conclusion. With certain reservations, such as Hardy's occasional lapses into melodrama, critics have acknowledged Jude the Obscure as one of the masterpieces of late Victorian literature and a story that offers a glimpse of the ensuing modern era, an age forced to reckon with the crumbling certainties of the past.

W. D. Howells (essay date 1895)

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SOURCE: A review of Jude the Obscure, in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited with a commentary by Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom, Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1968, pp. 115-17.

[In the following review, which was originally published in Harper's Weekly in December 1895, Howells praises the "artistic excellence" of Jude the Obscure and defends it to his contemporaries, many of whom found certain images and events in the narrative displeasing.]

It has never been quite decided yet, I believe, just what is the kind and what is the quality of pleasure we get from tragedy. A great many people have said what it is, but they seem not to have said this even to their own satisfaction. It is certain that we do get pleasure from tragedy, and it is commonly allowed that the pleasure we get from tragedy is nobler than the pleasure we get from comedy. An alloy of any such pleasure as we get from comedy is held to debase this finer emotion, but this seems true only as to the whole effect of tragedy. The Greek tragedy kept itself purely tragic; the English tragedy assimilated all elements of comedy and made them tragic; so that in the end Hamlet and Macbeth are as high sorrowful as Orestes and Oedipus.


I should be rather ashamed of lugging the classic and the romantic in here, if it were not for the sense I have of the return of an English writer to the Greek motive of tragedy in a book which seems to me one of the most tragical I have read. I have always felt in Mr. Thomas Hardy a charm which I have supposed to be that of the elder pagan world, but this I have found in his lighter moods, for the most part, and chiefly in his study of the eternal-womanly, surviving in certain unconscienced types and characters from a time before Christianity was, and more distinctly before Puritanism was. Now, however, in his latest work he has made me feel our unity with that world in the very essence of his art. He has given me the same pity and despair in view of the blind struggles of his modern English lower-middle-class people that I experience from the destinies of the august figures of Greek fable. I do not know how instinctively or how voluntarily he has appealed to our inherent superstition of Fate, which used to be a religion; but I am sure that in the world where his hapless people have their being, there is not only no Providence, but there is Fate alone; and the environment is such that character itself cannot avail against it. We have back the old conception of an absolutely subject humanity unguided and unfriended. The gods, careless of mankind, are again over all; only, now, they call themselves conditions.

The story is a tragedy, and tragedy almost unrelieved by the humorous touch which the poet is master of. The grotesque is there abundantly, but not the comic; and at times this ugliness heightens the pathos to almost intolerable effect. But I must say that the figure of Jude himself is, in spite of all his weakness and debasement, one of inviolable dignity. He is the sport of fate, but he is never otherwise than sublime; he suffers more for others than for himself. The wretched Sue who spoils his life and her own, helplessly, inevitably, is the kind of fool who finds the fool in the poet and prophet so often, and brings him to naught. She is not less a fool than Arabella herself; though of such exaltation in her folly that we cannot refuse her a throe of compassion, even when she is most perverse. Al l the characters, indeed, have the appealing quality of human creatures really doing what they must while seeming to do what they will. It is not a question of blaming them or praising them; they are in the necessity of what they do and what they suffer. One may indeed blame the author for presenting such a conception of life; one may say that it is demoralizing if not immoral; but as to his dealing with his creations in the circumstance which he has imagined, one can only praise him for his truth.

The story has to do with some things not hitherto touched in fiction, or Anglo-Saxon fiction at least; and there cannot be any doubt of the duty of criticism to warn the reader that it is not for all readers. But not to affirm the entire purity of the book in these matters would be to fail of another duty of which diere can be as little doubt. I do not believe any one can get the slightest harm from any passage of it; only one would radier that innocence were not acquainted with all that virtue may know. Vice can feel nothing but self-abhorrence in the presence of its facts.


The old conventional personifications seem drolly factitious in their reference to the vital reality of this strange book. I suppose it can be called morbid, and I do not deny that it is. But I have not been able to find it untrue, while I know that the world is full of truth that contradicts it. The common experience, or perhaps I had better say the common knowledge of life contradicts it. Commonly, the boy of Jude's strong aspiration and steadfast ambition succeeds and becomes in some measure the sort of man he dreamed of being. Commonly, a girl like Sue flutters through the anguish of her harassed and doubting youth and settles into acquiescence with the ordinary life of women, if not acceptance of it. Commonly, a boy like the son of Jude, oppressed from birth with the sense of being neither loved nor wanted, hardens himself against his misery, fights for the standing denied him, and achieves it. The average Arabella has no reversion to her first love when she has freed herself from it. The average Phillotson does not give up his wife to the man she says she loves, and he does not take her back knowing her loathing for himself. I grant all these things; and yet the author makes me believe that all he says to the contrary inevitably happened.

I allow mat mere are many displeasing things in the book, and few pleasing. Arabella's dimple-making, the pig-killing, the boy suicide and homicide; Jude's drunken second marriage; Sue's wilful self-surrender to Phillotson; these and other incidents are revolting. They make us shiver with horror and grovel with shame, but we know that they are deeply founded in the condition, if not in the nature of humanity. There are besides these abhorrent facts certain accusations against some accepted formalities of civilization, which I suppose most readers will find hardly less shocking. But I think it is very well for us to ask from time to time the reasons of things, and to satisfy ourselves, if we can, what the reasons are. If the experience of Jude with Arabella seems to arraign marriage, and it is made to appear not only ridiculous but impious that two young, ignorant, impassioned creatures should promise lifelong fealty and constancy when they can have no real sense of what they are doing, and that then they should be held to their rash vow by all the forces of society, it is surely not the lesson of the story that any other relation than marriage is tolerable for the man and woman who live together. Radier it enforces the conviction that marriage is the sole solution of the question of sex, while it shows how atrocious and heinous marriage may sometimes be.


I find myself defending the book on the ethical side when I meant chiefly to praise it for what seems to me its artistic excellence. It has not only the solemn and lofty effect of a great tragedy; a work far faultier might impart this; but it has unity very uncommon in the novel, and especially the English novel. So far as I can recall its incidents there are none but such as seem necessary from the circumstances and the characters. Certain little tricks which the author sometimes uses to help himself out, and which give the sense of insincerity or debility, are absent here. He does not invoke the playful humor which he employs elsewhere. Such humor as there is tastes bitter, and is grim if not sardonic. This tragedy of fate suggests the classic singleness of means as well as the classic singleness of motive.

Edmund Gosse (essay date 1896)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2096

SOURCE: A review of Jude the Obscure, in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited with a commentary by Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom, Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1968, pp. 117-22.

[In the following excerpt from a review that originally appeared in Cosmopolis in January 1896, Gosse remarks favorably on characterization and plot in Jude the Obscure, calling the novel "irresistible." Gosse also notes that the Jude wanders into some improprieties, but observes that censure "is the duty of the moralist and not the critic."]

[Jude the Obscure] is a study of four lives, a rectangular problem in failures, drawn with almost mathematical rigidity. The tragedy of these four persons is constructed in a mode almost as geometrical as that in which Dr. Samuel Clarke was wont to prove the existence of the Deity. It is difficult not to believe that the author set up his four ninepins in the wilds of Wessex, and built up his theorem round them. Here is an initial difficulty. Not quite thus is theology or poetry conveniently composed; we like to conceive that the relation of the parts was more spontaneous, we like to feel that the persons of a story have been thrown up in a jet of enthusiasm, not put into a cave of theory to be slowly covered with stalactite.

Jude the Obscure is acted in North Wessex (Berkshire) and just across the frontier, at Christminster (Oxford), which is not in Wessex at all. We want our novelist back among the rich orchards of the Hintocks, and where the water-lilies impede the lingering river at Shottsford Ash. Berkshire is an unpoetical county, 'meanly utilitarian,' as Mr. Hardy confesses; the imagination hates its concave, loamy cornfields and dreary, hedgeless highways. The local history has been singularly tampered with in Berkshire; it is useless to speak to us of ancient records where the past is all obliterated, and the thatched and dormered houses replaced by modern cottages. In choosing North Wessex as the scene of a novel Mr. Hardy wilfully deprives himself of a great element of his strength. Where there are no prehistoric monuments, no ancient buildings, no mossed and immemorial woodlands, he is Samson shorn. In Berkshire, the change which is coming over England so rapidly, the resignation of the old dreamy elements of beauty, has proceeded further than anywhere else in Wessex. Pastoral loveliness is to be discovered only here and there, while in Dorsetshire it still remains the master-element. All this combines to lessen the physical charm of Jude the Obscure to those who turn from it in memory to Far from the Madding Crowd and The Return of the Native.

But, this fortuitous absence of beauty being acknowledged, the novelist's hand shows no falling off in the vigour and reality of his description. It may be held, in fact, to be a lesser feat to raise before us an enchanting vision of the valley of the Froom, than successfully to rivet our attention on the prosaic arable land encircling the dull hamlet of Marygreen.

To pass from the landscape to the persons, two threads of action seem to be intertwined in Jude the Obscure. We have, first of all, the contrast between the ideal life the young peasant of scholarly instincts wished to lead, and the squalid real life into which he was fated to sink. We have, secondly, the almost rectilinear puzzle of the sexual relations of the four principal characters. Mr. Hardy has wished to show how cruel destiny can be to the eternal dream of youth, and he has undertaken to trace the lamentable results of unions in a family exhausted by intermarriage and poverty. Some collision is apparent between these aims; the first seems to demand a poet, the second a physician. The Fawleys are a decayed and wasted race, in the last of whom, Jude, there appears, with a kind of flicker in the socket, a certain intellectual and artistic brightness. In favourable surroundings, we feel that this young man might have become fairly distinguished as a scholar, or as a sculptor. But at the supreme moment, or at each supreme moment, the conditions hurl him back into insignificance. When we examine clearly what these conditions are, we find them to be instinctive. He is just going to develop into a lad of education, when Arabella throws her hideous missile at him, and he sinks with her into a resigned inferiority.

So far, the critical court is with Mr. Hardy; these scenes and their results give a perfect impression of truth. Later on, it is not quite evident whether the claim on Jude's passions, or the inherent weakness of his inherited character, is the source of his failure. Perhaps both. But it is difficult to see what part Oxford has in his destruction, or how Mr. Hardy can excuse the rhetorical diatribes against the university which appear towards the close of the book. Does the novelist really think that it was the duty of the heads of houses to whom Jude wrote his crudely pathetic letters to offer him immediately a fellowship? We may admit to the full the pathos of Jude's position—nothing is more heart-rending than the obscurity of the half-educated—but surely, the fault did not lie with Oxford.

The scene at Commemoration (Part VI.) is of a marvellous truth and vividness of presentment, but it would be stronger, and even more tragic, if Mr. Hardy did not appear in it as an advocate taking sides with his unhappy hero. In this portion of his work, it seems to me, Mr. Hardy had but to paint—as clearly and as truthfully as he could—the hopes, the struggles, the disappointments of Jude, and of these he has woven a tissue of sombre colouring, indeed, and even of harsh threads, but a tapestry worthy of a great imaginative writer. It was straightforward poet's work in invention and observation, and he has executed it well.

… It does not appear to me that we have any business to call in question the right of a novelist of Mr. Hardy's extreme distinction to treat what themes he will. We may wish—and I for my part cordially wish—that more pleasing, more charming plots than this could take his fancy. But I do not feel at liberty to challenge his discretion. One thing, however, the critic of comparative literature must note. We have, in such a book as Jude the Obscure, traced the full circle of propriety. A hundred and fifty years ago, Fielding and Smollett brought up before us pictures, used expressions, described conduct, which appeared to their immediate successors a little more crude than general reading warranted. In Mis s Burney's hands and in Mis s Austen's, the morals were still further hedged about. Scott was even more daintily reserved. We came at last to Dickens, where the clamorous passions of mankind, the coarser accidents of life, were absolutely ignored, and the whole question of population seemed reduced to the theory of the gooseberry bush. This was the ne plus ultra of decency; Thackeray and George Eliot relaxed this intensity of prudishness; once on the turn, the tide flowed rapidly, and here is Mr. Hardy ready to say any mortal thing that Fielding said, and a good deal more too.

So much we note, but to censure it, if it calls for censure, is the duty of the moralist and not the critic. Criticism asks how the thing is done, whether the execution is fine and convincing. To tell so squalid and so abnormal a story in an interesting way is in itself a feat, and this, it must be universally admitted, Mr. Hardy has achieved. Jude the Obscure is an irresistible book; it is one of those novels into which we descend and are carried on by a steady impetus to the close, when we return, dazzled, to the light of common day. The two women, in particular, are surely created by a master. Every impulse, every speech, which reveals to us the coarse and animal, but not hateful Arabella, adds to the solidity of her portrait. We may dislike her, we may hold her intrusion into our consciousness a disagreeable one, but of her reality there can be no question: Arabella lives.

It is conceivable that not so generally will it be admitted that Sue Bridehead is convincing. Arabella is the excess of vulgar normality; every public bar and village fair knows Arabella, but Sue is a strange and unwelcome product of exhaustion. The vita sexualis of Sue is the central interest of the book, and enough is told about it to fill the specimen tables of a German specialist. Fewer testimonies will be given to her reality than to Arabella's because hers is much the rarer case. But her picture is not less admirably drawn; Mr. Hardy has, perhaps, never devoted so much care to the portrait of a woman. She is a poor, maimed 'degenerate,' ignorant of herself and of the perversion of her instincts, full of febrile, amiable illusions, ready to dramatise her empty life, and play at loving though she cannot love. Her adventure with the undergraduate has not taught her what she is; she quits Phillotson still ignorant of the source of her repulsion; she lives with Jude, after a long, agonising struggle, in a relation that she accepts with distaste, and when the tragedy comes, and her children are killed, her poor extravagant brain slips one grade further down, and she sees in this calamity the chastisement of God. What has she done to be chastised? She does not know, but supposes it must be her abandonment of Philottson, to whom, in a spasm of self-abasement, and shuddering with repulsion, she returns without a thought for the misery of Jude. It is a terrible study in pathology, but of the splendid success of it, of the sustained intellectual force implied in the evolution of it, there cannot, I think, be two opinions.

One word must be added about the speech of the author and of the characters in Jude the Obscure. Is it too late to urge Mr. Hardy to struggle against the jarring note of rebellion which seems growing upon him? It sounded in Tess, and here it is, more roughly expressed, further acerbated. What has Providence done to Mr. Hardy that he should rise up in the arable land of Wessex and shake his fist at his Creator? He should not force his talent, should not give way to these chimerical outbursts of philosophy falsely so called. His early romances were full of calm and lovely pantheism; he seemed in them to feel the deep-hued country landscapes full of rural gods, all homely and benign. We wish he would go back to Egdon Heath and listen to the singing in the heather.…

A fact about the infancy of Mr. Hardy has escaped the interviewers and may be recorded here. On the day of his birth, during a brief absence of his nurse, there slipped into the room an ethereal creature, known as the Spirit of Plastic Beauty. Bending over the cradle she scattered roses on it, and as she strewed them she blessed the babe. 'He shall have an eye to see moral and material loveliness, he shall speak of richly-coloured pastoral places in the accent of Theocritus, he shall write in such a way as to cajole busy men into a sympathy with old, unhappy, far-off things.' She turned and went, but while the nurse still delayed, a withered termagant glided into the room. From her apron she dropped toads among the rose-leaves, and she whispered: 'I am the genius of False Rhetoric, and led by me he shall say things ugly and coarse, not recognising them to be so, and shall get into a rage about matters that call for philosophic calm, and shall spoil some of his best passages with pedantry and incoherency. He shall not know what things belong to his peace, and he shall plague his most loyal admirers with the barbaric contortions of his dialogue.' So saying, she put out her snaky tongue at the unoffending babe, and ever since, his imagination, noble as it is, and attuned to the great harmonies of nature, is liable at a moment's notice to give a shriek of discord. The worst, however, which any honest critic can say of Jude the Obscure is that the fairy godmother seems, for the moment, to have relaxed her guardianship a little unduly.

Margaret Oliphant (essay date 1896)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1677

SOURCE: A review of Jude the Obscure, in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited with a commentary by Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom, Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1968, pp. 126-30.

[In the following excerpt from a review originally published in Blackwood's Magazine in January 1896, Oliphant describes Jude the Obscure "as an assault on the stronghold of marriage."]


[The] inclination towards the treatment of subjects hitherto considered immoral or contrary to good manners, in the widest sense of the words—and the disposition to place what is called the Sex-question above all others as the theme of fiction—has gradually acquired the importance of a parti pris. It may be said that this question has always been the leading subject of romance; but this never in the sense of the words as now used. Love has been the subject of romance, and all the obstacles that have always come in its way, and the devotion and faithfulness of Lovers, the chosen Two, the perennial hero and heroine in whom the simpler ideals of life have been concentrated. What is now freely discussed as the physical part of the question, and treated as the most important, has hitherto been banished from the lips of decent people, and as much as possible from their thoughts; but is now freely given forth as the favourite subject for the chatter of girls, who no doubt in a great number of cases know nothing about what they are talking of, and therefore are more or less to be pardoned for following a hideous fashion which has the never-exhausted charm of shocking and startling everybody around. Indeed one of the things most conspicuous in this new method is the curious development of shameless Innocence, more dangerous than folly, more appalling almost than vice, because one does not know at any moment into what miserable quagmire its bold and ignorant feet may stumble.…

… Nothing, I think, but a theory could explain the wonderful want of perception which induces a man full of perceptions to make a mistake so fundamental; but it is done—and thus unconsciously affords us the strangest illustration of what Art can come to when given over to the exposition of the unclean. The present writer does not pretend to a knowledge of the works of Zola, which perhaps she ought to have before presuming to say that nothing so coarsely indecent as the whole history of Jude in his relations with his wife Arabella has ever been put in English print—that is to say, from the hands of a Master. There may be books more disgusting, more impious as regards human nature, more foul in detail, in those dark corners where the amateurs of filth find garbage to their taste; but not, we repeat, from any Master's hand.…

We can with difficulty guess what is Mr Hardy's motive in portraying such a struggle. It can scarcely be said to be one of those attacks upon the institution of Marriage, which is the undisguised inspiration of some of the other books before us. It is marriage indeed which in the beginning works Jude's woe; and it is by marriage, or rather the marrying of himself and others, that his end is brought about. We rather think the author's object must be, having glorified women by the creation of Tess, to show after all what destructive and ruinous creatures they are, in general circumstances and in every development, whether brutal or refined. Arabella, the first—the pigdealer's daughter, whose native qualities have been ripened by the experiences of a barmaid—is the Flesh, unmitigated by any touch of human feeling except that of merciless calculation as to what will be profitable for herself. She is the native product of the fields, the rustic woman, exuberant and overflowing with health, vanity, and appetite. The colloquy between her and her fellows in their disgusting work, after her first almost equally disgusting interview with Jude, is one of the most unutterable foulness—a shame to the language in which it is recorded and suggested; and the picture altogether of the country lasses at their outdoor work is more brutal in depravity than anything which the darkest slums could bring forth, as are the scenes in which their good advice is carried out. Is it possible that there are readers in England to whom this infamy can be palatable, and who, either in inadvertence or in wantonness, can make it pay? Mr Hardy informs us he has taken elaborate precautions to secure the double profit of the serial writer, by subduing his colours and diminishing his effects, in the presence of the less corrupt, so as to keep the perfection of filthiness for those who love it. It would be curious to compare in this unsavoury traffic how much of the sickening essence of his story Mr Hardy has thought his first public could stomach, and how many edifying details he has put in for the enlightenment of those who have no squeamish scruples to get over. The transaction is insulting to the public, with whom he trades the viler wares under another name, with all the suppressed passages restored, as old-book dealers say in their catalogues, recommending their ancient scandal to the amateurs of the unclean. It is not the first time Mr Hardy has adopted this expedient. If the English public supports him in it, it will be to the shame of every individual who thus confesses himself to like and accept what the author himself acknowledges to be unfit for the eyes—not of girls and young persons only, but of the ordinary reader,—the men and women who read the Magazines, the public whom we address in these pages. That the prophets should prophesy falsely is not the most important fact in national degradation: it is only when the people love to have it so that the climax is attained.

The other woman—who makes virtue vicious by keeping the physical facts of one relationship in life in constant prominence by denying, as Arabella does by satisfying them, and even more skilfully and insistently than Arabella—the fantastic raisonneuse, Susan, completes the circle of the unclean.… This woman we are required to accept as the type of high-toned purity. It is the women who are the active agents in all this unsavoury imbroglio: the story is carried on, and life is represented as carried on, entirely by their means. The men are passive, suffering, rather good than otherwise, victims of these and of fate. Not only do they never dominate, but they are quite incapable of holding their own against these remorseless ministers of destiny, these determined operators, managing all the machinery of life so as to secure their own way. This is one of the most curious developments of recent fiction. It is perhaps natural that it should be more or less the case in books written by women, to whom the mere facility of representing their their own sex acts as a primary reason for giving them the chief place in the scene. But it has now still more markedly, though much less naturally, become the method with men, in the hands of many of whom women have returned to the rôle of the temptress given to them by the old monkish sufferers of ancient times, who fled to the desert, like Anthony, to get free of them, but even there barely escaped with their lives from the seductions of the sirens, who were so audacious as to follow them to the very scene of the macerations and miseries into which the unhappy men plunged to escape from their toils. In the books of the younger men, it is now the woman who seduces—it is no longer the man.

This, however, is a consideration by the way. I have said that it is not clear what Mr Hardy's motive is in the history of Jude: but, on reconsideration, it becomes more clear that it is intended as an assault on the stronghold of marriage, which is now beleaguered on every side. The motto is, 'The letter killeth'; and I presume this must refer to the fact of Jude's early and unwilling union to Arabella, and that the lesson the novelist would have us learn is, that if marriage were not exacted, and people were free to form connections as the spirit moves them, none of these complications would have occurred, and all would have been well. 'There seemed to him, vaguely and dimly, something wrong in a social ritual which made necessary the cancelling of well-formed schemes involving years of thought and labour, of foregoing a man's one opportunity of showing himself superior to the lower animals, and of contributing his units of work to the general progress of his generation, because of a momentary surprise by a new and transitory instinct which had nothing in it of the nature of vice, and could be only at the most called weakness.' This is the hero's own view of the circumstances which, in obedience to the code of honour prevalent in the country-side, compelled his marriage. Suppose, however, that instead of upsetting the whole framework of society, Jude had shown himself superior to the lower animals by not yielding to that new and transitory influence, the same result could have been easily attained: and he might then have met and married Susan and lived happy ever after, without demanding a total overthrow of all existing laws and customs to prevent him from being unhappy. Had it been made possible for him to have visited Arabella as long as the new and transitory influence lasted, and then to have lived with Susan as long as she pleased to permit him to do so, which was the best that could happen were marriage abolished, how would that have altered the circumstances? When Susan changed her mind would he have been less unhappy? when Arabella claimed him again would he have been less weak?…

Havelock Ellis (essay date 1896)

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SOURCE: A review of Jude the Obscure, in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, edited with a commentary by Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom, Barnes and Noble Publishers, 1968, pp. 138-44.

[In the following excerpted review, originally published in The Savoy in October 1896, Ellis calls Jude the Obscure "a singularly fine piece of art," adding "this book, it is said, is immoral, and indecent as well. So are most of our great novels."]

… Your wholesome-minded novelist knows that the life of a pure-natured Englishwoman after marriage is, as Taine said, mainly that of a very broody hen, a series of merely physiological processes with which he, as a novelist, has no further concern.

But in novels, as in life, one comes at length to realize that marriage is not necessarily either a grave, or a convent gate, or a hen's nest, that though the conditions are changed the forces at work remain largely the same. It is still quite possible to watch the passions at play, though there may now be more tragedy or more pathos in the outcome of that play. This Mr. Hardy proceeded to do, first on a small scale in short stories, and then on a larger scale.…

I was not without suspicion in approaching Jude the Obscure. Had Mr. Hardy discovered the pernicious truth that whereas children can only take their powders in jam, the strenuous British public cannot be induced to devour their jam unless convinced that it contains some strange and nauseous powder? Was Jude the Obscure a sermon on marriage from the text on the title-page: 'The letter killeth'? Putting-aside the small failures always liable to occur in Mr. Hardy's work, I found little to justify the suspicion. The sermon may, possibly, be there, but the spirit of art has, at all events, not been killed. In all the great qualities of literature Jude the Obscure seems to me the greatest novel written in England for many years.

It is interesting to compare Jude with a characteristic novel of Mr. Hardy's earlier period, with A Pair of Blue Eyes, or The Return of the Native. On going back to these, after reading Jude, one notes the graver and deeper tones in the later book, the more austere and restrained roads of art which Mr. Hardy has sought to follow, and the more organic and radical way in which he now grips the individuality of his creatures. The individuals themselves have not fundamentally changed. The type of womankind that Mr. Hardy chiefly loves to study, from Cytherea to Sue, has always been the same, very human, also very feminine, rarely with any marked element of virility, and so contrasting curiously with the androgynous heroines loved of Mr. Meredith. The latter, with their resolute daring and energy, are of finer calibre and more imposing; they are also very much rarer in the actual world than Mr. Hardy's women, who represent, it seems to me, a type not uncommon in the south of England, where the heavier Teutonic and Scandinavian elements are, more than elsewhere, modified by the alert and volatile elements furnished by earlier races. But if the type remains the same the grasp of it is now much more thorough. At first Mr. Hardy took these women chiefly at their more obviously charming or pathetic moments, and sought to make the most of those moments, a little careless as to the organic connection of such moments to the underlying personality. One can well understand that many readers should prefer the romantic charm of the earlier passages, but—should it be necessary to affirm?—to grapple with complexly realized persons and to dare to face them in the tragic or sordid crises of real life is to rise to a higher plane of art. In Jude the Obscure there is a fine self-restraint, a complete mastery of all the elements of an exceedingly human story. There is nothing here of the distressing melodrama into which Mr. Hardy was wont to fall in his early novels. Yet in plot Jude might be a farce. One could imagine that Mr. Hardy had purposed to himself to take a conventional farce, in which a man and a woman leave their respective partners to make love to one another and then finally rejoin their original partners, in order to see what could be made of such a story by an artist whose sensitive vision penetrated to the tragic irony of things; just as the great novelists of old, De la Sale, Cervantes, Fielding, took the worn-out conventional stories of their time, and filled them with the immortal blood of life. Thus Jude has a certain symmetry of plan such as is rare in the actual world—where we do not so readily respond to our cues—but to use such a plot to produce such an effect is an achievement of the first order.…

But I understand that the charge brought against Jude the Obscure is not so much that it is bad art as that it is a book with a purpose, a moral or an immoral purpose, according to the standpoint of the critic. It would not be pleasant to admit that a book you thought bad morality is good art, but the bad morality is the main point, and this book, it is said, is immoral, and indecent as well.

So are most of our great novels.…

… It seems, indeed, on a review of all the facts, that the surer a novel is of a certain immortality, the surer it is also to be regarded at first as indecent, as subversive of public morality. So that when, as in the present case, such charges are recklessly flung about in all the most influential quarters, we are simply called upon to accept them placidly as necessary incidents in the career of a great novel.

It is no fortuitous circumstance that the greatest achievements of the novelist's art seem to outrage morality. Jude the Obscure is a sufficiently great book to serve to illustrate a first principle. I have remarked that I cannot find any undue intrusion of morality in the art of this book. But I was careful to express myself cautiously, for without doubt the greatest issues of social morality are throughout at stake. So that the question arises: What is the function of the novelist as regards morals? The answer is simple, though it has sometimes been muddled. A few persons have incautiously asserted that the novel has nothing to do with morals. That we cannot assert; the utmost that can be asserted is that the novelist should never allow himself to be made the tool of a merely moral or immoral purpose. For the fact is that, so far as the moralist deals with life at all, morals is part of the very stuff of his art. That is to say, that his art lies in drawing the sinuous woof of human nature between the rigid warp of morals. Take away morals, and the novelist is in vacuo, in the region of fairy land. The more subtly and firmly he can weave these elements together the more impressive becomes the stuff of his art. The great poet may be in love with passion, but it is by heightening and strengthening the dignity of traditional moral law that he gives passion fullest play. When Wagner desired to create a typically complete picture of passion he chose the story of Tristram; no story of Paul and Virginia can ever bring out the deepest cries of human passion. Shakespeare found it impossible to picture even the pure young love of Romeo and Juliet without the aid of the violated laws of family and tradition. 'The crash of broken commandments,' Mr. Hardy once wrote in a magazine article, 'is as necessary an accompaniment to the catastrophe of a tragedy as the noise of drum and cymbals to a triumphal march;' and that picturesque image fails to express how essential to the dramatist is this clash of law against passion. It is the same in life as in art, and if you think of the most pathetic stories of human passion, the profoundest utterances of human love, you probably think most readily of such things as the letters of Abélard and Héloise, or of Mlle. de Lespinasse, or of the Portuguese nun, and only with difficulty of the tamer speech of happier and more legitimate emotions. Life finds her game in playing off the irresistible energy of the individual against the equally irresistible energy of the race, and the stronger each is the finer the game. So the great artist whose brain is afire with the love of passion yet magnifies the terror and force of moral law, in his heart probably hates it.

Mr. Hardy has always been in love with Nature, with the instinctive, spontaneous, unregarded aspects of Nature, from the music of the dead heatherbells to the flutter of tremulous human hearts, all the things that are beautiful because they are uncontrolled by artificial constraint. The progress of his art has consisted in bringing this element of nature into ever closer contact with the rigid routine of life, making it more human, making it more moral or more immoral. It is an inevitable progression. That love of the spontaneous, the primitive, the unbound—which we call the love of 'Nature'—must as it becomes more searching take more and more into account those things, also natural, which bind and constrain 'Nature.' So that on the one side, as Mr. Hardy has himself expressed it, we have Nature and her unconsciousness of all but essential law, on the other the laws framed merely as social expedients without a basis in the heart of things, and merely expressing the triumph of the majority over the individual; which shows, as is indeed evident from Mr. Hardy's work, that he is not much in sympathy with Society, and also shows that, like Heyse, he recognizes a moral order in Nature. This conflict reaches its highest point around women. Truly or falsely, for good or for evil, woman has always been for man the supreme priestess, or the supreme devil, of Nature. 'A woman,' said Proudhon—himself the incarnation of the revolt of Nature in the heart of man—'even the most charming and virtuous woman, always contains an element of cunning, the wild beast element. She is a tamed animal that sometimes returns to her natural instinct. This cannot be said in the same degree of man.' The loving student of the elemental in Nature so becomes the loving student of women, the sensitive historian of her conflicts with 'sin' and with 'repentance,' the creations of man. Not, indeed, that any woman who has 'sinned,' if her sin was indeed love, ever really 'repents.' It is probable that a true experience of the one emotional state as of the other remains a little foreign to her, 'sin' having probably been the invention of men who never really knew what love is. She may catch the phrases of the people around her when her spirit is broken, but that is all. I have never known or heard of any woman, having for one moment in her life loved and been loved, who did not count that moment as worth all other moments in life. The consciousness of the world's professed esteem can never give to unloved virtue and respectability the pride which belongs to the woman who has once 'sinned' with all her heart. One supposes that the slaves of old who never once failed in abject obedience to their master's will mostly subdued their souls to the level of their starved virtues. But the woman who has loved is like the slave who once at least in his life has risen in rebellion with the cry: 'And I, too, am a man!' Nothing that comes after can undo the fine satisfaction of that moment. It was so that a great seventeenth-century predecessor of Mr. Hardy in the knowledge of the heart, painted Annabella exultant in her sin even at the moment of discovery, for 'Nature' knows no sin.

If these things are so, it is clear how the artist who has trained himself to the finest observation of Nature cannot fail, as his art becomes more vital and profound, to paint morals. The fresher and more intimate his vision of Nature, the more startling his picture of morals. To such an extent is this the case in Jude the Obscure, that some people have preferred to regard the book as a study of monstrosity, of disease. Sue is neurotic, some critics say; it is fashionable to play cheerfully with terrible words you know nothing about. 'Neurotic' these good people say by way of dismissing her, innocently unaware that many a charming 'urban miss' of their own acquaintance would deserve the name at least as well. In representing Jude and Sue as belonging to a failing family stock, I take it that Mr. Hardy by no means wished to bring before us a mere monstrosity, a pathological 'case,' but that rather, with an artist's true instinct—the same instinct that moved so great an artist as Shakespeare when he conceived Hamlet—he indicates the channels of least resistance along which the forces of life most impetuously rush. Jude and Sue are represented as crushed by a civilization to which they were not born, and though civilization may in some respects be regarded as a disease and as unnatural, in others it may be said to bring out those finer vibrations of Nature which are overlaid by rough and bucolic conditions of life. The refinement of sexual sensibility with which this book largely deals is precisely such a vibration. To treat Jude, who wavers between two women, and Sue, who finds the laws of marriage too mighty for her lightly-poised organism, as shocking monstrosities, reveals a curious attitude in the critics who have committed themselves to that view. Clearly they consider human sexual relationships to be as simple as those of the farmyard. They are as shocked as a farmer would be to find that a hen had views of her own concerning the lord of the harem. If, let us say, you decide that Indian Game and Plymouth Rock make a good cross, you put your cock and hens together, and the matter is settled; and if you decide that a man and a woman are in love with each other, you marry them and the matter is likewise settled for the whole term of their natural lives. I suppose that the farmyard view really is the view of the ordinary wholesome-minded novelist—I mean of course in England—and of his ordinary critic. Indeed in Europe generally, a distinguished German anthropologist has lately declared, sensible and experienced men still often exhibit a knowledge of sexual matters such as we might expect from a milkmaid. But assuredly the farmyard view corresponds imperfectly to the facts of human life in our time. Such things as 'Jude' is made of are, in our time at all events, life, and life is still worthy of her muse.…

To sum up, Jude the Obscure seems to me—in such a matter one can only give one's own impressions for what they are worth—a singularly fine piece of art, when we remember the present position of the English novel. It is the natural outcome of Mr. Hardy's development, along lines that are genuinely and completely English. It deals very subtly and sensitively with new and modern aspects of life, and if, in so doing, it may be said to represent Nature as often cruel to our social laws, we must remark that the strife of Nature and Society, the individual and the community, has ever been the artist's opportunity. 'Matrimony have growed to be that serious in these days,' Widow Edlin remarks, 'that one really do feel afeard to move in it at all.' It is an affectation to pretend that the farmyard theory of life still rules unquestioned, and that there are no facts to justify Mrs . Edlin. If anyone will not hear her, let him turn to the Registrar-General. Such facts are in our civilisation today. We have no right to resent the grave and serious spirit with which Mr. Hardy, in the maturity of his genius, has devoted his best art to picture some of these facts. In Jude the Obscure we find for the first time in our literature the reality of marriage clearly recognized as something wholly apart from the mere ceremony with which our novelists have usually identified it. Others among our novelists may have tried to deal with the reality rather than with its shadow, but assuredly not with the audacity, purity and sincerity of an artist who is akin in spirit to the great artists of our best dramatic age, to Fletcher and Heywood and Ford, rather than to the powerful though often clumsy novelists of the eighteenth century.

There is one other complaint often brought against this book, I understand, by critics usually regarded as intelligent, and with the mention of it I have done. 'Mr. Hardy finds that marriage often leads to tragedy,' they say, 'but he shows us no way out of these difficulties; he does not tell us his own plans for the improvement of marriage and the promotion of morality.' Let us try to consider this complaint with due solemnity. It is true that the artist is god in his own world; but being so he has too fine a sense of the etiquette of creation to presume to offer suggestions to the creator of the actual world, suggestions which might be resented, and would almost certainly not be adopted. An artist's private opinions concerning the things that are good and bad in the larger world are sufficiently implicit in the structure of his own smaller world; the counsel that he should make them explicit in a code of rules and regulations for humanity at large is a counsel which, as every artist knows, can only come from the Evil One. This complaint against Jude the Obscure could not have arisen save among a generation which has battened on moral and immoral tracts thrown into the form of fiction by ingenious novices. The only cure for it one can suggest is a course of great European novels from Petit Jehan de Saintré downwards. One suggestion indeed occurs for such consolation as it may yield. Has it not been left to our century to discover that the same hand which wrote the disordered philosophy of Hamlet put the times into joint again in 'The New Atlantis,' and may not posterity find Thomas Hardy's hand in 'Looking Backward' and 'The Strike of a Sex?' Thus for these critics of Jude there may yet be balm in Utopia.

Arthur Mizener (essay date 1940)

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SOURCE: "Jude the Obscure As a Tragedy", in Southern Review, Vol. 6, 1940-41, pp. 193-213.

[In the following essay, Mizener argues that Jude the Obscure is not a tragedy in the sense that it represents the contrast between the ideal life and the "permanently squalid real life of man," but rather a "history of a worthy man's education."]

… who cannot see
What Earth's ingrained conditions are.
—"Seventy-four and Twenty."

I suppose no one will question Hardy's right to the title of "the first great tragedian in novel form," taking tragedy in its looser sense. Yet there seems to be a general feeling that somehow his novels are not successful, are not, for all their deep sense of the horror of ordinary life, really tragic. "There is," as Mr. E. M. Forster says, "some vital problem that has not been answered, or even posed, in the misfortunes of Jude the Obscure." The cause of that feeling is, I think, an attitude which is probably more the product of his age than of Hardy's own understanding. In a sense the courage of Hardy's profoundest conviction failed him, precisely as Tennyson's did, under the pressure of the reasoning of his age.

Hardy, to be sure, refused to identify what he called "the ideal life" with the conventional views of his times, and this refusal saved him from the superior fatuousness of people like Tennyson and Browning at their worst. He could, indeed, be devastating about these conventional views: "How could smug Christian optimism worthy of a dissenting grocer find a place inside a man [Browning] who was so vast a seer and feeler when on neutral ground?" Yet at bottom Hardy's attitude suffered from the same kind of fault as Browning's. Browning tried to convince himself that because God was in his heaven all must be right with the world. Hardy's objection to this view of things was that it believed in heaven at all; for Hardy, using Browning's logic in reverse, tried to convince himself that because all was obviously not right with the world, there could be no heaven. The only source of hope left him, therefore, was the belief that the world would, by a process of moral evolution, become a kind of heaven in time. This kind of hope was the only kind Hardy could discover, once he had denied any independent reality to the dream of perfection, and without some hope not only tragedy but life itself is impossible.

The trouble with this view, for tragedy, is that its possessor is incapable of facing squarely the paradox of evil. Browning felt that, having accepted the proposition that God is the all-great and the all-loving too, he had committed himself to a denial of evil; life was therefore an exhilarating battle in which one proved his worth for heaven—

Only they see not God, I know,
Nor all that chivalry of his,
The soldier-saints who, row on row,
Burn upward each to his point of bliss—
  Since, the end of life being manifest,
He had burned his way thro' the world to this.

Hardy, feeling profoundly the ingrained evil of human and animal life, thought that feeling committed him to a denial of heaven. Thus both Browning and Hardy found it impossible not to deny, for the sake of a smaller consistency, one of the realities which must be recognized and accepted for the larger consistency of tragedy. Both found it impossible to believe in "the goodness of God" and "the horrors of human and animal life"; neither, in Keats's phrase, was "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason." They felt called upon either to explain the real life as a logical corollary of the ideal life, or to explain the ideal life as a logical corollary of the real. They were thus incapable of representing in the same fiction the meaning and splendor of both lives and of using each to illuminate the limitations of the other.

But this inability to escape the smaller consistency was the central weakness of late nineteenth-century literature as a whole: "there is the assumption that Truth is indifferent or hostile to the desires of men; that these desires were formerly nurtured on legend, myth, all kinds of insufficient experiment; that, Truth being known at last in the form of experimental science, it is intellectually impossible to maintain illusion any longer, at the same time that it is morally impossible to assimilate Truth." It is in this sense that Hardy's attitude is more the product of his age than of his own understanding. It is probably more remarkable, under the circumstances, that he came as close as he did to escaping from the trap his age unconsciously set for itself than that he was, in the end, caught.

The code Hardy evolved as a description of the ideal life is a secularized version of the Sermon on the Mount, a thoroughly fumigated New Testament morality. The real subject of Jude is the evolution of this code in Jude's mind ("a species of Dick Whittington, whose spirit was touched to finer issues than a mere material gain"). In so far as this code is a statement of the potentialities of humanity, it is the possibility of dieir realization somewhere, somehow, which gives Jude's death meaning. In so far as it is not a statement of the potentialities of humanity Jude is mad and his death meaningless: this alternative was obviously no part of Hardy's intention. But Hardy had no place outside of die actual world of time where he could visualize these potentialities as being realized; he saw no possibility that the nothing of death itself, when the long sickness of health and living begins to mend, would bring all things. So he ended by implying the realization of these human potentialities in this world; ended, that is, by denying his most profound conviction, that earth's conditions are ingrained. And if it is difficult to believe that life is evil and God good, it is even more difficult to believe that the evil of life is ingrained and mat it will nevertheless presently come unstuck.

That Hardy produced such powerful novels, in spite of his inability to conceive an ideal life with an existence either very strong or outside of time and in spite of the formal limitations which this attitude inevitably imposed on him, is a tribute to his profound rectitude: The power of Hardy's novels is the power of Hardy's character; the consistency and purity of the feeling throughout both the novels and the poems proves that his vision of evil is, quite simply, what he saw. Such feeling cannot be faked. This power makes itself felt in spite of Hardy's fumbling inability to think his way through to an understanding of his personal impressions or to a form which would organize them in terms of their meaning.


About his idea in Jude Hardy was quite explicit: Jude was "to show the contrast between the ideal life a man wished to lead, and the squalid real life he was fated to lead.… [This] idea was meant to run all through the novel." It was to be a tragedy "of the WORTHY encompassed by the INEVITABLE." Such an idea requires for its successful representation a form which is consciously an artifice, a verisimilar and plausible narrative which the novelist values, not for its own sake, but as the perfect vehicle for his idea. He must keep his narrative alive at every turn with his idea, for he cannot, once committed to it, afford the luxury of a meaningless appeal to his reader's delight in recognition and suspense. The characters of such a novel, as Aristotle said of the characters in the tragedy of his day, are there for the sake of the action, and the action or fable is mere, ultimately, for the sake of the idea—is the idea.

Yet Hardy, with such an essentially tragic idea never freed himself wholly from the naturalistic assumption that narrative must be significant historically rather than fabulously. In the case of Jude this assumption forced him to identify himself as author with his hero instead of with the action as a whole. Jude is not a character in a larger composition, the dramatization of one of several presented points of view which go together to make up the author's attitude, because Hardy's attitude was not complex and inclusive but simple and exclusive. He therefore sought to contrast the ideal life wit h the real life, not of man but of a man. That is to say, he wrote a naturalistic novel, a history of his hero, in which the hero is the author, for Jude is obviously autobiographical in the general sense. The essential meaning of his fiction for Hardy is its narrative or "historical" meaning, and Jude's understanding of that history is Hardy's. Al l mat the narrative which is a perfect artifice ever proves according to Hardy is me historical existence of a "consummate artist"; all that it even tempts us to believe in is the historical reality of the events it presents. Hardy never really faced the possibility that a great work of art aims at a kind of truth superior (but not necessarily contradictory) to a scientific and historical verisimilitude. For Hardy, therefore, the true narrative was one which conformed to a historical conception of the truth from which the fabulous was very carefully excluded; and the truest of these was, in the general sense, autobiographical, since only the man who had lived through experiences generally like those described in the narrative could represent with historical accuracy not only the external events but the thoughts and opinions of a participant in these events.

Yet because Hardy had an idea he was not content simply to tell a story. If that idea was not finely enough conceived to drive him to discard the naturalistic form, it was strong enough to make him stretch that form to the breaking point by the use of devices which have no place in his kind of novel. There is, for example, nothing to be said against the use of a certain amount of coincidence in the novel which is consistently an artifice, but it only weakens a novel which depends for its acceptance on the reader's conviction of the distinguishably historical trath of its hero's career. In the same way Hardy's carefully devised contrasts fail of their full purpose because he is writing a novel at whose center there is no final contrast. These contrasts are not, therefore, means for enriching a central contrast between a vision of the ideal life and a vision of the real life; they are but means for contrasting a single view of things, which is true, with all other views of things, which are false. And this is the contrast of melodrama rather than of tragedy. In the same way, too, Hardy's use of symbolic incident, for all its immense immediate effectiveness, remains a kind of desperate contrivance in a novel which is not itself a symbol but "a true historie." These incidents do not, that is, have in them implications of contrasted views of experience; they are merely poetic projections of the hero's view of things. The result of all this is a novel which is formally neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring, a novel whose tremendous verisimilar life is constantly being sapped by a series of irrelevant devices and yet remains, as a systematic artifice, "a paradise of loose ends."


The nearest Hardy came to escaping from the strangling limitations of his attitude and the naturalistic form to which it committed him was in his pastoral idealization of the life of his Wessex peasants. He might, by completing this idealization, have produced profound romantic comedy; for he could see so clearly that "it is the on-going—i.e., the 'becoming'—of the world that produces its sadness. If the world stood still at a felicitous moment there would be no sadness in it. The sun and the moon standing still on Ajalon was not a catastrophe for Israel, but a type of Paradise" (The Early Life). It is his feeling that the world had come perceptibly closer to standing still at a felicitous moment for his Wessex peasants in the old days which tempted him to see their life as a type of Paradise.

Yet he did not know how to subdue the rational fact of the matter. The on-going of the world worked among the Wessex people too, if more slowly; and even if it did not, only the illusion of nostalgia could make one who knew that earth's conditions are ingrained suppose there had even been a felicitous moment in the past. The life of these peasants can be, for Hardy, only a charming anachronism; and their comments, though Hardy uses them chorically in his novels, are really irrelevant to any meaning which is possible for him. When Mrs . Edlin comments on Sue's marriage—"In my time we took it more careless, and I don't know that we was any the worse for it!" (438) [Page citations are from the Modern Library edition of Jude]—or when she is to be heard "honestly saying the Lord's Prayer in a loud voice, as the Rubric directed" (333), she is only an example of how much simpler and easier life was before man had progressed in the hands of inescapable time to his present high state of nervous and emotional organization. She cannot be, as Hardy's use of her sometimes seems to imply she is, an image from a timeless and ideal pastoral world, an Arden to which his hero will escape from the squalid real world of Duke Frederick's court. For much as Hardy longed, however unconsciously, to make out of the world of his Wessex peasants an ideal pastoral world, the weary weight of its unintelligible actuality so burdened him that he was never able to see it as a type of Paradise, to make it a part of his means for "holding in a single thought reality and justice." It was indeed Hardy's tragedy as a writer that he never found any such means. Mrs. Edlin and the rest of his peasants remain meaningful only at the level of history; they are samples of the simpler and easier way of life in the past, preserved for Hardy's day by an eddy in time.

The moments of happiness which come in most of Hardy's novels just before the catastrophes are particular instances of his inability to make the country life a type of Paradise. Grace and Giles in Sherton Abbey while they still believe the divorce possible, Tess and Angel between the murder of Alec and the arrest at Stonehenge, Jude and Sue at the Wessex Agricultural Show, these felicitous moments are always moments when the protagonists believe they have won their way back to the Garden of Eden, to purity of heart and to a kindly country world which will be a satisfactory home for the pure in heart. Only a rather staggering amount of coincidence in the narrative or naïveté in the characters can provide moments of such delusion in the real world as Hardy knew it; and because Hardy was committed to a naturalistic form he not only had to produce these moments by coincidence and naïveté, but to demonstrate that, except as faint foreshadowings of a reformed humanity, they were fool's paradises. Thus Hardy's time-bound universe and the naturalistic form which it forced on him as a novelist prevented his imagining or presenting an artificial world which contained both reality and justice.

Committed as he was to the truth of abstract reason rather than the truth of imagination, Hardy therefore had no choice but to conceive his ideal life as a felicitous moment some place in the future of the real life, since this ideal life was the only kind which could be reached by strict reason from his premise. Hardy's faith in this kindly country world to which humanity would win in the course of history is seldom explicit in the novels, since to make it explicit is to make explicit also the contradiction between this faith and Hardy's overwhelming conviction that Earth's conditions are ingrained. That faith is, however, of necessity everywhere implicit in his presentation of the events of human and natural life; it is his only source for the light which reveals the horror of these events.

In that Hardy's novels rest, in this indirect fashion, on a belief in the world's progress toward a felicitous future, their meaning is the meaning of sentimental pastoral. They are what As You Like It would be without Jaques to remind us and the senior Duke that "the penalty of Adam" was not merely "the season's difference" but the knowledge of good and evil, without Touchstone to show us that weariness of the legs is as significant in its way as weariness of the spirit in its, and his love of Jane Smile as real as Silvious's love of Phebe or Orlando's of Rosalind. For however much Hardy failed to recognize it, his whole view of things was based on the assumption that the world of The Woodlanders without Fitzpiers and Mrs . Charmond and an educated Grace would be an ideal world, a world of

Men surfeited of laying heavy hands
     Upon the innocent,
The mild, the fragile, the obscure content
Among the myriads of thy family.
Those, too, who love the true, the excellent,
And make their daily moves a melody.

                        [The Dynasts, Fore Scene]

The success of such poems as "I n Time of 'The Breaking of Nations'" depends on the implication that the life of the man harrowing clods and the maid and her wight is not only eternal—a world that stands still; but felicitous—a world which knows only the sweet adversity of "the season's difference" and not the adversity of evil. Such a pastoral vision of a still point of the turning world was the source of Hardy's sense of the squalid evil of real life. But because he refused to use the life of his Wessex peasants, or any other life, to body forth his forms of things unknown, he was unable to turn those forms to shapes at all.

But if Hardy's combination of half-despairing, scientific humanitarianism, and the naturalistic form which he thought it committed him to, was incapable of pastoral, it was even more incapable of tragedy. Hardy's feeling that the evil of this world was incurable is tragic. But because he was unable to place the source of the idealism by which he measured the world and found it wanting outside of time and therefore, faute de mieux, came to believe "in the gradual ennoblement of man," his attitude is such as to preclude a formal structure which pits the idealist against the practical man in equal combat. There is no basic, unresolvable tragic tension between the real and the ideal in his attitude, and there is as a consequence no tragic tension in the formal structure it invokes as its representation. The objection to Hardy's form for tragedy is, therefore, not a matter of his occasional awkwardness or carelessness; it is radical.

The assumption which justifies the naturalistic novel is that there can be only one kind of reality, and this is Hardy's assumption. But if there is only one kind of reality there can be also only one kind of truth, and that truth, in Jude, is the melioristic view of the world which is the only belief Hardy can find. As author Hardy is therefore unable to represent justly in Jude those kinds of men according to whose ideas the world must be run if earth's conditions are ingrained. In his fictional world such people can be shown only in the light of the single true view of things which Hardy and Jude share. It is as if Shakespeare had first made Hamlet altogether incapable of believing the evil of the world incurable and had then shown us Claudius only as Hamlet saw him. Hardy's Claudiuses are not mighty opposi tes; they are inexplicable villains. At best he can give them credit for being better adjusted to the world as it is at the moment. And for the same reason the only irony he can direct against his hero is the irony to be derived from a demonstration of his temporary maladjustment in a world which, if it is not meaningless, will presently realize that hero's ideal. There is thus neither permanent justification in Hardy for the Arabellas nor permanent irony for the Judes. Jude cannot display the very real if limited truth of Claudius's

For what we know must be, and is as common
As any the most vulgar thing to sense,
Why should we in our peevish opposition
Take it to heart? Fie! 'tis a fault to heaven,
A fault against the dead, a fault to nature,
To reason most absurd…

nor the very real if terrible absurdity of Hamlet's "Go to, I'll no more on't; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no moe marriage: …"

But if the actions of the Arabellas are seen only as Jude saw them, they must remain for the reader what they were for Jude, the consequences of an inexplicable and brutal stupidity rather than of a different kind of wisdom to Jude's. Thus Hardy's attitude and the form it invoked excluded from his representation, despite the fact that no one knew them better than he did, the point of view of those men and women for whom "the defence and salvation of the body by daily bread is still a study, a religion, and a desire." It excluded, too, an understanding of how a woman like Sue might, not in weakness but in strength, deny the validity of Jude's humanitarian idealism. It is one thing, that is, for Jude to preach to Sue the horror of her final surrender to Phillotson and conventional conduct or for Hamlet to preach to his mother the horror of surrender to Claudius and a "normal" life. It is quite another for Hardy, who does, or Shakespeare, who does not, to commit himself completely as author to this sermon.

At the same time, however, that Hardy presents the almost universal opposition to Jude as inexplicably cruel, he is forced to present people and animals—of which there are a great many in Hardy—in such a way as to support Jude's view of them. In other words, Hardy presents the same kinds of objects at once unjustly and sentimentally. And this is the manifestation in the "verbal correlative" of Hardy's attitude of the contradiction inherent in that attitude. Because he can see only a single reality, that of the time-bound actual world, the life of that reality has to be at once incurably evil and potentially good.


Jude the Obscure is, then, the history of a worthy man's education. Part One, for example, is primarily an account of Jude's youth up to the moment he departs for Christminster in search of learning. From the very beginning, however, Jude and the world through which he moves are presented as they appear to the eyes of one who has accepted the view of things which will be the end-product of Jude's education. In so far as Jude understands this view of things, he is not dramatized; he is the author. In so far as, in his innocence, he ignores the necessities and their implications which this view sees, he is dramatized, objectified by Hardy's irony. Hardy's narrative is, then, secondarily, a demonstration of the consequences of Jude's innocent ignorance of "Nature's logic"—in Part One in the matter of sex. Nature takes its revenge by entangling Jude irretrievably with Arabella. Hardy gives this demonstration a complex poetic elaboration, and it is easy to suppose as a consequence that his narrative is fundamentally symbolic, the pitting of two different views of experience—Jude's and Arabella's—against each other in a neutral arena. That it is not is evident from the fact that Hardy as the narrator takes advantage of every opportunity to support Jude's attitude. Furthermore, this part cannot, as symbolic narrative, be fitted into any pattern which runs through the book as a whole, for the only pattern Jude has is the pattern of history.

Nevertheless the poetic elaboration of this episode is interesting as an example, characteristic of the procedure of the book as a whole, of how Hardy's idea, striving to establish a form which will make sense of it, is constantly breaking through the limits of the naturalistic form. The meeting of Arabella and Jude, for example, is brought about by Arabella's hitting Jude with a pig's pizzle. No better image for what drew Arabella and Jude together could be found, and, a symbol of their meeting, the pig's pizzle hangs on the bridge rail between them throughout their first meeting. Thereafter, Arabella scarcely appears in this part unaccompanied by pigs. In the same way Jude's dream of an education which will take him through Christminster to a career as a philanthropic bishop is associated with a vision of Christminster as seen from the roof of the old Brown House against the blaze of the setting sun, like the heavenly Jerusalem, as the child Jude says solemnly to the tiler. It is also associated with the New Testament. The New Testament, in its strictly moral aspect, is the textbook of Hardy's humanitarian morality, and in so far as Jude values its morality he is demonstrating his instinctively humanitarian feelings. But Jude's Testament represents for him also religion and, in that it is a Greek text, learning; and in valuing it on these counts he is demonstrating his illusions.

During the wooing of Arabella by Jude there are sporadic recrudescences of these symbols. For example, Hardy is constantly bringing the two lovers back to the rise on which the old Brown House stands, from which Jude had once seen his vision of the heavenly Jerusalem and where, under the influence of an impulse rather awkwardly explained on the narrative level, he had also once knelt and prayed to Apollo and Diana, the god and goddess of learning and chastity (33). Under the influence of Arabella, Jude "passed the spot where he had knelt to Diana and Phoebus without remembering that there were any such people in the mythology, or that the sun was anything else than a useful lamp for illuminating Arabella's face" (46). Hardy carefully notes, too, that a picture of Samson and Delilah hangs on the wall of the tavern where the two lovers stop for tea but instead, partly at Arabella's suggestion, drink beer (48, 79, 451). The linkage of Arabella and liquor (she had been a bar-maid) is valuable to Hardy not only as a piece of naturalism but because it makes Arabella an incarnation of what Jude later calls "my two Arch Enemies … my weakness for women and my impulse to strong liquor" (420).

Yet these symbols, effective as they are, are sporadic and unsystematized. Hardy never deserts his naturalistic narrative and commits his meaning to them completely, and so the reader never feels to the full in him what Henry James once so beautifully called the renewal "in the modern alchemist [of] something like the old dream of the secret of life." Hardy never thought of himself as a modern alchemist but only as a historian. This fact is plain enough in the climactic scene of this part, the pig-killing scene, for here the pig is not primarily a symbol but an object at the naturalistic level. Arabella takes toward it, as such, an attitude perfectly consistent with the attitude she has maintained throughout. Her concern is for the salableness of the meat, and even her urging that Jude kill the pig quickly when it cries out is determined by her conventional fear lest the cry reveal to the neighbors that the Fawley's have sunk to killing their own pig. "Poor folks must live," she says when Jude protests against the inhumanity of slowly bleeding the pig to death (72). And though Hardy's description of the incident precludes any sympathy for Arabella, this statement is profoundly true within the limits of the world Arabella is aware of.

In direct contrast to Arabella's practical view of this killing, Hardy sets Jude's idealistic view of it: "The white snow, stained with the blood of his fellow-mortal, wore an illogical look to him as a lover of justice, not to say a Christian; …" (73). There is irony here, of course, but it is directed solely to the point that Hardy "could not see how the matter was to be mended" (73), not at all to the point that in one very real sense—the sense that Arabella understood—it could and ought never to be mended. This is so because Hardy is in fact and, as a consequence, by the form he has chosen committed to Jude's view of this incident. That commitment is clear in every word Hardy himself writes about the pig; for example: "The dying animal's cry assumed its third and final tone, the shriek of agony; his glazing eyes rivetting themselves on Arabella with the eloquently keen reproach of a creature recognizing at last the treachery of those who had seemed his only friends" (71).

The consequence of the author's putting the full weight of his authority in this way behind one of the conflicting views of the events is to take the ground out from under the other. The events are presented only as Jude saw them, so that Arabella's view of them seems to the reader simply inexplicably hard-hearted, however common-place. Hardy can see that Arabella's attitude, in its complete ignorance of Jude's, is grimly funny: "''Od damn it all!' she cried, 'that ever I should say it! You've over-stuck un! An d I telling you all the time—'" (71). But he cannot see that it is in any sense justified. The result of this commitment of the author is that the scene as a whole becomes sentimental; and it is difficult to resist the temptation to read it as "a burlesque of the murder of Duncan" with the pig substituted for the king ("Well—you must do the sticking—there's no help for it. I'll show you how. Or I'll do it myself—I think I could." [70]).

This pig-killing scene is of course meant to connect in the reader's mind with the earlier episode where Farmer Troutham whips Jude for allowing the rooks to eat his corn. For Jude the rooks "took upon them more and more the aspect of gentle friends and pensioners.… A magic thread of fellow-feeling united his own life with theirs. Puny and sorry as those lives were, they much resembled his own" (10). Here again Hardy presents these birds and Jude only as Jude sees them. For all his knowledge of "the defence and salvation of the body" he signally fails to do justice to Farmer Troutham's view of them, just as he fails to do justice to Arabella's view of Jude and the pig, because he cannot present two kinds of truth in a naturalistic novel. Hamlet, to say nothing of Shakespeare, could understand and yet defy augury both for himself and the sparrow, since he knew well in the end from experience what was well enough known to him from his reading from the start, that there is a "special providence" in these matters, so that "the readiness is all." Hardy, like Jude and Jaques, could only weep, knowing no providence at all. Shakespeare could therefore write "The Phoenix and the Turtle," Hardy only "Compassion: An Ode in Celebration of the Centenary of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals."

Part Two (at Christminster) brings Hardy's spiritual Whittington to his London where he is taught that his desire for learning had been only "a social unrest which had no foundation in the nobler instincts; which was purely an artificial product of civilization" (151). At the very beginning he catches a glimpse of the truth: "For a moment there fell on Jude a true illumination; that here in the stone-yard was a centre of effort as worthy as that dignified by the name of scholarly study within the noblest of the colleges" (96). Apart from his narrative function, Phillotson is used in this part to foreshadow Jude's discovery of this truth and to reveal what happens to a weaker person at such a disappointment (116-17). Arabella's temporary conversion after Cartlett's death has the same kind of formal relation to Sue's conversion, with the additional irony that Sue's conversion involves a return to active sexual life which she hates, Arabella's a loss of it which she cannot endure (373). Jude's discovery of the fraudulence of learning leaves him only his Christianity; that he will discover this too is "as dead as a fern-leaf in a lump of coal" Hardy tells us directly (96-7). That it has been replaced by a German-Gothic fake he suggests by his references to the tearing down of the "hump-backed, wood-turreted, and quaintly hipped" Marygreen church and to the "tall new building of German-Gothic design" erected in its place (6, 146).

Meanwhile Jude meets his cousin Sue, whom Hardy always keeps before the reader as Jude first saw her in the picture at Marygreen, "in a broad hat, with radiating folds under the brim like the rays of a halo" (88), not only because she remains always for Jude a saint but because, by a terrible irony, she literally becomes one at the end of the book. Sue has twice Jude's quickness of wit and half his strength of character. She therefore saw from the beginning that there was nothing in the universe except "Nature's law"; but because of her lack of real profundity, she thought also that it was "Nature's … raison d'être, that we should be joyful in what instincts she afforded us …" (403). When she discovered that nature had no raison d'être and that paganism was as false as Christianity had seemed to her, she did not have the strength to face it and went back to conventional wifehood and conventional Christianity. All this, even the impermanence of Sue's paganism (the figures of Venus and Apollo are plaster and come off on her gloves and jacket), is implicit in the episode of the images in Chapter II and in the recollections of Sue's childhood in Chapter VI . By a fine piece of irony—since Sue is, while her strength lasts, a saint of Hardy's humanitarian faith—Hardy has Jude focus not only his physical but his religious feelings on Sue. Gradually he learns from her and experience the omnipotence of Nature's law. But meanwhile Jude sees this imperfect saint of humanitarianism as an Anglican saint. Of the irony of this illusion Hardy makes much (e.g., 123), and in incident after incident, until Jude unlearns his Christianity, he reëmphasizes the irony of this love between the pagan and delicately sexed Sue and the Christian and passionate Jude.

In Part Three Jude, having realized that learning is vain and that only his "altruistic feeling" had any "foundation in the nobler instincts," goes to Melchester, partly because it is "a spot where worldly learning and intellectual smartness had no establishment" (152), partly because Sue is there. There follows a series of episodes which represent the conflict between Sue's daring humanitarian faith and her weak conventional conduct, on the one hand, and Jude's "Tractarian" faith and courageously honest conduct, on the other. In the end, of course, Hardy arranges events so as to demonstrate the omnipotence of "the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springes to noose and hold back those who want to progress" (257), and Sue marries Phillotson. In Part Four Jude's education is almost lost sight of in the welter of narrative detail. Occasionally its progress is marked for the reader, as when Jude replies to Sue's question whether she ought to continue to live with Phillotson: "Speaking as an order-loving man—which I hope I am, though I fear I am not—I should say yes. Speaking from experience and unbiassed nature, I should say no" (248). Though Sue and Jude determine to sacrifice their love to right conduct, their coming together on the occasion of their aunt's death at Marygreen finally forces Jude to recognize the evil of the church's marriage system and Sue to realize that she must leave Phillotson for Jude. Sue tries at first to avoid marriage and an active sexual life, but Arabella's return, ironically, forces her to yield to Jude in order to hold him.

There follows in Part Five a period when "the twain were happy—between their times of sadness …" (341). Hardy shows them as devoted lovers at the Great Wessex Agricultural Show, where they are carefully contrasted with the conventional married couple Arabella and Cartlett (Chapter V) . But the pressure of the conventional world on them as unmarried lovers forces them down and down until Jude, "still haunted by his dream" (395), brings Sue and the children to a "depressing purlieu" of Christminster. Here Jude makes a speech, from the cross, as it were, to the Roman soldiers of Christminster in which he states the result of his education: "I perceive there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas: what it is can only be discovered by men or women with greater insight than mine—if, indeed, they ever discover it—at least, in our time" (388).

It is here at Christminster that Hardy makes the most extreme use of his one completely symbolic character, Father Time. Al l through Part Five he has been used to strike the ominous note which reminds us that Sue and Jude's moderate happiness is a snare and a delusion. Now, under the influence of his perfectly arbitrary melancholy and the misinterpretation of something Sue says, he kills all the children, including himself. Father Time is Jude and Arabella's son brought up by Jude and Sue, in order that Hardy may say (400):

On that little shape had converged all the inauspiciousness and shadow which had darkened the first union of Jude, and all the accidents, mistakes, fears, errors of the last. He was their nodal point, their focus, their expression in a single term. For the rashness of those parents he had groaned, for their ill-assortment he had quaked, and for the misfortunes of these he had died.

The effect of this incident on Jude and Sue is to place each of them in the position from which the other had started at the beginning of the book (409):

One thing troubled him more than any other, that Sue and himself had mentally travelled in opposite directions since the tragedy: events which had enlarged his own views of life, laws, customs, and dogmas, had not operated in the same manner on Sue's. She was no longer the same as in the independent days, when her intellect played like lambent lightning over conventions and formalities which he had at that time respected, though he did not now.

Sue returns to Christianity and Phillotson as a consequence of this change; and Jude, partly because of a kind of stunned indifference (he takes to drink), and partly because of Arabella's predatory sexuality, returns to his first wife. It is perfectly apparent that in Hardy's opinion Sue has done an unforgivably inhuman thing to save a perfectly imaginary soul.

But Hardy is at least willing to suggest a conflict in Sue between her affection for Jude and her religious belief, even if he is capable of seeing only one right in that conflict. Thus, when Jude departs from their last meeting, to which he had gone knowing that he was committing suicide, "in a last instinct of human affection, even now unsubdued by her fetters, she sprang up as if to go and succor him. But she knelt down again, and stopped her ears with her hands till all possible sound of him had passed away" (466). On his way home Jude feels "the chilly fog from the meadows of Cardinal as if death-claws were grabbing me through and through" (469); Hardy catches the whole complex of "stern reality" in this symbolic statement by Jude. College, church, social convention, the very things which Jude had at the beginning believed in as the representatives of his ideal, have killed him, either by betraying him directly or by teaching Sue to betray him.

When Hardy comes to Jude's actual death, he also presents Arabella with a choice, the choice of staying with the dying Jude or going to the Remembrance games. The representation of her here is perhaps the best brief illustration in the book of the melodramatic effect which resulted from Hardy's exclusive attitude toward his material. There is not the slightest sign of conflict in Arabella over her choice; she goes without question to the games, flirts with the quack physician Vilbert, and is upset only by the thought that "if Jude were discovered to have died alone an inquest might be deemed necessary" (485). As in the pig-killing scene, Arabella is shown as feeling only brute passion and fear of convention; she is the parody villainess of melodrama, not the mighty opposite of tragedy. Thus the immediate pathos of Jude's death in part derives from Arabella's villainous neglect of him; like the cheers of the Remembrance day crowd which are counterpointed against Jude's dying quotation from Job, however, this neglect illustrates only the complete indifference of society to Jude's dream of an ideal life. The rest of the pathos derives from Jude's uncertainty as to why he had been born at all. But the meaning of his death, in so far as it has one, derives from such conviction as Hardy can muster that Jude's life has not been in vain, but the unfortunate life of a man who had tried to live the ideal life several generations before the world was reformed enough to allow him to. Jude's death is not, therefore, in our ordinary understanding of the word, tragic; since it is the result of a conflict between the ideal life a man wished to lead and the only temporarily squalid real life which he was forced to lead.

Jude the Obscure is then, not a tragedy, not a carefully devised representation of life the purpose of which is to contrast, at every turn, the permanently squalid real life of man, with the ideal life (or, if you will, man's dream of an ideal life). It is the history of how an obscure but worthy man, living a life which Hardy conceived to be representative, learned gradually "that the social moulds civilization fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns" (242), learned what the true morality of "unbiassed nature" is. In the process of learning this optimistic morality he discovered also that neither nature nor society even recognized it, to say nothing of living by it. In so far as Hardy gave him hope at the end that in time they would, he denied what he otherwise saw so clearly, that earth's conditions are ingrained; in so far as he did not give Jude this hope he denied the possibility of the only ideal life he could conceive and made his hero's life and death essentially meaningless.

The instructive comparison to Jude is of course Hamlet. For Shakespeare too saw most profoundly the horror of life's ingrained conditions. But because he could also understand and represent the attitude of those who sought to adjust themselves to life's conditions, he saw that the only hope he could give his hero was for that consummation he so devoutly wished, and death is the only felicity Hamlet ever deems possible. Hamlet's death is not death in a universe in which there is no place without bad dreams; neither is it a death justified by a hope that some day the world's ingrained conditions will come unstuck. Jude's death is a little bit of both.

Hardy says in the preface to Jude that it "is simply an endeavor to give shape and coherence to a series of seemings, or personal impressions, the question of their consistency or their discordance … being regarded as not of the first moment." In that the feeling of the presented life in Jude has a powerful coherence this is a justified defense of it. But it is precisely because Hardy never really posed for himself the question of how the meaning of his impressions could be coherent without being consistent that Jude, for all the power of its presented life, is not a tragedy.

Frederick P. W. McDowell (essay date 1960)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7847

SOURCE: Hardy's "Seeming or Personal Impressions: The Use of Image and Contrast in Jude the Obscure", in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1960, pp. 233-50.

[In the following essay, McDowell explores the symbolism of Jude the Obscure, contending that the novel's images "parallel events and deepen realistic and psychological aspects of the narrative" and afford the work a "richer texture" and greater depth of meaning.]


Sixty years after publication, Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure still elicits controversial judgments. The majority of recent critics, such as William R. Rutland, Lord David Cecil, R. A. Scott-James, Douglas Brown, and Evelyn Hardy, have judged the book a relative failure because of its violations of probability, its morbidity, or its philosophical pretentiousness.1 Other critics, such as Lascelles Abercrombie, H. C. Duffin, Joseph Warren Beach, Arthur McDowall, and Albert Guerard, have acclaimed the book as possibly Hardy's best.2 I agree with the most recent critic in this group, Albert Guerard, who finds Jude the Obscure, despite the "naturalistic paraphernalia," a haunting symbolic rendition of the modern age as it appeared to a compassionate pessimist.3 In order to arrive at a sound approach to the novel, I have had recourse less to book-length studies of Thomas Hardy—except for Abercrombie and Guerard these are disappointing—than to articles and incidental treatments of Hardy in more general books.

Though I disagree with them in part, two of the most perceptive of these accounts—Arthur Mizener's and Walter Allen's—can serve as basis for further discussion.4 These critics maintain that Hardy's naturalistic technique in Jude sets it off from his earlier fiction. More than in his preceding books, Hardy does stress the effects both of heredity and environment upon his characters, the conviction that social laws operate like natural laws, the presence of a strong if still incomplete determinism in human affairs, the need to present the unsavory and animalistic aspects of experience, the sense that primitive and eruptive forces are part, of human nature, the insistence that Darwinian postulates underlie any modern world view, the belief that individualistic force is needed to break from an inherited morality, and the view mat ethics are inductively derived from experience. Granted that these premises obtrude with greater force in Jude the Obscure than in the other novels, still Thomas Hardy primarily remained faithful in Jude the Obscure to his earlier defined, more fluid theory of the art of fiction.

Thomas Hardy departed from naturalistic convention in Jude the Obscure in being unable to efface his temperament from his work. Jude the Obscure thus illustrates Hardy's view that a writer should be free to select his materials, to give shape and form to them, to explore their poetical and metaphysical implications, and to declare his belief, however tentative or qualified, in values which he deems to have some permanent validity in experience.5 Hardy felt that "scientific" novelists were to be commended for their desire to present the full truth and for their hatred of the false and hypocritical; but he also felt that artistic effectiveness derived more from a "sympathetic appreciativeness of life in all its manifestations" than from a sensitive eye and ear alone.6. He alleged, therefore, that "art" in poetry and novel writing results in an illumination of subject material, going beyond mere reportage. 7 The mission of poetry, he said, is to record impressions and not convictions; 8 in the preface to Jude the Obscure he expressed himself similarly upon the art of the novel. This book, he maintained, was like former productions of his in being "simply an endeavor to give shape and coherence to a series of seemings, or personal impressions, the question of their consistency or their discordance, of their permanence or their transitoriness, being regarded as not of the first moment."9

Disregard or misconstruction of this statement has led Mizener and Allen to emphasize too completely the realism of Jude the Obscure. Mr. Mizener contends that its symbolic embellishments, which represent Hardy's attempt to give order to his impressions, are ineffective, and represent "a kind of desperate contrivance" in a basically naturalistic novel. 10 The symbolism in Jude the Obscure, I feel, is not adventitious but organic; it prevades the whole and provides those shades of ineffable and expanded significance which Mizener finds absent.

Allen's view that the power and impressiveness of the novel derive from "Hardy's very refusal to employ his great poetic talents in it" is, I think, similarly debatable." It is just his exercise of these gifts in concentrated form which gives the book its full life. Allen apparently views the symbolism of Jude the Obscure as almost wholly ironic, existing primarily to provide implicit rational commentary upon incident, character, and value. Such is indeed the case, but most of the images in the novel haunt the imagination as well as gratify the mind. In an ineffable and poetic dimension, they give nuance, resonance, and intensity to action, psychology, and idea, and carry the fabric—of which they form part—away from an objectively rendered and obviously typical reality. In Jude the Obscure we have a naturalistic novel, but a naturalistic novel with a difference. Thus when Jude the Obscure is compared with A Mummer's Wife or The Nether World, its imagined universe stands out in far sharper relief.

Norman Holland, in his important "Jude the Obscure: Hardy's Symbolic Indictment of Christianity,"12 has developed Guerard's insight that Jude is primarily a symbolic depiction of the chaotic modern age. Holland also admirably illustrates Morton D. Zabel's related insight that Hardy is a realist "developing toward allegory" and, in the process, getting away increasingly from "slavery to fact." 13 If anything, Holland errs in an opposite direction from Mizener and Allen, and concludes that Jude the Obscure is more allegorical than realistic. In the images of the novel Holland finds a pattern through which Hardy denies the relevance of Christianity to the modern world. The hanging by Father Time—a modern Jesus Christ—of himself and the two Fawley children is, in Holland's view, an atonement which is not efficacious in a spiritually barren society. Holland's interpretation is perhaps extreme: Hardy not only indicts Christianity, but by inference throughout the novel also condemns modern society for its failure to exemplify Christian ethical values. Furthermore, Father Time is "an enslaved and dwarfed Divinity" (p. 336) and in his narrow wilfulness becomes a parody upon, as well as counterpart to, the Christian Saviour. My purpose is to approach the novel with a method similar to Holland's but to give my discussion a less allegorical focus. Thus I shall endeavor to relate, more closely than Holland has done, the images and clusters of images in the novel to the actual lives of Sue Bridehead and Jude Fawley in society.

I wish also to develop the importance of one aspect of Hardy's technique, which Guerard has dismissed with slighting comment: his purposeful use of contrast. 14 All the contrasts in Jude are not so purely factitious and geometrical as Guerard indicates. Many of the parallel incidents provide a symbolic and metaphysical commentary upon the characters and their problems, just as the characters in parallel situations throw light upon one another and the action as a whole. In short, the ramifications and contortions of plot are in themselves provocative, and open up unexpected ranges of meaning. My examination of Hardy's marshalling of images and symbols in the novel, in conjunction with his skilled use of significant contrasts, will, I think, amplify Guerard's view that the lasting impression produced by Jude is its spiritual "trueness" for a time of moral, intellectual, and spiritual dislocation.15


The first function of the images, symbols, and symbolic or parallel incidents in Jude the Obscure is to deepen and reinforce the realistic and psychological aspects of the narrative, our impressions of the characters who figure in it, and the various developments arising from it. A number of images, first encountered in the early part of the novel, operate in this way. There is, for example, the well at Marygreen into whose depths Jude peered as a boy. Its "long circular perspective" indicates the path of Jude's own existence which many times converges circularly upon Marygreen. In somewhat the same manner, the schoolmaster Phillotson returns recurrently to Marygreen, where he had first been a teacher. The well also suggests infinity, and conveys an impression of the continuity of nature and of life itself. It hints at psychic and spiritual renewal and acts, therefore, as a counter-weight to many of the death-connoting images in the novel. The well is in part a natural phenomenon and as such will survive man-made objects: thus it has outlasted the old church which has been supplanted by a newer, less aesthetically pleasing structure. Along with the suggestion of infinity, the well had given to the young Jude intimations of sadness and of the inscrutability of life; these impressions are, of course, heightened in him and us by his destiny.

The well has possible sexual connotations, too, and suggests the darkness, the mystery, the security, and the fertile energies of the womb. It thus reinforces the animal imagery which betokens physical sexuality and which is especially prominent in the early part of the novel.16 There art the copulating earthworms which Jude as a boy tries to avoid crushing in a wet pasture. They are responding to the same natural force motivating the peasant youths and maidens who make love in upland privacy and populate thereby the neighboring villages. Somewhat later, Jude and Arabella become such lovers themselves. Arabella is, of course, associated with pigs throughout the novel; she is twice referred to as a "tiger," and at the Aldbrickham hotel when Sue visits her, she springs from bed like a beast from its lair. The most celebrated of the animal images is the pig's pizzle which Arabella throws at Jude to attract his attention when, at the brookside, she is washing a slaughtered pig for her father. One of the most arresting scenes is the subsequent flirtation on the bridge, after Arabella hangs on the rail the pizzle which Jude surrenders to her in a ritualistic yielding of his own virginity to her. The coarse and sensual nature of their soon developing affair is explicit, then, from its outset.

The first of a group of images and incidents relating to music appears early in the book. In the opening section Phillotson has difficulty getting a piano moved which he has never learned to play. His failure to master it is linked with his inability to play, subtly and potently, upon the keyboard of a woman's sensibility; with the defeat of his other aspirations, social, intellectual, and spiritual; and with the absence of emotional depths in his nature. While Sue is Phillotson's wife at Shaston, she and Jude are brought together when he plays upon this piano a newly written hymn which appeals with power to both of them. Almost from the first, then, Sue and Jude share, to Phillotson's detriment, experiences from which he is excluded. In addition to his sexual magnetism, Jude has greater spiritual reserves, in general, than Phillotson. Thus Jude achieves considerable distinction in church music at Melchester, singing with deep feeling the church chants while he accompanies himself with ease on a harmonium.

Events at Christminster are often subtly developed by references to music. Jude is greatly moved by the Gregorian chant which he hears at the cathedral church of Cardinal College: "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?" (p. 106). At this point he has begun struggling against his feeling for Sue, and the chant seems to have a special significance for him as sinner. His feeling of guilt disappears when he sees Sue in the cathedral and becomes conscious that they are both steeped in the same exalted harmonies. As Jude leaves Christminster in despair at the defeat of his intellectual ambitions, he cannot respond to the gay promenade concert. Some years later upon his return to Christminster he is much more susceptible to the spirited music which, on Remembrance Day, peals from the theater organ. The spell exerted by Christminster upon Jude is greater, therefore, than the bitterness engendered in him by his failure to become part of the university. In ironic counterpoint to the tragedy at Christminster when little Father Time hangs himself and the Fawley children is the joyous tumult of the organ sounding from a nearby chapel ("Truly God is loving unto Israel," [p. 412]) after the bodies have been discovered. The same incongruity obtrudes on the second Remembrance Day when the lilting strains of a waltz from Cardinal College penetrate the chamber where Jude has just died. Sue's early view of ultimate reality, in part Hardy's own, is expressed by a musical metaphor. She had thought that "the world resembled a stanza or melody composed in a dream" (p. 418), full of ineffable suggestion to the half-perceiving mind but "absurd" to the completely awakened intelligence. Sue's later distress, of course, involves a retreat from this position to a less aesthetically satisfying concept of God as an anthropomorphic being who does not hesitate to punish those who flout convention.

Images in the novel drawn from the Bible also serve to intensify its realism and the psychic impulsions of its characters. The relationship between Jude and Arabella is given by the picture of Samson and Delilah at the inn where the lovers decide to get tea during their courtship and are forced to get beer instead. As Holland observes, Arabella thereby combines the two forces which undermine Jude, his passion for women and his developing taste for strong drink. 17 When he is duped a second time into marrying Arabella, she appropriately thinks of him as "her shorn Samson" (p. 464). Biblical and ecclesiastical images are also associated with Sue Bridehead, who looks like a saint with a halo of light in her portrait at Marygreen and who is engaged in an apparently saintly occupation at Christminster. She is an artist for an ecclesiastical warehouse and is designing, when Jude first sees her through the shop window, the word Alleluia in zinc. Without knowing her "Voltairean" propensities, he feels that she would be a sweet companion for him in the Anglican worship, opening for him new social and spiritual possibilities and soothing him "like the dew of Hermon" (p. 107). In her marital difficulties she identifies herself with the Christian drama in Eden. Writing to Phillotson from her school room, she wishes that Eve had not fallen, so that a more delicate mode of reproduction than sex might have peopled Paradise. In her developing asceticism after the death of her children, she regards the flesh as "the curse of Adam" (p. 421). If, as she had said previously, she was "the Ishmaelite" as a result of her disregard of convention, she feels still more of an outcast after she tries to expiate her tragedy by mortification of the flesh.

In view of his devotion to Christianity in the first half of the novel, Jude is linked even more firmly with Biblical incident man is Sue. At Shaston Sue describes Jude as "Joseph, the dreamer of dreams" (p. 247) and as "St. Stephen who, while they were stoning him, could see heaven opened" (pp. 247-248). Here Sue refers, at least by implication, to Jude's scarcely practicable dreams, first of entering Christminster and then of becoming an altruistic licentiate, to his early vision of Christminster as a "heavenly Jerusalem," and to the scorn merged with indifference which his unusual ambition arouses among his Marygreen and Christminster acquaintances. When Jude gets to Christminster, he is fascinated by a model of ancient Jerusalem while Sue as a skeptic is indifferent to it. This model of Jerusalem anticipates that made by Jude and Sue some years later of his "new Jerusalem," Cardinal College, for the Great Wessex Agricultural Show at Stoke-Barehills.

The completeness of Jude's defeat at Christminster is implied when he climbs into the octagonal lantern of the theater and sees the city spread out before his eyes as if it were a Pisgah view of the Promised Land which he is never to reach. He then leaves the town, broken in spirit, and returns to Marygreen, "a poor Christ" (p. 147). When he comes back to Christminster in the last part of the novel, he lingers nostalgically outside the theater where he had first realized that study at Christminster was impossible for a man of his resources. Like Jude, the New Testament scribe who sought to reclaim his lapsed contemporaries to the love of Christ by citing the punishments meted to those in the Old Testament who defied God, Jude Fawley is a prophetic figure, seeing further than most of his contemporaries and deploring the placid indifference of most of them to the demands of Christian charity. As a stranger, too, to people in his own class, he is likened the last time at Christminster to Paul among the Lycaonians. Jude at this point is translating a Latin inscription and describing a carving to assembled strangers from the town side of Christminster. Jude, "the Tutor of St. Slums," had been thrust out of Christminster as Paul had been from Lystra; and like Paul, who returns to the city after persecution to preach again his gospel, Jude later comes back to Christminster to voice his radical social ideas to the crowd. On this return to his old haunts, he observes that leaving Kennetbridge for Christminster was like going from Caiaphas to Pilate. There is, by implication, no place anywhere for a man of his talents from his humble class.

Images drawn from pagan and classical sources also heighten character and incident. Pagan allusions gather around Sue early in the novel: the atmosphere surrounding her "blew as distinctly from Cyprus as from Galilee" (p. 107). A vivid scene occurs when she is walking on a hill outside Christminster and sees some statuary of classical deities, carved by an itinerant foreigner, spread out before her and half obliterating the distant towers of the city. Sue's pagan skepticism gets between her and the Christian traditions of the city which from the first secure Jude's allegiance. Her Pisgah view of the city shows her that the secular is fast encroaching upon the religious and indeed must continue to do so if the University is ever to recover intellectual leadership.

A pagan in her sympathies, Sue purchases statues of Venus and Apollo which upon nearer view seem to her embarrassingly large and naked. In theory, then, she embraces a pagan abandon which, in the actuality, discomposes her. She wraps the statues in leaves and brings her "heathen load" into the Christian city, much to the later horror of Miss Fontover, Sue's pious employer, who grinds one of the images with her heel and breaks its arm. Like ecclesiastical Christianity, then, pagan humanism is an incomplete philosophy for the modern age and its survival even more precarious, since its enlarged perspectives so often go counter to convention. Sue's own paganism is imperfect, possibly transient: the clay of the statues rubs off easily. At night she places candles before them as before Christian icons and communes with them raptly. At one such time she reads Swinburne, who expresses her own regret that "the pale Galilean" has conquered. While she peruses Swinburne and Gibbon, Jude in his lodging is studying the Greek New Testament. In the diffused light the statues stand out commandingly against the wall ornaments: Christian texts, pictures of martyrs, and a gothic framed Latin cross, the figure on which is shrouded by shadows. This obscurely seen cross, which signifies the present abeyance of Christian sentiment in Sue, is in complete contrast to the brightly jeweled Latin cross in the church of St. Silas under which Jude finds Sue toward the end of the novel when, as a result of personal tragedy, Christian conventions become prominent in her life.

After Sue escapes from the training school at Melchester, where she had previously appeared "nunlike" to Jude, she seems to him "clammy as a marine deity" (p. 171) from having forded the river behind the school. Like a latterday Venus Anadyomene, she seems to have materialized spontaneously out of the waters. If in this sequence she brings to mind the pagan goddess of love, Sue is no sensual Pandemos-like deity but the Venus Urania of heavenly love with whom she somewhat later identifies herself. Her garments also cling to her "like the robes upon the figures in the Parthenon frieze" (p. 171). In her most expansive moods, she seems to Jude, after they live together at Aldbrickham, to be a serene Roman matron or an enlightened woman from Greece who may have just been watching Praxiteles carving his latest Venus. Later, of course, Sue renounces Greek joyousness for Christian asceticism, and "the pale Galilean" in actuality does conquer.

Although Jude is most often seen in a Christian ambience, he is sometimes described in terms of the pagan past. As a devout young aspirant to intellectual culture who momentarily forgets his Christianity before his first sojourn at Christminster, he repeats the "Carmen Saeculare" and invokes on his knees the gods of moon and sun in parallel sequence to Sue's later worship of her statues at night. When Jude returns defeated from Christminster, he is described as a Laocöon contorted by grief; the pagan image implies that the bonds of Christian orthodoxy are loosening even now, primarily as a result of his unpermitted passion for Sue. He is also sensitive to the pessimistic, as well as to the harmonious aspects, of classical antiquity. After the Widow Edlin in Aldbrickham has told the lovers of their ill-fated ancestor who had been hanged as the ultimate result of a marital quarrel, Sue feels that the curse of the house of Atreus hangs over the family, and Jude then compares its doom to that haunting the house of Jeroboam. Later in the novel, however, it is Jude who resorts to the Agamemnon to demonstrate that Sue's premonition concerning the ancestral curse hanging over the Fawleys had been correct: "Things are as they are, and will be brought to their destined issue" (p. 415). After their tragedy, the lovers are seen to be, as they move through the Christminster fog, "Acherontic shades" (p. 440). When the seriously ill Jude perceives the ghosts of the Christminster worthies a second time (after his final trip to Marygreen), he poignantly quotes Antigone to signify his own anomalous and wretched situation: "I am neither a dweller among men nor ghosts" (p. 483). Despite his discouragement and enervation, Jude's persisting moral force resembles that of a stolid, stoic man of antiquity. This is suggested when he is described on his final trip to Marygreen as being "pale as a monumental figure in alabaster" (p. 476), or when he is seen by Arabella to be "pale" and "statuesque" in death with his features like "marble."

Another group of symbolic incidents is concerned with action taking place at windows or casements. At Melchester, Sue jumps from a window at the training college in order to escape the hateful discipline imposed there; at Shaston she jumps from a window to escape from Phillotson and the regimentation imposed by marriage. When Sue springs from the window at the Melchester school and wades neck-deep through the river to escape, she is making a sharp break with her past and is being borne into another life with Jude at its center. Her break for freedom takes her to the lodgings of the man she loves, but destiny prevents her then from seeing where her affections are centered. Hearing from Jude that he had been married previously, she is precipitated into her union with Phillotson, an impulsive action toward Phillotson in contrast with her later bold jump through the window away from him at Shaston. When Jude comes to visit her at Shaston, she talks to him from a casement, strokes his forehead, and calls him a dreamer; a similar episode takes place at Marygreen a few weeks later after Jude mercifully kills a maimed rabbit caught in a gin. She then leans far out of the window at Mrs . Edlin's and lays her tear-stained face on his hair. Seen so often from a relatively inaccessible casement, Sue is in part the immured enchanted maiden, also a kind of inverted Juliet talking to her ardent lover from the safety of a balcony, to which she does not invite him. Somewhat later Jude, living at Aldbrickham with Sue, talks to Arabella from an upper window of the house when she comes to tell him of the existence of the child, Father Time. Whereas Sue had to this time kept the passionate Jude at a distance, the walls of this house—primly erected upon Sue's inconsistent adherence to the conventions she affects to despise—are hardly proof against Arabella's frankly competitive, more direct animal energies. Afraid of losing Jude to Arabella, Sue yields at last to his ardor to possess her.

Other images or symbolic episodes give the novel a richer texture than that usually found in a realistic narrative. Thus the agonies of jealousy experienced by Sue's lovers at various points in the novel gain strength by being counterpointed with each other. Jude is tortured after the marriage at Melchester by the thought that any children born to Sue would be half Phillotson's. After Sue's visit to him in an illness following her departure from him, Phillotson himself is in jealous agony at the thought of Jude as Sue's physical lover (at this point he is not, so Phillotson's jealousy is wasted). Sue also experiences momentary discomfiture when she first sees Father Time, the child of Jude and Arabella, and thinks that he is as much Arabella's as Jude's. In his distressing final interview with Sue at Marygreen, what sustains Jude is her declaration that she is a wife to Phillotson only in name, whereas what later breaks him down is the Widow Edlin's report to him that Sue has physically become Phillotson's wife as a punishment for having returned Jude's kisses with passion. Sue's statement that she was the only mourner to attend the funeral of her early Christminster lover gathers poignancy when one remembers her absence from the deathbed of the man whom she has loved even more. When she excludes Jude from their bedroom at Christminster, the scene is made intense by his ritualistic gesture of farewell: he flings his pillow to the floor, an act which signifies, he says, the rending of the veil of the temple of their marriage.

Sue, in effect, says farewell to the passions of the flesh in a similarly poignant scene toward the end of the novel. By mistake she had brought with her to Marygreen a beautifully embroidered nightgown. She impulsively tears it and throws the tatters into the fire, thus figuratively eliminating from her nature all stain of unpermitted earthly passion. In its place she will wear a plain nightdress, which impresses the Widow Edlin as similar to the sackcloth which Sue, in her passion for self-centered suffering, would now like to wear. The destruction of the nightgown also recalls another strong incident, Jude's burning his divinity books on a kind of funeral pyre to his religious aspirations when he realizes at Marygreen that he can no longer be licentiate in the church and continue to love Sue. In burning the nightgown Sue aspires, almost successfully, to invalidate the flesh; in burning the books, Jude relinquishes, to the stronger call of the flesh, his aspirations. He decides that he will give up all for love, but he later finds with a kind of hopeless irony that Sue has not fully reciprocated. Jude's destruction of his books also anticipates Arabella's thrusting her religious pamphlets into the hedge when as Cartlett's widow she decides she is still in love with Jude; in both cases, formal religion is unable to restrain a powerful passion. Arabella, moreover, seems to act as a kind of catalyst in the varying relationships between Sue and Jude. The effect of her first visit to the married couple at Aldbrickham is to thrust Sue into Jude's arms and to bring about the consummation of their union. Her second visit to the couple, after the tragedy to the children, confirms Sue in her opinion that she is no longer Jude's and must return to Phillotson, since she has come to the orthodox view that her early marriage is indissoluble.


The images and symbolic patterns in the novel not only deepen its significance, but give it scope and amplitude. The full and extended representations of locale help give the novel its broadened perspectives and take it again beyond the unadorned content of most naturalistic novels. In Hardy's evocation the physical Christminster is replete with Gothic grace and charming if irregular architectural harmonies. Shaston, "the ancient British Palladour," is described as "the city of a dream" (p. 239) and its past glories are suggested as they would now appeal to the sensitive beholder of the picturesque town. Melchester with its towering cathedral is presented with similar immediacy, though no set description of town or cathedral is given.

Although Marygreen is a desolate and remote spot, Hardy savored its uniqueness and quaintness. In particular, the features of the spacious countryside nearby are assimilated effectively into the action of the novel. The highway ascending the downs from Alfredston to Marygreen is one of the most consistently used topographical images in the novel. This is the road that Jude walks with Arabella in the early days of their relationship, it is along this road that the newly married pair settle, and it is by this road that Jude returns several times to his native village. Along this road occurs the fateful kiss between Jude and Sue; here Arabella, as the "volupshious widow" of Cartlett, relives the early days with Jude and determines to get him back. Phillotson's history is also intimately connected with the highway. The surrounding landscape is full of associations for Jude: the field where he chased the crows for Farmer Troutham, the Brown House from which he first had his view of Christminster in the distance, the milestone upon which he carved the word thither and an arrow pointing toward Christminster, and the gibbet upon which one of his ancestors was reputed to have been hanged. The sequence at Melchester when Jude and Sue climb the downs about Wardour Castle inevitably recalls the courtship walks with Arabella across the heights near Marygreen. One instance of Hardy's skilled use of these topographical images occurs at the novel's close. Jude's inscription on the milestone at Marygreen has now been almost effaced by moss: the implication is that Jude's aspirations have been slowly undermined with the years and are soon to be extinguished in his approaching death.

Other types of nature imagery similarly enlarge the realistic framework of the novel by suggesting that the life of nature underlies the social life of man even when that life is led in urban rather than in rural surroundings. Thus weather becomes as important as the terrain in establishing the emotional impress of Jude the Obscure. The Christminster fog, for example, hangs over the last sequences of the novel and adds to their chill and depressing effect. In one of these scenes, Jude in effect commits suicide by going back to Marygreen in a driving rain after he has begun to show symptoms of consumption. He also lies down to rest by the milestone near the Brown House where wind and rain are fiercest and coldest. Wind and storm continue when Sue that evening forces herself to yield to her husband. In ironic counterpoint to the brilliance of the sun and to the happy Remembrance Day games going on outside, Jude comes to his solitary shadowed end at Christminster. The classical and Biblical allusions, previously analyzed, also give the novel wider reference than a chronicle of contemporary events would normally possess, by suggesting that situations in the present somehow reach back through time and are comparable to conditions at remote dates in the history of humanity.

Both Sue and Jude live in a world of personal fantasy and illusion. The descriptions of their mental reactions and the images used to define them go counter to a strict realism by suggesting that an individualistic life in the mind is often fully as intense as life in society. Jude's inspiriting view of Christminster which his later experience cannot dispel, the lovers' enthusiasm for each other's company as a kind of paradisal union before tragedy strikes, and Jude's imaginative summoning of the spirits of the departed worthies that still haunt the university are all instances in Sue and Jude of concentrated mental vision, related only tangentially to the verisimilar life recorded in the book. Jude at times feels that he is as much a disembodied spirit as a struggling young man, upon occasion a "self-spectre" (p. 91) who is "spectre-seeing always" (p. 180); at the same time he regards Sue, despite her physical beauty, as ethereal and bodiless. Sue and Jude at various times see one another as naive and enthusiastic children; other spectators like Phillotson and Arabella comment upon their childlike quality. Emma Clifford has shown convincingly that part of the imaginative universe of Jude the Obscure consists of a childlike realm of fantasy. 18 She has demonstrated, moreover, that this realm of fantasy sometimes becomes malignant and approaches nightmare. The malevolence of life is epitomized, for example, by the obtrusive policeman who always acts as a kind of censor whenever the characters are at their most spontaneous. The aged and ageless child, Father Time, with his warped view of life, contributes, too, to the grim fantasy in the novel. Existence seen through the eyes of this precocious and humorless boy becomes a sinister and sick horror, at its most unrelieved, of course, in the hanging of his half-brother, his half-sister, and himself.


The metaphors and metaphorical incidents in the novel often illustrate Hardy's philosophical ideas and values. The indifference of God, or the powers that control the universe, to man and his destiny are indicated figuratively at many points. The hard life of the crows which Jude must scare from Farmer Troutham's field leads him to think that "mercy towards one set of creatures was cruelty towards another" (p. 15); and the selling of her pet pigeons to the poulterer at the removal from Aldbrickham prompts Sue likewise to ask, "Oh, why should Nature's law be mutual butchery!" (p. 376). The imagery deriving from sickness reveals the futility of the characters' lives, their basic neuroticism, and the indifference of the cosmic powers to them. At the close of the novel when Sue as the source of his life's meaning is withdrawn from him, Jude gradually loses the desire to live. In despair he goes to a part of Christminster "where boughs dripped, and coughs and consumption lurked" (p. 444). His life becomes increasingly fevered and reaches a climax of desperation after the sordid saturnalia behind Donn's Christminster sausage shop which leads to his remarriage to Arabella. Subsequently, he is in physical pain from his loss of health and in mental pain from his loss of Sue and from his sense of degradation in having abandoned himself again to Arabella. After his farewell journey to Mary green, "a deadly chill" penetrates his bones; back in Christminster he totters "with cold and lassitude," and becomes more fevered still. The inescapable conclusion is that only in a malignant universe could there be so much undeserved suffering.

The theme of modern restlessness, which Hardy had hitherto explored in The Return of the Native, is also dominating in his last major novel. This theme is not only explicitly stated several times but illustrated through the imagery. Early in the action Jude is described as "a tragic Don Quixote" (p. 247) and as a "Dick Whittington, whose spirit was touched to finer issues than a mere material gain" (p. 89)—the man, in other words, who will give over the ordinary securities and rewards to seek the all but unattainable. In serene Christminster the very buildings seem engaged in an insensate struggle for survival and comment implicitly upon the restlessness and the lack of ideal harmonies in modern society. At Christminister the angularity and precision of the stones cut by modern masons are deceptive. Modern thought is chaotic, less orderly and ordered by far than medieval, even if the relics of medievalism do not have the surface sharpness of modern stones. Jude's social unrest has its counterpart in the vagrancy of the itinerant show people who hibernate at Shaston. Sue, moreover, describes herself as a woman "tossed about, all alone, with aberrant passions and unaccountable antipathies" (p. 248). When Sue and Jude leave a settled life at Aldbrickham for a nomadic existence despite Sue's giving birth thereafter to two children, we may conclude that the social and domestic roots of the couple have dissolved. They spend two and a half years wandering from place to place and finally get back to Christminster. At this juncture Jude describes himself to bystanders as lost in "a chaos of principles—groping in the dark—acting by instinct and not after example" (p. 399). Thus, like Sue, he is symbolic of spiritual malaise and lacks a firm substratum of moral and intellectual values.

The opposition of the forces of life and death, fundamental to the complete meaning of the novel, is conveyed through appropriate images. Thus the past is seen both as a positive and a negative influence. Jude feels the vital energy emanating from Christminster infused into him when he strokes the stones of the buildings during his first night there. Though the university at night is a haunt of the dead, their spirits whisper a message of light and hope to him in these days. Jude remains loyal to the spiritual effluence of the university even when intellectual assent to its values is no longer complete. Jude's continued idealization of the Christian city would, in fact, imply that Christianity can still exert an authentic appeal to the imagination and the moral sensibilities even in a skeptical age. In his early vision of Christminster as a heavenly Jerusalem, he sees its topaz lights go out like "extinguished candles" as he looks toward the city. This image prefigures Jude's own later relation to Christminster, as its Christian influence dwindles over him and as his own hopes for matriculating disappear. His first vision of the lighted city through the momentarily lifted fog also emphasizes his own difficulties in his attempt to reach it and to become identified with its life-giving spirit. The later associations of Christminster with fog indicate that it is not quite the clear intellectual center that Jude felt it to be in his early days. Jude becomes aware, moreover, that he is further away from Christminster when he is living in the town than he had been previously. The division between what he is and what he wants to be is the greater now that only a "wall" lies between him and the colleges. On Jude's final return to Christminster, this image of a separating wall is used again when only a wall quite literally divides his family's temporary lodgings from the college at the back of the house.

The precious spiritual heritage from the past is all present in Christminster but it has been greatly dissipated by inertia and decay. This is the belief of Sue who is oppressed by Sarcophagus College with its "four centuries of gloom, bigotry, and decay" (p. 406). As if to confirm her insight, "the quaint and frost-eaten stone busts" (p. 400) encircling the theater look down with disdain upon intruders like Jude and his family as an affront to their rock-bound conservatism. As an "outsider" to the end of his days (see Sue's earlier description of herself as an Ishmaelite), Jude daily repairs the colleges he will never enter and the windows he will never look from.

The images connected with Sue reveal her as an ambiguous moral force, and illustrate Hardy's conviction that positive and negative energies can be exerted, almost simultaneously and often unconsciously, by a gifted and unusual person. At first she seems to Jude to be a part of the atmosphere of light characterizing Christminster, and the fact that she is in the city helps determine him to come there. At this time she is a figure of mystery and suggestion; when Jude finally sees her he is impressed by her vibrancy and by her graciousness. She possesses "a kindling glance"; and later Jude refers to her intellect in these years as "a shining star" or as "lambent lightning." Phillotson, too, refers to her intellect as sparkling "like diamonds."

In the Melchester sequences before her marriage to Phillotson, her influence becomes more ambivalent. Generally a focus of light and life, she wishes "to ennoble some men to high aims" (p. 182) by infusing into them some of her intellectual energy. Like some women who wish to exert undue control over the destinies of men, she ends by destroying or depressing three men instead of exalting any of them. In the exercise of her vitality she is also curiously irresponsible. Thus she revels in new sensations, irrespective of their influence upon others. An "epicure in emotions" (p. 207), she visits in Jude's company the chapel in which she is to be married at Melchester, little thinking of the torture that this experience entails for the cousin who loves her but who is unable to marry her himself.

Jude's desire to live survives the death of his children; and, despite the horror of the occurrence, he feels that tragedy has enlarged his views while it has narrowed Sue's. Sue's latent revulsion from life, indicated in her Schopenhauerian conviction expressed at Aldbrickham that people in the future may will the extinction of the race, is intensified by the family tragedy. More given to depression than Jude, Sue had felt from the first greater spontaneous sympathy with little Father Time. As a result of his disruption of their family life, Sue embraces the negations that had previously warped the child's nature. Her children's deaths, in part the result of her indiscreet and evasive confidences to Father Time, symbolize her failure to emancipate herself from tradition and, incidentally, her death-bringing influence. The Widow Edlin recalls Sue's uncanny ability as a child to actualize the presence of the raven of death when she recited Poe's poem. Thus Sue, a vessel of the life-force, was also from her early years a potential force for death. Her secret wishes also carry her, she confides to Jude, backward to the security of infancy—ostensibly to the peace of the womb—rather than forward into life: "I like reading and all that, but I crave to get back to the life of my infancy and its freedom" (p. 164).

Jude's comment after the death of the children reveals how delicately balanced the conflicting energies of life and death are in Sue. She is mistaken in feeling that she is an ascetic, he says; rather she is healthy in her emotional responses, delicate but not inhumanly sexless. He does accuse her of never having loved him as he has loved her: her "heart does not burn in a flame" (p. 432), whereas he had been earlier seen with "his ardent affection for her burning in his eyes" (p. 288). In essence, he perceives that she has drained him of his life energies, at the same time that she is their all too volatile source. Now that the cosmic powers seem bent on vengeance, she is deaf to Jude's entreaty for her to stay with him and offers herself in a sacrificial rite to Christian convention by going back to Phillotson. At this point one recalls Sue's own pitying attitude toward the bride at Aldbrickham: Sue had then felt that the woman, bedecked with flowers, was a lamentable sacrifice on the altar of custom, answering a purpose similar to the sacrifice of bedecked heifers on Grecian altars to gods and principles now seen to be superstitions.

Possibly the characters in Jude the Obscure are relatively static, and possibly incident is for the most part contrived, since both men and society alike are controlled by deterministic natural law. Yet this is only one impression produced by the novel, I feel, and not the most important one. If Jude the Obscure possesses some of the stationary quality which often characterizes realism in the graphic arts, still as in the masterworks of realistic painting and sculpture the details of the composition and the relationships among them are not immediately available to the critic. Similarly the full ramifications of pattern emerge in Jude the Obscure only after these details have been studied, that is, only after an exhaustive analysis has been made of. the images and parallel situations in it. New chains of connection among these subsidiary and component elements of the book are continually being suggested to the contemplative, inquiring intelligence. In spite, then, of its somewhat rigid structural lines and philosophical framework, Jude the Obscure, as a pulsating organism within such limits, is continually alive with ever-expanding significance. This novel is, as it were, a kind of kaleidoscope: the pattern formed by image, event, character, and idea continually changes with the angle from which it is viewed. The fluid contours of the novel reform and reshape to furnish changing vistas of meaning; new impressions of the whole which are yet related to our previous impressions continually emerge.

1Thomas Hardy: A Study of His Writings and Their Backgrounds (New York, 1938), pp. 256-257; Hardy the Novelist (New York, 1943), pp. 172-173, 189-192; Thomas Hardy (New York, 1951: Writers and Their Work, No. 21), p. 26; Thomas Hardy (New York, 1954), pp. 98-100; Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (London, 1954), pp. 246, 253.

2Thomas Hardy: A Critical Study (London, 1912), p. 161; Thomas Hardy: A Study of the Wessex Novels (New York, 1916), p. 173; The Technique of Thomas Hardy (Chicago, 1922), pp. 242-243; Thomas Hardy: A Critical Study (London, 1931), p. 88; Thomas Hardy: The Novels and the Stories (Cambridge, Mass., 1949), p. 159.

3Thomas Hardy: The Novels and the Stories, p. 82.

4"Jude the Obscure as a Tragedy," Southern Review, VI (Summer 1940), pp. 193-213; and The English Novel (New York, 1954), pp. 285-304.

5 See the essays "The Profitable Reading of Fiction" and "The Science of Fiction," reprinted in Life and Art, ed. Ernest Brennecke, Jr. (New York, 1925).

6 "The Science of Fiction," p. 89.

7 Florence E. Hardy, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1891 (New York, 1928), p. 150.

8 Florence E. Hardy, The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892-1928 (New York, 1930), p. 178.

9Jude the Obscure, 1895 text as reprinted in The Modern Library Edition, p. vi. Page references in my article are to this edition.

10Southern Review, VI (Summer 1940), p. 197.

11The English Novel, p. 302.

12Nineteenth Century Fiction, IX (June 1954), pp. 50-61.

13 "Hardy in Defense of His Art," Craft and Character: Texts, Method, and Vocation in Modern Fiction (New York, 1957), p. 94.

14Thomas Hardy: The Novels and the Stories, p. 82.

15 Ibid., p. 33.

16 The patterns of animal imagery in the novel are more fully analyzed in Holland's article, note 12 above.

17Nineteenth Century Fiction, IX (June 1954), p. 51.

18 "The Child: The Circus: and Jude the Obscure," Cambridge Journal, VII I (June 1954), pp. 531-546.

A. Alvarez (essay date 1961)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4264

SOURCE: Jude the Obscure, in Beyond All This Fiddle: Essays 1955-67, Penguin Books, Ltd., 1968, pp. 178-87.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1961, Alvarez claims that "the power of Jude the Obscure is … fictional rather than poetic" and sees the novel as essentially a study of loneliness rather than of character or of the workings of fate.]

Jude the Obscure is Hardy's last and finest novel. Yet its publication in 1896 provoked an outcry as noisy as that which recently greeted Lady Chatterley's Lover. The press attacked in a pack, lady reviewers became hysterical, abusive letters poured in, and a bishop solemnly burnt the book. The fuss may seem to us, at this point in time, incredible and even faintly ridiculous, but its effect was serious enough: '… the experience', Hardy wrote later, 'completely cured me of further interest in novel-writing.' After Jude he devoted himself exclusively to his poetry, never returning to fiction.

What caused the uproar? It was not Hardy's fatalism; after Tess his public had learned to live with that and even love it. Nor was his attack on social and religious hypocrisy particularly virulent, though there was certainly a good deal of entrenched resentment of his criticism of those two almost equally venerable institutions: marriage and Oxford. Zola's name was invoked by one or two reviewers, but not seriously. The real blow to the eminently shockable Victorian public was the fact that Hardy treated the sexual undertheme of his book more or less frankly: less frankly, he complained, than he had wished, but more frankly than was normal or acceptable.

Despite the social criticism it involves, the tragedy of Jude is not one of missed chances but of missed fulfilment, of frustration. It is a kind of Anna Karenina from the male point of view, with the basic action turned upside down. Where Anna moves from Karenin to Vronsky, from desiccation to partial satisfaction, Jude, swinging from Arabella to Sue, does the opposite. For all his—and Hardy's—superficial disgust, Jude and Arabella are, physically, very much married: their night at Aldbrickham after years apart is made to seem the most natural thing in the world; Jude's subsequent shame is prompted less by the act itself than by his anger at missing Sue and fear that she will somehow find out. On the other hand, his great love for Sue remains at its high pitch of romance and fatality largely because she never really satisfies him. Hardy himself was quite explicit about this in a letter he wrote after the novel was published:

One point … I could not dwell on: that, though she has children, her intimacies with Jude have never been more than occasional, even when they were living together (I mention that they occupy separate rooms, except towards the end, and one of her reasons for fearing the marriage ceremony is that she fears it would be breaking faith with Jude to withhold herself at pleasure, or altogether, after it; though while uncontracted she feels at liberty to yield herself as seldom as she chooses). This has tended to keep his passion as hot at the end as at the beginning, and helps to break his heart. He has never really possessed her as freely as he desired.

So Jude's tragedy, like every true tragedy, comes from inner tensions which shape the action, not from any haphazard or indifferent force of circumstance. Jude is as frustrated by Sue, his ideal, intellectual woman, as he is by Oxford, his equally shining ideal of the intellectual life. Frustration is the permanent condition of his life.

I am not, of course, suggesting that the book has no theme beyond the sexual relations of Jude, Sue, Arabella, and Phillotson. That was D. H. Lawrence's interpretation in his wonderfully perceptive, startlingly uneven Study of Thomas Hardy. But then Lawrence was writing not as a critic but as an imaginative artist who owed a great personal debt to Hardy. His critical method was simply to retell Hardy's plots as though he himself had written them, isolating only what interested him. The result was considerable insight and an equally considerable shift of emphasis away from the novel Hardy actually wrote.

Obviously, Jude the Obscure does have its declared social purpose: to criticize a system which could, for mainly snobbish reasons, keep out of the universities 'one of the very men', as Sue says, 'Christminster was intended for when the Colleges were founded; a man with a passion for learning, but no money, or opportunities, or friends.… You were elbowed off the pavement by the millionaires' sons.' A figure who for Thomas Gray, a Cambridge don elegizing in his country churchyard, was an object of mildly nostalgic curiosity, became in Hardy's work a living, tragic hero. And by this shift of focus Hardy helped make the issue itself live. In his postscript of 1912 he wrote 'that some readers thought … that when Ruskin College was subsequently founded it should have been called the College of Jude the Obscure'. Hardy may not have had as direct an influence on social reforms as Dickens; but he helped.

Yet Jude the Obscure is clearly more than a criticism of the exclusiveness of the major English universities. Surprisingly early in the book Jude realizes that his Christminster ambitions are futile. After that, though the University remains an obsession with him, it plays very little part in the novel itself. Instead, it is a kind of subplot echoing the main theme in slightly different terms, just as Gloucester and his sons repeat on a smaller scale the tragedy of King Lear and his daughters. But with a crucial difference: Jude is the hero of both the main plot and the sub-plot. Christminster may drop out of the major action, but his continuing obsession with it repeats, in another tone of voice, his obsession with Sue. In the beginning, both Sue and the university seem objects of infinitely mysterious romance; both, in the end, land Jude in disillusion. Both seem to promise intellectual freedom and strength; both are shown to be at bottom utterly conventional. Both promise fulfilment; both frustrate him. All Jude's intellectual passion earns him nothing more than the title 'Tutor of St Slums', while all his patience and devotion to Sue loses him his job, his children and finally even his title of husband.

Hardy himself knew perfectly well that the Christminster, social-purpose side of the novel was relatively exterior to its main theme. Years later, when there was talk of turning Jude into a play, he wrote: 'Christminster is of course the tragic influence of Jude's drama in one sense, but innocently so, and merely as a crass obstruction.' There is, however, nothing exterior in the part Sue plays in Jude's tragedy. At times, in fact, she seems less a person in her own right than a projection of one side of Jude's character. Even Phillotson remarks on this: 'I have been struck', he said, 'with … the extraordinary sympathy, or similarity, between the pair. He is her cousin, which perhaps accounts for some of it. They seem to be one person split in two!' And, in harmony with the principle by which all the major intuitions in the novel are given to the men, Jude himself perceives the same thing: when he lends Sue his clothes after she has escaped from the training college and arrived, soaking wet, at his lodgings, 'he palpitated at the thought that she had fled to him in her trouble as he had fled to her in his. What counterparts they were!… Sitting in his only arm-chair he saw a slim and fragile being masquerading as himself on a Sunday, so pathetic in her defencelessness that his heart felt big with the sense of it.' The situation, in which the hero dresses in his own clothes his wet, lost, desperate double, is exactly the same as that of the masterpiece of double identity, Conrad's The Secret Sharer.

Considering the ultimate differences between Sue and Jude, Hardy perhaps thought that their similarities merely emphasized the contrasts of which, he wrote, the book was full: 'Sue and her heathen gods set against Jude's reading the Greek testament; Christminster academical, Christminster in the slums; Jude the saint, Jude the sinner; Sue the pagan, Sue the saint; marriage, no marriage; etc. etc' But the geometrical neatness of Hardy's plan does not make his psychological insight any less profound or compelling. All through the book Sue is Jude 'masquerading as himself on a Sunday'. As even her name implies (Sue, Hardy says himself, is a lily, and Bridehead sounds very like maidenhead), she is the untouched part of him, all intellect, nerves and sensitivity, essentially bodiless. That is why her most dramatic and typical appearances have always something ghostly about them. When, for example, Jude suddenly and guiltily comes across her after his night with Arabella at Aldbrickham, 'Sue stood like a vision before him—her look bodeful and anxious as in a dream'. Or, when she unexpectedly returns to Phillotson in his illness, and does her odd, characteristic conjuring trick with the mirror: 'She was in light spring clothing, and her advent seemed ghostly—like the flitting in of a moth.' It is this combination of non-physical purity with exaggeratedly sharp intellect and sensitivity which preserves her for Jude as an object of ideal yearning, hopeless and debilitating. It is a yearning for his own lost innocence, before his Christminster ambitions were diverted by Arabella. Even when he finally rounds on her, after all their years and tragedies together, he can still only call her 'a sort of fey, or sprite—not a woman!' Despite everything he can do, she remains a bodiless idea, an idea of something in himself.

Sue and Arabella are, in fact, like the white and black horses, the noble and base instincts, which draw Plato's chariot of the soul. But because Hardy too had a passion for Sue's kind of frigid purity ('She is', he wrote, 'a type of woman which has always had an attraction for me'), he exaggerated the case against Arabella almost to the point of parody. Lawrence wrote:

He insists that she is a pig-killer's daughter; he insists that she drag Jude into pig-killing; he lays stress on her false tail of hair. That is not the point at all. This is only Hardy's bad art. He himself, as an artist, manages in the whole picture of Arabella almost to make insignificant in her these pig-sticking, false-hair crudities. But he must have his personal revenge on her for her coarseness, which offends him, because he is something of an Angel Clare.

Where Hardy thought Arabella 'the villain of the piece', Lawrence tried to make her out the heroine. Both views are wrong, not because Sue is any more or less of the heroine than Arabella, but because Jude the Obscure is fundamentally a work without any heroines at all. It has only a hero. I will return to this. Lawrence was, however, right when he said that Arabella survives Hardy's deliberate coarsening of her. The artist does her justice against the grain of his tastes. So it is she, not Sue, who shows flashes of real intelligence:

'I don't know what you mean,' said Sue stiffly. 'He is mine if you come to that!'

'He wasn't yesterday.'

Sue coloured roseate, and said 'How do you know?'

'From your manner when you talked to me at the door. Well, my dear, you've been quick about it, and I expect my visit last night helped it on. …'

And it is also she, not Sue, who really wants Jude:

In a few moments Arabella replied in a curiously low, hungry tone of latent sensuousness: 'I've got him to care for me: yes! But I want him to more than care for me; I want him to have me—to marry me! I must have him. I can't do without him. He's the sort of man I long for. I shall go mad if I can't give myself to him altogether! I felt I should when I first saw him!'

With fewer exclamation marks and without the moralizing qualification of 'latent sensuousness'—as though that were so reprehensible!—Arabella's words would sound more frank and serious than any protestation Sue manages in the whole book. Similarly, despite everything, it is Arabella whom Jude really wants physically. There is no doubt about this from the moment when, without a flicker of distaste, he picks up the pig's pizzle she has thrown at him:

… somehow or other, the eyes of the brown girl rested in his own when he had said the words, and there was a momentary flash of intelligence, a dumb announcement of affinity in posse, between herself and him, which, so far as Judy Fawley was concerned, had no sort of premeditation in it. She saw that he had singled her out from the three, as a woman is singled out in such cases.… The unvoiced call of woman to man, which was uttered very distinctly by Arabella's personality, held Jude to the spot against his intention—almost against his will, and in a way new to his experience.

This may have in it none of the refinement of Jude's passion for Sue, but it is considerably more human and spontaneous. Jude, after all, fell in love with Sue's photograph before he fell in love with Sue herself; and the first time she saw him 'she no more observed his presence than that of the dust-motes which his manipulations raised into the sunbeams'. So they are never really married because the connection between them is of the sensibility, not of the senses. The only real moment of ecstasy Jude shares with Sue is bodiless, precipitated by the scent and brilliance of the roses at the agricultural show. 'The real marriage of Jude and Sue was', as Lawrence said, 'in the roses.' So it is Arabella who gets the last word; however much Hardy may have disliked her in principle, artistically he acknowledged the sureness of her physical common sense, to the extent at least of allowing her to make the final, unqualified judgement of the tragedy:

'She may swear that on her knees to the holy cross upon her necklace till she's hoarse, but it won't be true!' said Arabella. 'She's never found peace since she left his arms, and never will again till she's as he is now!'

Yet although his final attitude to Sue may have been ambiguous, in creating her Hardy did something extraordinarily original: he created one of the few totally narcissistic women in literature; yet he did so at the same time as he made her something rather wonderful. Her complexity lies in the way in which Hardy managed to present the full, bitter sterility of her narcissism and yet tried to exonerate her.

Bit by bit, even Jude is made to build up the case against her: she is cold, 'incapable of real love', 'an epicure of the emotions', and a flirt; she wants to be loved more than she wants to love; she is vain, marrying Phillotson out of pique when she learns that Jude is married, and going to bed with Jude only when Arabella reappears on the scene; she is even cruel, in a refined way, her deliberate, 'epicene' frigidity having killed one man before the novel even starts. Yet despite all this, Jude loves her. Part of his love, of course, is rooted in frustration: he wants her endlessly because he can never properly have her. And he loves her, too, because he loves himself; he has in himself a narcissism which responds to hers, a vanity of the intellectual life, of his ideals and ambitions, of the refinement of intellect and sensibility which he had first projected on to Christminster.

But the truth and power of the novel lie in the way in which Jude, in the end, is able to understand his love for Sue without lessening it. Until the closing scenes, he manages to make her conform to his ideal by a kind of emotional sleight of mind: he dismisses his glimpses of the unchanging conventionality below the bright surface of her non-conformity by invoking both his own worthlessness and that vague marriage-curse which has been the lot of his family. The turning-point is the death of the children.

One thing troubled him more than any other; that Sue and himself had mentally travelled in opposite directions since the tragedy: events which had enlarged his own views of life, laws, customs, and dogmas, had not operated in the same manner on Sue's. She was no longer the same as in the independent days, when her intellect played like lambent lightning over conventions and formalities which he at the time respected, though he did not now.

Where Jude matures as a man, reconciling himself to the endless tragedies and disappointments until he can accept them more or less without self-pity, Sue remains fixed in her narcissism. She does not change, she simply shapes her outer actions to the commonplaces which at heart have always ruled her. Convention—which she calls High Church Sacramentalism—is simply a way of preserving her vanity intact. To break her self-enclosed mould would mean laying herself open to the real tragedy of her relationship with Jude—of which she, not Fate, is the main instrument and thus giving herself to him completely. Because she is unable to do this, she denies the true marriage between them and perverts it to fit a conventional idea of matrimony. Arabella may occasionally have turned whore for practical ends—that presumably, is how she raised the money to make Jude drunk before remarrying him—but it is Sue whom he accuses, when she returns to Phillotson, of 'a fanatic prostitution'. What began as intellectual freedom ends as prostitution to an idea. So when Jude finally turns on her with the cry 'Sue, Sue, you are not worth a man's love!', he is passing judgement not only on her but also, because he never once denies that he loves her, on something in himself. That cry and Arabella's closing words represent a standard of maturity which Jude only slowly and painfully attains.

There is something puzzling about Jude the Obscure as a work of art: in impact it is intensely moving; in much of its detail it is equally intensely false. The dialogue, for example, is, with very little exception, forced and awkward. Even granted the conventional formalities of the time, no character ever properly seems to connect with another in talk. Despite all the troubles they have seen together, Jude and Sue speak to each other as though they had just been introduced at a vicarage tea-party. As a result, their grand passion becomes, on their own lips, something generalized, like the weather or religion or politics. They are, in Sue's own words, 'too sermony'. Conversely, Arabella, apart from her few moments of truth and an occasional, ponderous slyness, is reduced to a kind of music-hall vulgarity of speech. Widow Edlin is archly folksy and Father Time is almost a caricature of Hardy at his most Hardyesque. The only people who seem able to talk more or less naturally to others are the solitaries, Phillotson and, in a slighter way, Vilbert.

It may be that Hardy had very little ear for dialogue; it is something he rarely does well. But his clumsiness in Jude is more than a fault, it is part of the nature of the work. For the essential subject of the novel is not Oxford, or marriage, or even frustration. It is loneliness. This is the one condition without which the book would show none of its power. When they are together the characters often seem amateurishly conceived, and sometimes downright false. But once they are left to themselves they begin to think, feel, act and even talk with that strange poignancy which is uniquely Hardy's. The brief, almost cursory paragraph in which Jude tries to drown himself after the failure of his first marriage is a far more effective and affecting scene than, for example, the elaborately constructed pig-killing—and largely, I think, because nothing is said. None of the emotional impact is lost in heavy moralizing or awkwardness. When Jude is on his own, as he is for a great deal of the novel, walking from one village to the next, one Christminster college to another, then he emerges as a creation of real genius.

The novel's power, in fact, resides in that sustained, deep plangency of note which is the moving bass behind every major incident. This note is produced not by any single action but by a general sense of tragedy and sympathetic hopelessness which the figure of Jude provokes in Hardy. And the essence of his tragedy is Jude's loneliness. He is isolated from society because his ambitions, abilities and sensibility separate him from his own class while winning him no place in any other. He is isolated in his marriage to Arabella because she has no idea of what he is about, and doesn't care. He is isolated in his marriage to Sue because she is frigid. Moreover, the sense of loneliness is intensified by the way in which both women are presented less as characters complete in themselves than as projections of Jude, sides of his character, existing only in relation to him. In the same way, the wonderfully sympathetic and moving treatment of Phillotson in the scene at Shaston—his surprising delicacy and generosity and desolating loneliness—is essentially the same as the treatment of Jude. The two men, indeed, are extraordinarily alike: they are both in love with the same woman, both fail in much the same way at Christminster, both inhabit the same countryside and suffer the same loneliness. Their difference is in age and ability and passion. Phillotson, in short, is as much a projection of Jude as are the two women. He is a kind of Jude Senior: older, milder, with less talent and urgency, and so without the potentiality for tragedy. In one sense, the entire novel is simply the image of Jude magnified and subtly lit from different angles until he and his shadows occupy the whole Wessex landscape. And Jude in turn is an embodiment of the loneliness, deprivation and regret which are both the strength and constant theme of Hardy's best poetry. Hardy may have been perfectly justified in denying that the book was at all autobiographical, but it is a supremely vivid dramatization of the state of mind out of which Hardy's poetry emerged.

This is why Father Time fails as a symbol. He is introduced in one of the most beautiful passages of the novel:

He was Age masquerading as Juvenility, and doing it so badly that his real self showed through crevices. A ground-swell from ancient years of night seemed now and then to lift the child in this his morning-life, when his face took a back view over some great Atlantic of Time, and appeared not to care about what it saw.

And he is finally left in a paragraph of equal force:

The boy's face expressed the whole tale of their situation. On that little shape had converged all the inauspiciousness and shadow which had darkened the first union of Jude and all the accidents, mistakes, fears, errors of the last. He was their nodal point, their focus, their expression in a single term. For the rashness of those parents he had groaned, for their ill-assortment he had quaked, and for the misfortunes of these he had died.

But in between these two points, his ominous remarks, desolation, and self-consciously incurable melancholy are so overdone as to seem almost as though Hardy had decided to parody himself. Even the death of the children, and Father Time's appalling note—'Done because we are too menny'—is dangerously close to being laughable: a situation so extreme, insisted on so strongly, seems more appropriate to grand guignol than to tragedy. But Hardy, I think, was forced to overdraw Father Time because the child is redundant in the scheme of the novel. What he represents was already embodied in fully tragic form in the figure of Jude. There was no way of repeating it without melodrama.

The power of Jude the Obscure is, then, less fictional than poetic. It arises less from the action or the fidelity of the setting than from the wholeness of the author's feelings. It is a tragedy whose unity is not Aristotelian but emotional. And the feelings are those which were later given perfect form in Hardy's best poetry. The work is the finest of Hardy's novels because it is the one in which the complex of emotions is, despite Father Time, least weakened by melodrama, bad plotting, and that odd incidental amateurishness of detail by which, perhaps, Hardy, all through his novel-writing period, showed his dissatisfaction with the form. It is also the finest because it is the novel in which the true Hardy hero is most fully vindicated, and the apparently fascinating myth of immaculate frigidity is finally exploded. But I wonder if Hardy was not being slightly disingenuous when he claimed that the treatment of the book by the popular reviewers had turned him, for good, from the novel to poetry. After Jude the Obscure there was no other direction in which he could go.

Robert B. Heilman (essay date 1966)

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SOURCE: "Hardy's Sue Bridehead", in Nineteenth Century Fiction, University of California Press, Vol. 20, No. 4, 1966, pp. 307-23.

[In the following essay, Heilman examines Hardy's complex portrayal of the character of Sue Bridehead, calling it "an imaginative feat" that expresses Hardy's perception of modern human reality.]

In Jude the Obscure, a novel in which skillful characterization eventually wins the day over laborious editorializing, Thomas Hardy comes close to genius in the portrayal of Sue Bridehead. Sue takes the book away from the title character, because she is stronger, more complex, and more significant, and because her contradictory impulses, creating a spontaneous air of the inexplicable and even the mysterious, are dramatized with extraordinary fullness and concreteness, and with hardly a word of interpretation or admonishment by the author. To say this is to say that as a character she has taken off on her own, sped far away from a conceptual role, and developed as a being whose brilliant and puzzling surface provides only partial clues to the depuis in which we can sense the presence of profound and representative problems.

Sue's original role, of course, is that of counterpoint to Arabella: spirit against flesh, or Houyhnhnm against Yahoo. Sue and Arabella are meant to represent different sides of Jude, who consistently thinks about them together, contrasts them, regards them as mutually exclusive opposites (e.g., Ill, 9, 10; IV , 5). Early in their acquaintance he sees in Sue "almost an ideality" (II, 4), "almost a divinity" (III , 3); the better he gets to know her, the more he uses, in speech or thought, such terms as "ethereal" (III , 9; IV , 3; VI , 3), "uncarnate" (III , 9), "aerial" (IV, 3), "spirit, … disembodied creature … hardly flesh" (IV , 5) "phantasmal, bodiless creature" (V, 1), "least sensual," "a sort of fay, or sprite" (VI , 3). She herself asks Jude to kiss her "incorporeally" (V, 4), and she puts Mrs . Edlin "in mind of a sperrit" (VI , 9).

The allegorical content in Hardy's delineation of Sue has also a historical base: she is made a figure of Shelleyan idealism. When Phillotson describes the rather spiritualized affinity that he perceives between Jude and Sue, Gillingham exclaims "Platonic!" and Phillotson qualifies, "Well, no. Shelleyan would be nearer to it. They remind me of Laon and Cythna" (IV , 4), the idealized liberators and martyrs in The Revolt of Islam (which is quoted later in another context—V, 4). Sue asks Jude to apply to her certain lines from Shelley's "Epipsychidion"—" … a Being whom my spirit oft / Met on its visioned wanderings far aloft.… A seraph of Heaven, too gentle to be human" (IV, 5)—and Jude later calls Sue a "sensitive plant" (VI , 3).

Deliberately or instinctively Hardy is using certain Romantic values as a critical instrument against those of his own day, a free spirit against an oppressive society, the ethereal against commonplace and material. But a very odd thing happens: in conceiving of Sue as "spirit," and then letting her develop logically in such terms, he finds her coming up with a powerful aversion to sex—in other words, with a strong infusion of the very Victorianism that many of her feelings and intellectual attitudes run counter to. On the one hand, her objection to allegorizing the Song of Solomon (III, 4) is anti-Victorian; but when, in refusing to have intercourse with Jude, she says, "I resolved to trust you to set my wishes above your gratification," her view of herself as a supra-sexual holder of prerogative and of him as a mere seeker of "gratification" is quite Victorian. She calls him "gross," apparently both for his night with Arabella and for desiring her physically, and under her pressure he begs, "Forgive me for being gross, as you call it!" (IV, 5) Again, he uses the apologetic phrase, "we poor unfortunate wretches of grosser substance" (V, 1). All of Sue's terms for Arabella come out of middle-class propriety: "fleshy, coarse woman," "low-passioned woman," "too low, too coarse for you," as does her argument that Jude should not go to help her because "she's not your wife. …" Jude is not entirely pliant here; in fact, there is some defiance in his saying that perhaps he is "coarse, too, worse luck!" But even while arguing against her refusal of sex he can say that "your freedom from everything that's gross has elevated me," accepting the current view of the male as a lower being who needs to be lifted up to a higher life (V, 2). Even when, near the end, he is vehemently urging Sue not to break their union, he can entertain the possibility that in overturning her proscription of sex he may have "spoiled one of the highest and purest loves that ever existed between man and woman" (VI , 3); the "average sensual man" all but gives up his case to a conventional opinion of his own time. Other aspects of Sue's vocabulary betray the Victorian tinge: when she first calls marriage a "sordid contract" (IV, 2) it seems fresh and independent, but the continuing chorus of "horrible and sordid" (V, 1), "vulgar" and "low" (V, 3), "vulgar" and "sordid" (V, 4) suggests finally an over-nice and complacent personality. The style is a spontaneous accompaniment of the moral elevation which she assumes in herself and which in part she uses—Hardy is very shrewd in getting at the power-sense in self-conscious "virtue"—to keep Jude in subjection.

There is a very striking irony here: perhaps unwittingly Hardy has forged or come upon a link between a romantic idea of spirit (loftiness, freedom) and a Victorian self-congratulatory "spirituality"—a possibly remarkable feat of the historical imagination. He has also come fairly close to putting the novel on the side of the Houyhnhnms, a difficulty that he never gets around quite satisfactorily. But above all he has given a sharp image of inconsistency in Sue, for whatever the paradoxical link between her manifestations of spirit, she nevertheless appears as the special outsider on the one hand and as quite conventional on the other. In this he continues a line of characterization that he has followed very skillfully from the beginning. Repeatedly he uses such words as "perverseness," "riddle" (III, 1), "conundrum" (III , 2), "unreasonable … capricious" (III , 5), "perverse," "colossal inconsistency" (III, 7), "elusiveness of her curious double nature," "ridiculously inconsistent" (IV , 2), "logic … extraordinarily compounded," "puzzling and unpredictable" (IV, 3), "riddle" (IV, 4), "that mystery, her heart" (IV, 5), "ever evasive" (V, 5). With an inferior novelist, such an array of terms might be an effort to do by words what the action failed to do; here, they only show that Hardy knew what he was doing in the action, for all the difficulties, puzzles, and unpredictability have been dramatized with utmost variety and thoroughness. From the beginning, in major actions and lesser ones, Sue is consistently one thing and then another: reckless, then diffident; independent, then needing support; severe, and then kindly; inviting, and then offish. The portrayal of her is the major achievement of the novel. It is an imaginative feat, devoid of analytical props; for all of the descriptive words that he uses, Hardy never explains her or places her, as he is likely to do with lesser characters. She simply is, and it is up to the reader to sense the inner truth that creates multiple, lively, totally conflicting impressions. With her still more than with the other characters Hardy has escaped from the allegorical formula in which his addiction to such words as "spirit" might have trapped him.

From the beginning her inconsistency has a pattern which teases us with obscure hints of an elusive meaningfulness. Her first action characterizes her economically; she buys nude statues of classical divinities, but "trembled," almost repented, concealed them, misrepresented them to her landlady, and kept waking up anxiously at night (II, 3). She reads Gibbon but is superstitious about the scene of her first meeting with Jude (II , 4). She criticizes unrestrainedly the beliefs of Jude and Phillotson, but is wounded by any kind of retort (II, 5); repeatedly she can challenge, censure, and deride others but be hypersensitive to even mild replies, as if expecting immunity from the normal reciprocities of argument and emotion (III, 4; IV , 5; VI , 3, 4, 8). She reacts excessively to the unexpected visit of the school inspector, snaps at Phillotson "petulantly," and then "regretted that she had upbraided him" (II, 5). Aunt Drusilla reports that as a girl Sue was "pert … too often, with her tight-strained nerves," and an inclination to scoff at the by-laws of modesty; she was a tomboy who would suddenly run away from the boys (II, 6).

These initial glimpses of Sue prepare for the remarkable central drama of the novel: her unceasing reversals, apparent changes of mind and heart, acceptances and rejections, alternations of warmth and offishness, of evasiveness and candor, of impulsive acts and later regrets, of commitment and withdrawal, of freedom and constraint, unconventionality and propriety. She is cool about seeing Jude, then very eager, then offish (III, 1). She escapes from confinement at school but appears increasingly less up to the exploit already concluded (III, 3-5). She tells Jude, "Yo u mustn't love me," then writes "you may," quarrels with him, and writes, "Forgive … my petulance. …" (Ill, 5) Before and after marriage she resists talking about Phillotson ("But I am not going to be cross-examined …") and then talks about him almost without reserve (III, 6, 9; IV , 2). Again she forbids Jude to come to see her (III, 9), then "with sweet humility" revokes the prohibition (III, 10), is changeable when he comes, invites him for the next week (IV, 1), and then cancels the invitation (IV, 2). She "tearfully" refuses to kiss Jude, and then suddenly kisses him (IV, 3). Hardy identifies, as a natural accompaniment of her shifting of attitude and mood, a tendency to shift ground under pressure. Since she dislikes firm reply, argument, or questioning from others, she may simply declare herself "hurt." Another ploy is to make a hyperbolic statement of desolation or self-condemnation. "I wish I had a friend here to support me; but nobody is ever on my side!" (Ill, 5) "I am in the wrong. I always am!" (IV, 3) "I know I am a poor, miserable creature" (IV, 5). Another self-protective, situation-controlling move is to fall back directly on her emotional responsiveness to a difficult moment. She will not sleep with Jude but is jealous of Arabella; so she simply tells Jude, "… I don't like you as well as I did!" (IV, 5) When she will not acknowledge loving him and he remarks on the danger of the game of elusiveness, her reply, "in a tragic voice," is, "I don't think I like you today so well as I did …" (V, 1). For all of her intellectual freedom, she seems to accept the ancient dogma of "women's whims" (IV, 5) and calls Jude "good" because "you give way to all my whims!" (V, 4)

Through all the sensitiveness, fragility, and caprice there appears an impulse for power, for retaining control of a situation, very delicately or even overtly, in one's own terms. The Victorian acceptance of woman's pedestal implies a superiority to be acknowledged. Early in the story, just after Jude sees "in her almost a divinity" (III , 3), Sue states candidly that she "did want and long to ennoble some man to high aims" (III , 4)—which might be pure generosity or an idealism infected with egoism. She trusts Jude not to pursue her with a desire for "gratification" (IV, 5). She would rather go on "always" without sex because "It is so much sweeter—for the woman at least, and when she is sure of the man" (V, 1). The reappearance of Arabella so disturbs Sue's confidence in ownership that she tries to get rid of Arabella without Jude's seeing her, and when that fails, accepts the sexual bond only as a necessary means of binding Jude to her (V, 2). This gives her new confidence—"So I am not a bit frightened about losing you, now …"—and hence she resists marriage (V, 3). Behind this near-compulsion to prescribe terms is a need which Sue states three different times: "Some women's love of being loved is insatiable" (IV, 1); "But sometimes a woman's love of being loved gets the better of her conscience …" (IV, 5); "the craving to attract and captivate, regardless of the injury it may do the man" (VI , 3). Here again Hardy avoids both allegory and that idealizing of a character whom her own associates find it easy to idealize.

At the center of hypersensitivity he perceives a self-concern which can mean a high insensitivity to others and hence a habit of hurting them which may actually embody an unconscious intention (another version of the power-sense). Despite her formal words of regret and self-censure, Sue seems almost to relish the complaint of the student that she "was breaking his heart by holding out against him so long at such close quarters" (III , 4). Though she resents criticism of or even disagreement with her, all that Jude believes in and holds dear she attacks with an unrestraint that ranges from inconsiderateness to condescension to an outright desire to wound—the church, the university, and their traditions (III , 1, 2, and 4). Always careless of Phillotson's feelings, she does not even let him know about her expulsion from school (III , 6). Hardy presents her desire to leave Phillotson as understandable and defensible, but at the same time he portrays her style with Phillotson as fantastically inconsiderate. For instance, as he "writhed," she upbraided him in a doctrinaire style for not having a free mind as J. S. Mill advised (IV, 3); later, he lies "writhing like a man in hell" (IV, 6) as she lets him think that her relation with Jude is adulterous. She is indifferent to Jude's feelings when she refuses to have sexual intercourse with him. She insists that Jude must "love me dearly" (V, 3), but when he gives her an opening for speaking affectionately to him, she says only, "Yo u are always trying to make me confess to all sorts of absurdities" (V, 5). She moves variously toward self-protection, self-assertion, and self-indulgence. One of the most remarkable cases of giving way to her own feelings in complete disregard of their impact on others is her telling Father Time, "vehemently," that "Nature's law [is] mutual butchery!" (V, 6)—a view that with any imagination at all she would know him utterly unfitted to cope with. It prepares for her thoughtless reply of "almost" to his statement that it "would be better to be out o' the world than in it" and her total ineptitude in dealing with his surmise that all their trouble is due to the children and with his desperation in finding that there is to be another child. Sue actually provides the psychological occasion, if not the cause, of the double murder and suicide (VI , 2)—the disasters that, with massive irony, begin her downward course to death-in-life.

The final touch in Sue as Victorian is her "I can't explain" when Father Time is driven frantic by the news that there will be another child. This is a lesser echo of Sue's embarrassment in all matters of sex—a disability the more marked in one who enters into otherwise intimate relations with a series of men. In her feeling free to deny the very center of the relationship what looks like naiveté or innocence masks a paradoxical double design of self-interest: she wants to be sexually attractive and powerful but to remain sexually unavailable. Sue has something of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, leaving men not "palely loitering" but worse off than that: of the three men who have desired her, one finally has her but only as a shuddering sacrificial victim, and the other two die of "consumption," which modern medical practice regards as predominantly of psychosomatic origin. She does give in to Jude, indeed, but immediately begins campaigning against marriage, and in terms so inapplicable—she repeatedly argues from the example of their earlier marriages, which are simply not relevant (e.g., V, 4)—that they exist not for their own sake but as a symbolic continuation of the resistance to sex. They secretly help to prepare us for her eventual flight from Jude, and to keep us from crediting her later statement that she and Jude found a pagan joy in sensual life (Hardy's belated effort to do something for sex, which he has hardly moved an inch from the most conventional position). True, she declares, just before resuming sexual relations with Phillotson, "I find I still love [Jude]—oh, grossly!" (VI , 9), but at this time the words seem less an intuition of truth than a reaction from the horror of her penitential life; and it is noteworthy that, in whatever sense they may be true, they are spoken by her only when the action they imply is now finally beyond possibility.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci cannot practice mercilessness without being belle—beautiful, or charming, or fascinating. Though Sue may be, as Arabella puts it, "not a particular warm-hearted creature" and "a slim, fidgety little thing" who "don't know what love is" (V, 5), even Gillingham feels what the three men in her life respond to, her "indefinable charm" (VI , 5). She is always spontaneous, often vivacious, occasionally kindly and tender. More important, Hardy has caught a paradoxical and yet powerful kind of charm: the physical attractiveness of the person who seems hardly to have physical existence and hence evokes such terms as "aerial" and "ethereal." The possibility that she unconsciously holds out to men in the enrichment of the ordinary sensual experience by its very opposite: all modes—or rather, the two extremes—of relationship are present at once in an extraordinary fusion. But this special charm is tenuously interwoven with the much more evident charm, the sheer power to fascinate, of an unpredictable personality. Though Sue may, as she herself theorizes, get into "these scrapes" through "curiosity to hunt up a new sensation," she does not have in her very much of the cold experimenter. Jude senses sadistic and masochistic elements in her (elements much noted by more recent critics). He theorizes that she "wilfully gave herself and him pain" for the pleasure of feeling pity for both, and he suspects that she will "go on inflicting such pains again and again, and grieving for the sufferer again and again" (III, 7). Her selfishness is never consistent; she can be virtually ruthless in seeking ends, and then try to make reparation. She can be contemptuous and cutting, and then penitent and tearful. She can be daring and then scared ("scared" and "frightened" are used of her repeatedly); inconsiderate, and then generous: self-indulgent, and then self-punishing; callous, and then all but heartbroken—always with a kind of rushing spontaneity. Such endless shifts as these, which Hardy presents with unflagging resourcefulness, make Jude call Sue a "flirt" (IV, 1). Jude merely names what the reader feels on page after page: the unconscious coquetry that Sue practices. The novel is, in one light, a remarkable treatment of coquetry, for it implicitly defines the underlying bases of the style. The ordinary coquette may tease and chill by plan, invite and hold off deliberately, heighten desire by displaying readiness and simulating retreat: the piquant puzzle. This is what Arabella offers with great crudity in the beginning: Hardy's preparation, by contrast, for the brilliant unconscious tactics of Sue.

The true, ultimate coquette, the coquette in nature, has no plans, no deliberations, no contrived puzzles. Her inconsistency of act is the inconsistency of being. She goes this way, and then that way, for no other reason than that she cannot help it. She acts in terms of one impulse that seems clear and commanding, and is then pulled away by another that comes up and, though undefined, is not subject to her control. On the one hand, she freely puts conventional limitations behind her; on the other, she hardly comes up to conventional expectations. She has freedom of thought but not freedom of action and being. She is desirable but does not desire. She wishes to be desirable, which means making the moves that signify accessibility to desire; the cost of love is then a commitment from which she must frantically or stubbornly withdraw. She is thoughtless and even punitive, but she has pangs of conscience; yet to be certain that she has conscience, she must create situations that evoke pity for others and blame of self. Hardy catches very successfully the spontaneity of each of her acts and gestures; they are authentic, unprogrammed expressions of diverse elements in her personality. Coquetry is, in the end, the external drama of inner divisions, of divergent impulses each of which is strong enough to determine action at any time, but not at all times or even with any regularity. The failure of unity is greater than that of the ordinary personality, and the possibilities of trouble correspondingly greater. If the coquette is not fortunate in finding men with great tolerance for her diversity—and ordinarily she has an instinct for the type she needs—and situations that do not subject her to too great pressure, she will hardly avoid disaster.

The split that creates the coquette is not unlike the tragic split; the latter, of course, implies deeper emotional commitments and more momentous situations. Yet one might entitle an essay on Sue "The Coquette as Tragic Heroine." Because she has a stronger personality than Jude, has more initiative, and endeavors more to impose her will, she is closer to tragic stature than he. Like traditional tragic heroes, she believes that she can dictate terms and clothe herself in special immunities; like them, she has finally to reckon with neglected elements in herself and in the order of life. If the catastrophe which she helps precipitate is not in the first instance her own, nevertheless it becomes a turning point for her, a shock that opens up a new illumination, a new sense of self and of the moral order. After the death of the children Sue comes into some remarkable self-knowledge. She identifies precisely her errors in dealing with Father Time (VI , 2). Her phrase "proud in my own conceit" describes her style as a free-swinging critic of others and of the world. She recognizes that her relations with Jude became sexual only when "envy stimulated me to oust Arabella." She acknowledges to Jude," … I merely wanted you to love me … it began in the selfish and cruel wish to make your heart ache for me without letting mine ache for you." Such passages, with their burden of tragic self-understanding, predominate over others in which Sue looks for objects of blame, falls into self-pity, or frantically repeats her ancient self-protective plea, "Don't criticize me, Jude—I can't bear it!" (VI , 3)

But the passages that indicate growth by understanding are predominated over, in turn, by others in which Sue violently and excessively blames herself and pronounces on herself a life sentence of the severest mortification that she can imagine. Under great stress the precarious structure of her divided personality has broken down, and it has been replaced by a narrow, rigid unity under the tyrannical control of a single element in the personality—the self-blaming, self-flagellating impulse which Sue now formulates in Christian terms but which has been part of her all along. In place of the tragic understanding there is only black misery. Hence she ignores all Jude's arguments; Hardy may sympathize with these, but he knows what development is in character for Sue. A basic lack of wholeness has been converted, by heavy strains, into illness. Not that an imposition of a penalty is in itself pathological; we see no illness in the self-execution of Othello, or, more comparably, in the self-blinding of Oedipus. Facts become clear to them, and they accept responsibility by prompt and final action. Sue not only judges her ignoble deeds but undiscriminatingly condemns a whole life; she converts all her deeds into vice, and crawls into an everlasting hell on earth. Remorse has become morbid, and punishment seems less a symbolic acknowledgement of error than the craving of a sick nature.

The problem is, then, whether the story of Sue merely. touches on tragedy, with its characteristic reordering of a chaotic moral world, or becomes mainly a case history of clinical disorder, a sardonic prediction of an endless night. As always, the problem of illness is its representativeness: have we a special case, interesting for its own sake, pitiable, shocking, but limited in its relevance, or is the illness symbolic, containing a human truth that transcends its immediate terms? There is a real danger of reading Sue's story as if its confines were quite narrow. If she is simply taken as an undersexed woman, the human range will not seem a large one. If she is simply defined as "sado-masochistic," we have only an abnormality. If she appears only as the victim of conventions which the world should get rid of, the romantic rebel unjustly punished, the intellectual range will seem too narrow, wholly without the comprehensiveness of George Eliot, who could see at once the pain inflicted by, and the inevitability of, conventions. If she seems simply a person of insufficient maturity—and Hardy used the words child and children repeatedly of Jude and Sue, and makes Sue say, "… I crave to get back to the life of my infancy and its freedom" (III, 2)—we will seem to have only the obvious truth that it is risky for a child to be abroad in a man's world. If she seems simply an innocent or idealist done in by a harsh world, the story will seem banal, if not actually sentimental. A Christian apologist might argue that her history shows the inescapability of Christian thought; an anti-Christian, that she is the victim of wrong ideas without which she would have been saved. The answer to the former is that such a Christian triumph would be a melancholy and hardly persuasive one, and to the latter that Sue's nature would find in whatever system of values might be available, religious or secular, the doctrinal grounds for acting out her own disorder.

She does not strike us, in the end, as of narrow significance. She is the rather familiar being whose resources are not up to the demands made upon them. This is not so much a matter of weakness and bad luck as it is of an impulsiveness and wilfulness that carry her beyond her depth; even as a child she shows signs of strain and tension. She has many of the makings of the nun, but she wants the world too; she is peculiarly in need of protection, but she wants always to assert and attack. She works partly from an unrecognized egotism, sometimes from an open desire to wound and conquer; her aggressiveness leads her into injurious actions not unlike those of tragic protagonists. Aside from inflicting unfulfilled relationships upon three men, she does a subtler but deeper injury to Jude: with a mixture of the deliberate and the wanton she helps undermine the beliefs that are apparently essential to his well-being; she cannot stand that he should have any gods but her own. She has the style of the blue-stocking who has found a new key to truth and is intolerant of all who have not opened the same door. Though she is sympathetic with Jude in many ways, she lacks the imagination to understand the real needs of his nature; instead of understanding either him or her substantial indifferences to his well-being, she volubly pities him because the university and the world are indifferent to him. Having lost his faith and hope, he leans heavily on her; then she takes that support away when her own needs set her on another course. Symbolically, she comes fairly close to husband-murder.

In them Hardy activates two important, and naturally hostile, strains of nineteenth-century thought and feeling. Jude is under the influence of the Tractarian Movement, which, appealing to some of the best minds in university and church, displayed great vitality in pursuing its traditionalist and anti-liberal aims. Yet his allegiance does not hold up under the blows of Sue's modernist criticism; she looks at Jude as a sort of archaeological specimen, "a man puzzling out his way along a labyrinth from which one had one's self escaped" (III , 2) and refers sarcastically to his "Tractarian stage" as if he had not grown up (III, 4). So he falls into a secular liberalism which simply fails to sustain him. Sue, on the other hand, has felt the influence of utilitarianism (she quotes Mil l to Phillotson very dogmatically); but her skepticism wilts under catastrophe, and she falls into an ascetic self-torment which utterly distorts the value of renunciation (the reduction of hubris to measure). Sue often talks about charity, but, despite her moments of sweetness and kindliness, it is hardly among her virtues; as a surrogate for charity to others she adopts a violent uncharitableness to herself.

Hardy may be intentionally commenting on the inadequacy of two important movements, perhaps because neither corresponds enough to human complexity. But as novelist he is rather exhibiting two characters who in different ways fail, despite unusual conscious attention to the problem, to find philosophical bases of life that are emotionally satisfactory. They like to think of themselves as ahead of their times, but this is rather a device of self-reassurance in people who are less ahead of their times than not up to them. One suspects that in the twentieth century, which has done away with the obstacles that loomed large before their eyes, they would be no better off—either because they lack some essential strength for survival or because they elect roles too onerous for them. Hardy, indeed, has imagined characters who could hardly survive in any order less than idyllic.

In Sue the inadequacy of resources is a representative one that gives her character great resonance. The clue is provided by a crucial experience of her intellectual hero, John Stuart Mill : under the strain of a severe logical discipline he broke down and discovered the therapeutic value of poetry. Sue, so to speak, never finds a therapy. In all ways she is allied with a tradition of intellect; she is specifically made a child of the eighteenth century. She dislikes everything medieval, admires classical writers and architecture, looks at the work of neo-classical secular painters, conspicuously reads eighteenth century fiction and the satirists of all ages. Jude calls her "Voltairean," and she is a devotee of Gibbon. She is influenced, among later figures, by Shelley as intellectual rebel, by Mill's liberalism, and by the new historical criticism of Christianity. Rational skepticism, critical intelligence are her aims; in his last interview with her, Jude attacks her for losing her "reason," "faculties," "brains," "intellect" (VI , 8). Muc h as she is an individual who cannot finally be identified by categories, she is a child of the Enlightenment, with all its virtues and with the liabilities inseparable from it. Hardy was very early in intuiting, though he did not expressly define it, what in the twentieth century has become a familiar doctrine: the danger of trying to live by rationality alone.

In Sue, Hardy detects the specific form of the danger: the tendency of the skeptical intelligence to rule out the nonrational foundations of life and security. Sue cuts herself off from the two principal such foundations—from the community as it is expressed in traditional beliefs and institutions and from the physical reality of sex. The former she tends to regard as fraudulent and coercive, the latter as "gross"; in resisting marriage she resists both, and so she has not much left. Her deficiency in sex, whatever its precise psychological nature (we need not fall into the diagnositis of looking for a childhood trauma), is a logical correlative of her enthroning of critical intellect; thus a private peculiarity takes on a symbolic meaning of very wide relevance. The rationalist drawing away from nonrational sources of relationship creates the solitary; Sue is that, as she implies when, considering marriage because of the arrival of Father Time, she remarks, sadly," … I feel myself getting intertwined with my kind" (V, 3). Precisely. But she is unwilling to be quite the solitary, and for such a person, the anchorite in search of an appropriate society, the natural dream is a private utopia—an endless unconsummated idyl with a single infinitely devoted lover.

At the heart of the drama of Sue is the always simmering revolt of the modes of life which she rejects, the devious self-assertion of the rejected values. Hence much of her inconsistency, of the maddening reversals that constitute a natural coquetry, the wonderfully dramatized mystery that simply stands on its own until the clues appear in the final section. Sue cannot really either reject or accept men, and in attempting to do both at once she leaves men irritated or troubled or desperate, and herself not much better off. She revolts against conventions, but never without strain; and here Hardy introduces an inner drama of conventions far more significant than the criticisms leveled by Jude and Sue. He detects in conventions, not merely inflexible and irrational pressures from without, but a power over human nature because of the way in which human nature is constituted. Sue is one of the first characters in fiction to make the honest mistake of regarding a convention as only a needless constraint and forgetting that it is a needed support, and hence of failing to recognize that the problem admits of no easy pros or cons. As a social critic Hardy may deplore the rigidity of conventions or the severity of their impact, but as an artist he knows of their ubiquity in human experience and of their inextricability from consciousness. They are always complexly present in the drama. At first Jude thinks that there is "nothing unconventional" in Sue (III, 2); then he decides that "you are as innocent as you are unconventional" (III , 4); still later he accuses her of being "as enslaved to the social code as any woman I know" (IV, 5). The Sue who is devastatingly witty about institutions finds herself constantly acting in terms of traditional patterns. On one occasion she assures Jude that "she despised herself for having been so conventional" (III, 10); on another she has to acknowledge, "I perceive I have said that in mere convention" (IV, 1); and above all she says to Phillotson, "… I, of all people, ought not to have cared what was said, for it was just what I fancied I never did care for. But … my theoretic unconventionality broke down" (IV, 3). Then Jude, shocked when she joins him but will not sleep with him, finds relief in the thought that she has "become conventional" rather than unloving, "Much as, under your teaching, I hate convention …" (IV, 5). Here she is not clear herself, and she falls back mainly upon a concept whose conventionality she appears not to recognize, "woman's natural timidity." It is then that Jude accuses her of being "enslaved to the social code" and that she replies, "Not mentally. But I haven't the courage of my views …" Her words betray the split between reason and feeling, between the rational critique of the forms and the emotional reliance upon them. This steady trail of comments, clashes, and partial acknowledgments leads up to the key event: in Christminster, she catches sight of Phillotson on the street, and she tells Jude," … I felt a curious dread of him; an awe, or terror, of conventions I don't believe in" (VI , 1). It is the turning point; her suppressed emotions, her needs, so long harried by her "reason," are seriously rebelling at last. "Reason" can still phrase her assessment of the event: "I am getting as superstitious as a savage!" Jude can lament the days "when her intellect played like lambent lightning over conventions and formalities" (VI , 3) and somewhat complacently attack her for losing her "scorn of convention" (VI , 8). But the defensiveness behind these criticisms soon emerges: as the defender of reason, Jude has also failed to find emotional anchorage, and his new independence of mind has provided him with no sustaining affirmations; and so he must blame Sue for deserting him.

Hardy has faithfully followed the character of Sue and has not let himself be deflected by his own sermonizing impulses. From the beginning he senses the split in her make-up—between rejections made by the mind, and emotional urgencies that she cannot deny or replace. If she is an "epicure in emotions," it may partly be, as she says apologetically, because of a "curiosity to hunt up a new sensation" (III, 7), but mostly it is that a turmoil of emotions will not let the mind, intent on its total freedom, have its own way. Much more than he realizes Jude speaks for both of them when he says "And [our feelings] rule thoughts" (IV, 1). Sue's sensitivity, her liability to be "hurt," is real, but she uses it strategically to cut off Jude's and Phillotson's thoughts when they run counter to those that she freely flings about; understandably Jude exclaims, "You make such a personal matter of everything!" (Ill, 4) Exactly; what appears to be thought is often personal feeling that must not be denied. Answerability, in ordinary as well as special situations, shakes her. On buying the Venus and Apollo she "trembled" and at night "kept waking up" (II, 3). When the school inspector visits, she almost faints, and Phillotson's arm around her in public makes her uncomfortable (II, 5). Repeatedly her feelings are very conventional: her embarrassment when Jude comes into the room where her wet clothes are hanging (III , 3), her discomfort after rebelling at school (III , 5), her jealousy of Arabella (III, 6; V, 2, 3). She is "evidently touched" by the hymn that moves Jude, she finds it "odd … that I should care about" it, and she continues to play it (IV, 1). She is "rather frightened" at leaving Phillotson (IV , 5). When she refuses to sleep with Jude, it is less that she is "epicene" and "boyish as a Ganymede" (III, 4) or that her "nature is not so passionate as [his]" (IV, 5) than that joining Jude is an act of mind, of principled freedom, that does not have emotional support. Hence her singular scruple that "my freedom has been obtained under false pretences!" (V, 1)—a rationalizing of feelings that, for all of her liking of Jude, run counter to their mode of life. Hardy rightly saw that only some very powerful emotional urgency could get her over the barrier between Jude and herself, and he supplies that in her jealousy of Arabella. It is a common emotion that her mind would want to reject: and it is notable that after giving in to Jude she give voice to another conventional feeling—assuring him, and herself, that she is "not a cold-natured, sexless creature" (V, 2).

In a series of penetrating episodes whose cumulative effect is massive. Hardy shows that her emotions cannot transcend the community which her mind endeavors to reject. With a deficiency of the feeling needed to sustain the courses laid out by the detached critical intellect, she would predictably return under pressure, to whatever form of support were available, to those indeed to which, while professing other codes, she has regularly been drawn. Though it would not take too much pressure, Hardy serves several ends at once by introducing the violent trauma of the death of the children. From here on he has only to trace, as he does with devastating thoroughness and fidelity, the revenge of the feelings that, albeit with admirable intellectual aspirations, Sue has persistently endeavored to thwart. They now counter-attack with such force mat they make her a sick woman. Although her self-judgments take the superficial form of tragic recognition, what we see is less the recovery that accompanies the tragic anagnorisis than the disaster of a personality distorted by the efforts to bear excessive burdens and now blindly seeking, in its misery, excessive punishments. Illness is something other than tragic.

Whatever Hardy may have felt about the course ultimately taken by Sue, he was utterly faithful to the personality as he imagined and slowly constructed it. That is his triumph. His triumph, however, is not only his fidelity to the nature of Sue, but the perception of human reality that permitted him to constitute her as he did. We could say that he envisaged her, a bright but ordinary person, attempting the career that would be possible only to the solitary creative intellect, the artist, the saint, whose emotional safety does lie in a vision somewhere beyond that of the ordinary community. Sue does not have that vision; she is everyman. She is everyman entirely familiar to us: her sense of the imperfections around her leads her into habitual rational analysis that tends to destroy the forms of feeling developed by the historical community and to be unable to find a replacement for them. The insistence on the life of reason has become increasingly emphatic in each century of modern life, and Sue as the relentless critic of institutions incarnates the ideal usually held up to us in abstract terms. On the other hand, as if in defiance of rationalist aspirations, the twentieth century has seen destructive outbreaks of irrational force that would have been supposed incredible in the nineteenth. But a still more impressive modern phenomenon, since it entirely lacks the air of aberration, is a growing concern with the threat of intellect to the life of feelings and emotions. From some of the most respected guides of modern thought come warnings against arid rationality, and visions of a reconstructed emotional life essential to human safety and well-being. The present relevance of such cultural history is that it contributes to our understanding of Hardy: in Jude the Obscure, and primarily in the portrayal of Sue, he went to the heart of a modern problem long before it was understood as a problem. Yet the "modern" is not topical, for the problem is rooted in the permanent reality of human nature. Neurotic Sue gives us, in dramatic terms, an essential revelation about human well-being.

Richard Benvenuto (essay date 1970)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5611

SOURCE: "Modes of Perception: The Will to Live in Jude the Obscure", in Studies in the Novel, Vol . 11, No. 1, 1970, pp. 31-41.

[In the following essay, Benvenuto observes two differing modes of perception in Jude the Obscure: an objective, amoral mode that is indifferent to humanity and Jude's idealist, personalizing mode wherein lies the stonecutter's desire to live.]

The Fury that greeted the first appearance of Jude the Obscure has long since subsided, yet we are no closer than its reviewers were to an agreement upon Hardy's intent in the novel or the caliber of his performance in it. Jude is not an especially difficult novel; it continues to divide its readers, however, because it imposes upon them what are, by Victorian standards, rigorous and unusual demands. Until the final chapters of Jude, Hardy commits himself and the reader to the life of his hero and to the high-minded courage and independence Jude shows in adversity. His character is one of Hardy's strongest arguments for the value and dignity a man can possess in a world that is alien to the ideals of humanity. When Jude says, "Well—I'm an outsider to the end of my days," not knowing how close he is to the end, he brings down the novel's condemnation on a system that behind its walls isolates itself from intelligence and integrity. 1 At the end of the novel, faced with what amounts to a reversal of judgment, our sense of identification with Jude is strained to the critical point. Jude curses himself and bitterly denounces those ideals and actions that made up his life and gave it tragic power and won him our approval and respect. We can understand Jude's vision of himself as a modern Job, but I cannot agree with him that it would have been better had he never lived. If Jude the Obscure has anything to say to us, it is that the world needs more Judes, not fewer or none at all.

When he curses the day of his birth, Jude speaks out of a broken spirit and in a semi-delirium. We would as a matter of course see in his last words the tragic fall and defeat of a man who is no longer a reliable witness for himself or the novel's norms and vision of life. Surely Hardy is not telling men that it would have been better for them if they had not been born. But we cannot assume even that much, because we cannot readily dissociate Jude's summation of his life from the novel's pervasive image of life. Early in the novel, the narrator spoke of Jude's "weakness of character"—his sensitivity to cruelties inflicted on life—which "suggested that he was the sort of man who was born to ache a good deal before the fall of the curtain upon his unnecessary life should signify that all was well with him again" (p. 13). The narrator combines an ironic with a literal mode of discourse and implies two perspectives from which man can be viewed and judged. The narrator speaks ironically about Jude's "weakness" of character, but his conclusion that Jude's life is "unnecessary" is the exact corollary of his recognition that the general scheme of life does not conform to man's scale of values. We understand Jude's "weakness" to be a strength of character, because we see Jude's sensitivity from another, more humanizing perspective than that of the general scheme for which it is a defect. The humanizing perspective, if it is expanded to cover all of Jude's life, reveals the necessity of his life, just as it recognizes the value of his sympathy for the birds in Troutham's fields. To hold to that perspective is to read irony where the narrator does not intend it. The narrator switches his mode of discourse when he passes from a part to the whole of Jude's life, and he concludes that life is meaningless because it must be lived in a scheme of things that turns moral resources into physical hardships. Essentially the same reason leads Jude to conclude that his life has been meaningless, and Hardy's critics have split into two camps which dispute whether pleasure or knowledge is possible from a novel with that conclusion. By taking the general perspective as the only one that matters in Jude, neither side attends to Hardy's vision of life from within its own frame of reference or feels the weight of his argument against the wish not to live.

The two perspectives in Jude are revealed through two modes of perception which elicit contrary values and meanings from human life. The perceptual modes are perhaps different in degree rather than in kind—a character at any given moment may occupy a point midway between the two—but they are easily distinguishable as extremes; and it is upon the polarity of the two that Hardy expresses his sense of human life in Jude. The mode of perception that sees Jude's life to be "unnecessary" is objective and universal in its frame of reference. It has accurate knowledge of the laws governing life and recognizes that the general scheme of things—the universal forces that act as laws in a man's life—is amoral and indifferent to man. To see man objectively is to see him as minute and isolated within the general impersonality of existence. This is Father Time's mode of perception: "The boy seemed to have begun with the generals of life, and never to have concerned himself with the particulars." He does not see "houses," "willows," or "fields," but rather "human dwellings in the abstract, vegetation, and the wide dark world" (p. 334). He sees "the particulars" of life, and especially individual happiness, to be an illusion. He concludes that "All laughing comes from misapprehension. Rightly looked at there is no laughable thing under the sun" (p. 332). From the objective mode of perception, which for Father Time is "right," human life is an irrelevant anomaly from the general scheme of things, and it is therefore a hardship he can find no reason to endure. He tells Sue on the evening before his suicide, "I wish I hadn't been born!" (p. 402). He wishes not to live with a horrendous insistence that does not let him wait for the curtain of death to fall on its own and signify to him that all is well for his unnecessary life.

Father Time is wrong to kill himself and the other children, of course, just as Jude is wrong about himself on his death bed. The child's objective awareness of the insignificance of life has led him to treat people as though they were no more significant in themselves than they are for the conditions in which they live. He sees himself and others as superfluous, or as his note explains: "Done because we are too menny" (p. 405). In direct contrast to his son, Jude refused to kill "a single one" of the "scores" of earthworms covering the road between Troutham's field and his aunt's cottage (p. 13). Jude's mode of perception is individualistic and emotive; its frame of reference is composed of specific living things, which are as important for. Jude as the abstract scheme is for Father Time. Jude's perception personalizes the world: it makes what he sees an extension of himself and endows it with human values. "He could scarcely bear to see trees cut down or lopped, from a fancy that it hurt them …" (p. 13). Father Time makes his image of self conform to his conception of the universe. Jude makes his conception of the universe conform to his image of self. His initial perceptions of Christminster project his individual yearnings and desires outward with such force that for his mind the scheme of things becomes as personal and as morally fitted to man as for Father Time's mind it is indifferent and inhumane. Jude perceives even inanimate nature as a reflection of human personality and emotions: "You," he said, addressing the breeze caressingly, 'were in Christminster city between one and two hours ago … touching Mr. Phillotson's face, being breathed by him; and now you are here, breathed by me—you, the very same'" (pp. 21-22). Though Jude is eventually disillusioned by Christminster and comes to see it and external nature more objectively the mode of vision which he possessed on top of the Brown House remains as a part of his consciousness, and it operates within the novel as a corrective against the a priori disillusionment of Father Time.

Neither the personal nor the objective mode of perception perceives life completely, and both Jude and Father Time suffer because of their limitations. Their perceptions, moreover, take shape within a larger mental pattern or system of beliefs about life. When Jude sees Christminster as "a city of light," and when Father Time watches his fellow passengers laughing in the absence of any cause for laughter "under the sun," they convert their perceptions into judgments of life. The mode in which they see life becomes for each a basis for evaluating life. Perception and judgment become one and the same act. The Christminster that Jude perceives as a child is simultaneously a moral standard, a criterion by which he measures conditions in Marygreen and to which he, as an individual, aspires. He yearns for Christminster to be a place "which he could call admirable" (p. 24), and he immediately concludes, with no further evidence than what he can supply from within himself, that "It would just suit me" (p. 25). His vision of Christminster shapes what it sees according to what it values. It is ambiguous, therefore, whether the Christminster, that Jude sees is more truly an object of perception—a spot on the landscape—or an emanation of his moral sensibility. "It was Christminster, unquestionably," that Jude saw, "either directly seen, or miraged in the peculiar atmosphere" (p. 10). It is both: "directly seen" by Jude's personalized mode of vision, whose medium is the "peculiar atmosphere" of Jude's moral values.

Jude is an idealist, but he is not thereby guilty of an illusionistic fantasy of which his growing up or the real world only can cure him. His mode of perception does not disguise truth from him. It enables him to see individual existences as real and to respect them as valuable. It keeps Hardy's novel from reducing itself to Father Time's wish not to live.2 Father Time's perception is objectively accurate for a world which, when seen as a whole, has many sorrows and little joy, but it is no less than Jude's an act of evaluation as well as of vision. And the consequences of Father Time's perceptual judgment pose a far greater threat to human life than do those of Jude's. Father Time's perception corrupts his appreciation of even those few joys which sensitive minds can experience. The pavilion of flowers at the great Wessex Agricultural Show is "an enchanted palace" to the "appreciative taste" of Sue and Jude. It provides the single glimpse of unalloyed happiness the reader has of them. The lovers press their faces to the flowers and speak of "Greek joyousness" and escape from sorrow. Father Time, the only shadow on the scene, refuses to participate with them. '" I am very, very sorry, father and mother,' he said. 'But please don't mind—I can't help it. I should like the flowers very very much, if I didn't keep on thinking they'd be all withered in a few days!'" (p. 358). The words condense the issues of the entire novel to an image or a tableau. Father Time's perception of the conditions of mortal life is correct: the flowers will wither and die like all other forms of life. But because the flowers will decay, they are as good as dead for Father Time even while they are in bloom and beautiful. He denies value to individual life because he perceives the flowers not as they are in themselves, but as they are subject to universal laws. His perception and his judgment take place in the abstract, while the flowers exist in a specific moment. The point is not that one mode of perception is to be preferred, but that there are two modes of perception and two value systems by which Jude the Obscure sees and assesses human life. By contraposing the personalized to the objectifying mode of vision, the pavilion scene reveals life to be a source of joy and value as well as an object of despair.

In showing us the flowers before they wither, the pavilion scene stands out from the novel, and at the same time it heightens the dilemma in which Hardy places his human beings. Hardy is not content to divide human experience into two opposing perspectives. Rather, he suggests the need for syncretization of the two. It is clearly important to his design that we see the validity of Sue's conclusion that "Nature's law" is "mutual butchery" (p. 371), and that we share the narrator's "perception of the flaw in the terrestrial scheme, by which what was good for God's birds was bad for God's gardener …" (p. 13). The novel's recurrent perception of life is from the objective mode, which sees men trapped on the one side by the forces of evolutionary nature and on the other by the rigid systems of social conformity. It is equally important to Hardy's design that we see the significance of men themselves and of individual living things, apart from the forces enclosing them.3 Given "the flaw in the terrestrial scheme," the flowers are beautiful at the time Sue and Jude enjoy them. If to know life fully one must perceive the general laws governing life, to be willing to live he must perceive individual lives as sources of value. To disregard either mode of perception is to oversimplifly Hardy's vision of life and to reduce considerably the tension of emotions in Jude. The issue is whether man can will to live when he knows that life does not mean anything to the powers unaffected by his will—whether Jude in particular can sustain the mode of perception evoking his will to live as he acquires the mode that negates it. Because perceptions take on a normative function, moreover, it is vital for each mode of perceptual judgment to adhere to its own frame of reference—the personalized or the objective—and not transgress the other's. Jude made his frustration inevitable by taking the Christminster of his personalized perception for an objective standard of value in the universe. He seeks outside of himself the "heavenly Jerusalem" his vision created. Famer Time is equally, if not more mistaken. He allows his objective knowledge of an inhuman universe to dehumanize all value out of individual lives and to be a sentence of death upon himself.

His verdict—"It would be better to be out o' the world than in it …" (p. 402)—applies to the personal perspective of life the reductive logic of Father Time's objective mode of perception. Because he can see no meaning for life in a transcendent pattern of existence, Father Time denies any possibility for value in the act of living itself, and he does so with horrifying consistency: "I think that whenever children be born that are not wanted they should be killed directly, before their souls come to 'em, and not allowed to grow big and walk about!" (p. 402). The immediate causes of Father Time's despair are his father's having to take lodgings in another house and the family's economic peril. As is manifest in his violent reaction to the news of Sue's pregnancy, the actual cause is his judgment that life is not a sufficient reason for the suffering men incur while living. The universe which reduces men to isolated, suffering units becomes Father Time's moral reference, the basis from which he argues for the direct killing of children "that are not wanted. …" Because it dehumanizes men into conformity with the inhumane, his proposal is an outrage against humanity and human values and a direct challenge to the personalized mode of perception. It is, therefore, critically important to know whether the novel makes an adequate reply.

In so far as it is informed by the narrator's mode of perceptual judgment, the novel does not reply. The narrator, though not to the unrelieved exclusiveness of Father Time, sees the world from the objective mode and is aware of personalized values only as ironically incongruous to the general scheme of things. He is sensitive to Jude's ambition to become a classical scholar, but his perspective reduces Jude to a helpless, pathetic figure waiting for guidance in a world where nobody came to guide him because "nobody does …" (p. 32). Though he speaks frequently in his own person elsewhere, the narrator makes no comment on Father Time's suicide or on his method of dispensing with unwanted children. Like Father Time, the narrator cannot see the particulars of life fully in their own light, because of his concern with "the generals of life …" (p. 334). Father Time's refusal to enjoy the roses that are beautiful and living, because they are doomed to decay, converts an accurate perception from the objective perspective into a false evaluation in the personalized perspective. An abstracting perception of what will be conditions his judgment of what is. When referring to Jude's "unnecessary life," the narrator blinds himself to the particular beauty and impact of that life because he perceives that it will have no account in the cosmic sum of things. Of course it will not; yet this does not prevent Hardy from considering Jude a very important man. The narrator speaks for what we know Hardy's cosmic vision to have been, but he should not be taken for what Wayne Booth calls a novel's "implied author."4 His consciousness of life's meaning and value does not delimit the novel's portrait of life. The narrator tends to reduce the details of life to theorems about life and to see particular events in the light of what one can generally expect from life. His portrait of life is sometimes a stereotyped one.

This is true of the way he sees marriage, which shows the influence of objective realities upon the narrator's perceptual judgment of specific experience. Hardy wanted the marriage laws reformed, and he expressed his views of the general state of matrimony through the narrator's indignation at a society that calmly accepted the first exchange of vows between Jude and Arabella (pp. 65-66). But the narrator seldom sees more of marriage than what a stereotype of marriage would condition him to see. In this respect, he is very like Sue, who convinces herself of what marriage is before she marries. For both, marriage is fatal to love, as though by universal law. Hence, the narrator singles out Arabella and Cartlett as illustrating "the antipathetic, recriminatory mood of the average husband and wife of Christendom" (p. 357)—a judgment he does not corroborate with evidence drawn from their married life, the typicalness of which we have no way of knowing. Jude and Arabella's landlord "doubted if they were married at all, especially as he had seen Arabella kiss Jude one evening when she had taken a little cordial; and he was about to give them notice to quit, till by chance overhearing her one night haranguing Jude in rattling terms, and ultimately flinging a shoe at his head, he recognized the note of genuine wedlock; and concluding that they must be respectable, said no more" (pp. 465-66). It is a bad marriage, but equally bad is the logic that makes affection dependent upon alcohol and equates respectability with violence.5 This is not to say that Hardy's logic was flawless and easily distinguishable from his narrator's. It is to point out that the narrator, Sue, and Father Time have fixed, undeviating minds. Once they seize the general law, they feel qualified to judge as though they knew all the particulars.

We need to be more cautious of identifying the discursive commentator in Hardy's fiction with the novelist who created him, and especially because, as most critics have noted, the commentary of the novels is usually inept beside the dramatic power of their scenes. The pig killing, with its open conflict between Arabella's pragmatism and Jude's idealism, is particularly successful in relating perceptual mode to moral judgment. Arabella and Jude reveal what they are by how they perceive inhuman conditions. Jude sees the killing as "a hateful business"; Arabella replies simply that "Pigs must be killed" (p. 75). Taken in context, their contrary modes of perception extend to the inevitable death awaiting all living things. For Arabella the pig is merely an object with no value independent from its subjugation to the domain of general law: "Poor folks must live" (p. 75). Her perception neither falsifies things as they are nor comprehends them fully. Objectively, there is no inherent value in the pig, but Arabella recognizes no value in man's ability to personalize his world in a way that defines the ethical norms of his humanity. In effect, she denies value to men as well as to pigs, to those who perceive as well as to what they perceive. Perceiving the world to be a collection of objects governed only by the law of self-preservation, she gets rid of the inconvenient presence of her child, and she reacts to Jude's death in precisely the same way as she did to the pig's. Her mode of perception makes no distinction between the two. She gives the love-philter to Vilbert while Jude is dying, because "Weak women must provide for a rainy day" (p. 485). As with its parallel, "Poor folks must live," the objective conformity of this perception to general law corrupts and dehumanizes specific human values. It results in a fixed judgment of life in a world of objects, between which and itself the perceiving mind sees no qualitative difference. Like Father Time's and the narrator's, Arabella's mode of perception does not confer value upon men.6

Jude's mode of perception does, though he suffers because of it. Indeed, his greatness derives in large measure from the suffering he endures because he does not dehumanize his vision into conformity with the impersonal laws of nature. The spilled pail of pig's blood formed "a dismal, sordid, ugly spectacle—to those who saw it as other than an ordinary obtaining of meat" (p. 75), to a Jude, that is, who sees the spectacle as emblematic of his moral responsibility to life.7 The necessity of the killing outrages his emotions and ideals; and though he was "aware of his lack of common sense," he "felt dissatisfied with himself as a man at what he had done …" (p. 76). His common sense and his feelings relate to the different perspectives in which a given event may be seen. By placing himself under the judgment of his feelings despite his common sense, he makes moral standards relevant to an event that has only pragmatic meaning to the morally indifferent Arabella. Without denying his common sense or submitting to it, Jude by personalizing the world spiritualizes it. As his common sense develops and as he becomes more objectively aware of the world, his feeling for life intensifies and the perception which spiritualizes life becomes more active and urgent within him. He pities Arabella as an "unreflecting fellow-creature" (p. 319), though he knows how she has used him; he has deep compassion for Father Time before he has seen the boy (p. 330). He perceives that Sue is "not worth a man's love" (p. 470), but he continues to love her. The truth of one mode of perception does not alter the importance of his love. 8 Neither his pity nor his love is ever repaid, but that does not mean he was foolish because he loved. It is precisely because Jude's ideals exist nowhere else but in his personalizing vision that Hardy stresses its importance as a mode of perception.

Critics too often give Hardy the role of grim realist dissecting the idealistic fallacies of self-deluded men. What he reveals through Jude is that under the grim reality of an indifferent universe only a human mind can value specific, living things and perceive their reality, as Jude does with the pig, the earthworms, and the people he loves. Christminster is not the "heavenly Jerusalem" Jude once thought it. But Jude's continuing to value the city that should have been is as important to his character as his getting to know the city as it is. The indifferent universe does not dehumanize his spiritualizing vision. Rather, in a world without value, Jude's way of seeing becomes the only source of value. As he did with Sue, he continues to love Christminster, though he knows the city is not worth his love. He continues to value his own powers of thought and feeling, though he learns the incongruity of human consciousness to the general scheme of things. He knows that to succeed in the world one must adapt to the world's general conditions, and "be as coldblooded as a fish and as selfish as a pig to have a really good chance of being one of his country's worthies." Jude attempted instead to "reshape his course" to his own "aptness or bent"; he sought by his living to achieve his personalized image of life. Rather than condemn Jude's attempt as a misguided idealism, Hardy allows Jude to point out the common error of judging ways of life "not by their essential soundness, but by their accidental outcomes" (p. 393). Objectively a failure and knowing himself so, Jude still affirms the essential soundness of his life.

He has a will to live, which is something other than a grasping at survival, or what Jude calls a "save-your-own-soulism" (p. 330), because it questions the universe and the laws by which the universe functions. Jude does not deny or ignore the universal law by which men blindly struggle to survive; he refuses to accept that kind of law as a basis for his actions or as the measure of his ideals. When he returns to Christminster, totally enlightened as to the scheme of things, he delivers an impassioned defense of the spiritualizing, self-emanating mode of perception. He says he is "in a chaos of principles—groping in the dark—acting by instinct and not after example." The "fixed opinions" of his youth have "dropped away," and the further he goes the less sure he is—but not of himself. He has lost the certainty of a mind that rests upon "fixed opinions." The principles that seemed to apply to life are "in a chaos." But he does not replace the principles which he has lost from his personalized mode of vision with principles that belong to the objective mode of vision. He accepts the necessity of living without "fixed opinions" and replaces principles with feelings, "inclinations which do me and nobody else any harm, and actually give pleasure to those I love best" (p. 394). It is not a stunning victory for the spirit of man, but neither is it one that we can afford to overlook. To be sure, Christminster is the obsolescent, corrupt institution that Sue ridicules, but it also remains an ideal within Jude's consciousness, which creates value by virtue of Jude's capacity for love. "Why should you care so much for Christminster," Sue asks him. "Christminster cares nothing for you. …" Jude answers simply, "I love the place …" (p. 386). Like the guilt that he feels for killing the pig, Jude's love is illogical. It also keeps him from despair in a life without hope. It is his commitment to the little that remains to humanity in the midst of the inhumane.

Jude's love is the shaping force behind his personalizing vision, and it is what Father Time and the narrator leave out of their perceptions of life. "… if children make so much trouble," Father Time asks Sue, "why do people have 'em?" (p. 402). It is the question of the reason for existence and the value of life that Hardy poses through all of Jude. Sue's answer, "O—because it is a law of nature," generalizes the meaning of life and reduces men to the status of creatures swept along in the struggle for survival. Jude's love suggests another answer because it affirms the independence of human value, if not the independence of man's fate, from natural law and cosmic scheme. In his Christminster speech, Jude accepts his own obscurity, from the objective point of view, as irrelevant to the spiritual experience and value of life; and he sees that external laws and abstract norms do not constitute a fixed design for living. In "a chaos," he must find rules to live by within his own individuality. After the "senseless circumstance" of the children's death, his spiritual independence of self contrasts strongly to Sue's self-destructive acceptance of "something external to us which says, 'Yo u shan't!'" (p. 407). Jude shows the finest qualities of his love as a way of seeing when he comforts Sue, though he mourns for his children himself, though he watches her withdraw from him and destroy him. He is destroyed, but only when he stops loving, when his emotions lose their individualizing power and submit to the reductive logic of the objective universe. It is a tragic loss not only of "unfulfilled aims," as Hardy states in his "Preface," but of a vision of life that had fulfilled a man's essential humanity. In his death-bed despair, Jude is as wrong about himself as he was about Christminster in his idealism. We cannot agree that he should not have been born—we do not regret his failure to jump through the ice on the night Arabella left him. That impulse is part of the paternity of Father Time, but Jude outgrew his son and his son's logic of what to do with unwanted life. If we think of his last visit to Sue as a symbolic and successful return to the frozen pond, we grasp the tragic loss of a man whose soul came to him, who in his maturity and clearest senses spoke and acted as one who possessed, against the odds of logic, the will to live.


1Jude the Obscure (London, 1965), p. 396. Subsequent references to Jude are to this edition, called The Greenwood Edition.

2 A wide sentiment among Hardy's critics is summed up in Evelyn Hardy's remark that Jude is "a denial of life as we know it," although not all would agree with her that it "verges on the pathological. …" For Kathleen R. Hoopes, Jude's idealism is in conflict with the true and the real: "With the vanishing of his most precious ghosts, his will to live disintegrated, for he could not exist in the world of men." See Thomas Hardy: A Critical Biography (London, 1954), pp. 253, 246; and "Illusion and Reality in Jude the Obscure," Nineteenth-Century Fiction, XI I (September 1957), 157. In one of the better articles on Jude, "The Child: The Circus: and Jude the Obscure," The Cambridge Journal, VII (June 1954), 531-46, Emma Clifford recognizes that Jude's vision "remains a glorious vision … that is both sustained and destroyed in the garish atmosphere of Thomas Hardy's special kind of hell" (542).

3 Hardy often shrinks his characters to mere dots in a vast panorama, yet he does not treat them or the particulars of their lives as though they were insignificant. His "Preface" to Two on a Tower states that his aim was to set "the emotional history of two infinitesimal lives against the stupendous background of the stellar universe, and to impart to readers the sentiment that of these contrasting magnitudes the smaller might be the greater to them as men." In Jude, Hardy's art has matured and no longer needs a stupendous background, but his "sentiment" is fundamentally the same.

4The Rhetoric of Fiction (Chicago, 1961), pp. 71-77.

5 Reviewing Jude for Harper's Weekly on December 7, 1895, William Dean Howells advanced a moderate and sensible reading of Hardy's view of the marriage problem: "I f the experience of Jude with Arabella seems to arraign marriage, and it is made to appear not only ridiculous but impious that two young, ignorant, impassioned creatures should promise lifelong fealty and constancy when they can have no real sense of what they are doing, and that then they should be held to their rash vow by all the forces of society, it is surely not the lesson of the story that any other relation than marriage is tolerable for the man and woman who live together." Howells' review has been reprinted in Thomas Hardy and His Readers: A Selection of Contemporary Reviews, ed. Laurence Lerner and John Holmstrom (London, 1968), pp. 115-17, esp. p. 117.

6 Arabella's undeniable will to survive is more mechanical than vital, a predatory instinct and not a human alternative to the wish not to live. She is as destructive to life as Father Time is, and in the egotism which preserves her, she is the most spiritually impoverished of the main characters in Jude. Defenders of Arabella tend to exaggerate the health and freedom of her spirit as compared with Sue's neurotic indecisiveness, and they obscure her close affinities with the unscrupulous Vilbert.

7 Cf. Arthur Mizener, "Jude the Obscure As A Tragedy." The Southern Review, VI (1940), 205-6. The mighty opposites of tragedy that Mizener does not find in Jude and Arabella exist in the differing modes of perception that constitute the novel.

8 As A. Alvarez observes in his "Afterword" to Jude the Obscure (New York: Signet Classics Edition, 1961), "… the truth and power of the novel lie in the way in which Jude, in the end, is able to understand his love for Sue without lessening it" (p. 410, original italics).

Shalom Rachman (essay date 1972)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6642

SOURCE: "Character and Theme in Hardy," in English, Vol. 22, No. 110, Summer, 1972, pp. 45-53.

[In the following essay, Rachman perceives two major themes in Jude the Obscure—those relating to the flesh and those relating to the spirit—and describes how these two themes come into conflict in the novel.]

Whether it be The Return of the Native, Tess of the D'urbervilles, or Jude the Obscure that is Hardy's best, all-round achievement in the field of the novel is a matter not yet indisputably settled. Divided opinion in this respect can only lead to further fruitful critical discussion. What needs to be recognized however, is that Jude has a particular importance, not only among Hardy's own novels but among all English novels of the close of the nineteenth century. This importance confers upon Jude a singular position, not so much in terms of the developing craft of fiction as in the history of the novel as a reflection of man in society and in the cosmos. Both in date of publication, 1895, and in the vision of the world it embodies, Jude marks the point of division between nineteenth-century moderate optimism and twentieth-century pervasive gloom. The book looks back to early nineteenth-century Romanticism, and foreshadows the restlessness, the isolation of the individual, the collapse of old values, and the groping towards new ones, all of which have become the hall-marks of serious twentieth-century fiction. Jude himself is the last full-blooded romantic. In his passionate nature and in his high aspirations he shares much with Dorothea Brooke, but his world is shot through with elements utterly unknown in hers. The causes for this century's change in the conception of human nature are many, but if we want to look for some of them in the field of the novel, one of the books that will be most rewarding for such a study is Jude. When Hardy wrote the book he had never heard of any Freudian theories, and certainly did not think a world war likely, and yet somehow the book anticipates these two turning-points which have left indelible imprints on the consciousness of this century. After reading the book many developments of the twentieth century seem hardly surprising.

In what is to my mind one of the most perceptive essays on Hardy's novels, Eugene Goodheart makes the following remarks:

'Hardy's novels are in a sense demonstrations of the inadequacy of the Romantic conception … Hardy, though possessing the old Romantic feeling for personality, shared the Victorian burden of society … The dates of his birth and death, 1840-1928, dramatise the situation. By temperament a Romantic, he was born too late to be one. Born too early to be a modern, he lived too far into the modern period, sharing to some extent its awareness, to be considered a true Victorian.'1

The peculiar characteristics of Hardy, the man and his times, are suggested here, and these are particularly demonstrated in Jude since, as Walter Allen says, Jude 'is his one attempt to write a novel strictly of his own times'. 2 Hardy's temperament was fundamentally poetic, and this accounts not only for his achievement in poetry but also for the special quality of his fiction. Nature, time, society, institutions, religion, heredity, all engaged his interest. In Jude he held nothing back and projected his total awareness of man and his universe. The handling of a multiplicity of issues poses for the artist the basic problem of the organization of his material, and partly because of the variety of issues dealt with, partly because he was more a feeler than a thinker, the question of organization was beyond Hardy's ability to solve satisfactorily.

To introduce all the themes into the novel and to bring it to its envisaged end, Hardy found it necessary to create coincidences and manipulate events in a manner that is unsuited to what is essentially a realistic novel. The case of Little Father Time is often cited as the most glaring example of an artistic blunder, but the objections raised on this account are not completely justified. J. I. M.

Stewart's stricture that 'his [Father Time's] final deed has no more substance than last night's nightmare, and in the whole book it is perhaps this small epitome of woe that chiefly gives the game away' is, I think, questionable, and betrays a lack of patience in understanding what Hardy is doing or what he is trying to say. Stewart goes on to say that 'we are having foisted on us as human life a puppet show that is not human life; and this is something which neither tragedy nor comedy—and far less anything bearing the credentials of realistic fiction—ought to be'. 3 But it is precisely because of its human life, the characters in it, that Jude for all its shortcomings remains a considerable achievement.

In the preface to the first edition of the book, Hardy wrote:

' …Jude the Obscure is simply an endeavour to give shape and coherence to a series of seemings, or personal impressions, the question of their consistency or their discordance, of their permanence or their transitoriness, being regarded as not of the first moment.' 4

It is here that the crux of a critical assessment of Jude is to be found. I take it that the coherence of the 'seemings' and the 'personal impressions' has to do with the characters. However, the explicit problematic aspects of Jude and the intrinsic states of Jude and Sue are not always consistently harmonized. The above statement is evidence enough that Hardy was aware of the dissonant notes struck in the book, and that his interest predominantly lay in the personal, human predicament rather than in the complex of forces introduced, in respect of which he was not quite sure of his stand. No wonder then mat the book has fared poorly at the hands of the critics.

Albert J. Guerard's study of Hardy is generally a highly competent and accomplished piece of work. About Jude, however, he starts off by stating that it is 'an impressive tragedy in spite of its multiplicity of separated and detachable problems', 5 repeats later that 'it is not realism but tragedy, and like all tragedy is symbolic', 6 and finally says that 'Jude is not… a tragic hero—if only because he is a modern',7 and that 'the cosmos, whether just or unjust indifferent, necessarily dwarfs tragedy'.8 Guerard also argues that Jude's dying words are condemnation of the cosmos and that the tragic attitude lays the blame not on the stars but on ourselves. Obviously there is some inconsistency here. If Jude's dying words can be taken as a condemnation of the cosmos, they can equally be taken as a condemnation of his own nature as part of the cosmos. If the novel is an 'impressive tragedy', it cannot at the same time be a dwarfed one. The so-called cosmic forces in Jude are not conceived of as the sole determinants of Jude's fate, and why does the cosmos necessarily dwarf the tragedy? Why cannot it enhance it? Hardy's intention, as stated in his preface to the first edition, was 'to point the tragedy of unfulfilled aims'. If what is basic to all conceptions of tragedy is the opposition of an individual human being to some huge undefeatable force or forces, then Jude is a tragedy. It is not of the Greek type, as Lascelles Abercrombie points out.9 It is not of the Shakespearian type, by which standard Arthur Mizener examines it and finds it wanting. 10 It is a tragedy of the romantic temperament frustrated in all the spheres in which it seeks to express itself. It is an awakening of the consciousness to all the contradictory aspects of the combined forces, inner and outer, which evoke the desire of complete fulfilment and yet, at the same time, thwart and defeat it. The only attainable wish which remains is death.

In the speech Jude makes to the crowd of people around him at Christminster on his return there with Sue and their children he says, 'I am in a chaos of principles—groping in the dark—acting by instinct and not after example' (p. 337). Earlier in the book in a conversation with Sue, he tells her that feelings rule thoughts (p. 211). The book as a whole reflects the state of perplexity of its characters, of its time, and of its author. The inconsistency in Hardy's 'impressions' is, to no small extent, the reason for the 'chaos of principles'. There is greater certainty as regards feeling and uncertainty as regards thought. This is not to suggest that there is a paucity of thought in the book. On the contrary, there is a good deal of thought in it, but the difficulty arises out of the contradictory aspects seen in each issue, and the impossibility of reconciling the contrarieties. Thought, therefore, loses its authority and feeling alone is left as a guide. Yet to resolve the perplexity it is necessary for feeling and thought to harmonize.

At one point in the book Hardy makes the following statement:

'The purpose of a chronicler of moods and deeds does not require him to express his personal views upon the grave controversy above given (p. 298).' [The grave controversy has to do with the indeterminate attitudes of Jude and Sue in regard to their marriage.]

Hardy records not only moods but also the conditions out of which the moods arise. In Jude he makes little direct authorial comment. The characters' deeds are given in the narrative; their moods and views are presented either through internal analysis or in dialogue. The author's view emerges indirectly from the combined statements of the action and reaction of the characters. Action and re-action are of course related to the problems with which the characters are concerned, and the problems involve the numerous themes. The various images introduced are used to help express character and theme, and to establish the connection between them. Each group of images is related to a theme, but it also forms a facet of a character.

Arabella, we are told, is a 'female animal', and she is very often associated with pigs and strong drink. The pig's pizzle that Arabella throws at Jude is the direct cause for the beginning of the relationship between them.

Critics point out that no better image could be found to hint at the nature of the attraction that brings the two together. Pigs, pizzle, strong drink, the picture of Samson and Delilah at the inn where Jude and Arabella have a drink, masculine strength and passion, and female sexuality and treachery, all bring out Jude's susceptibility to fall prey to physical desire, female wiles, and drink. This is perhaps the simplest illustration of the manner by which a cluster of images centre on a theme—the flesh—and at the same time serve as a means by which the character is created. A more complex example is the theme of Christminster worked out through Jude's and Sue's subjective vision of it and through the actual events of indeed the whole novel.

Marriage is another theme that is used to qualify the intrinsic qualities of the characters. Whilst Jude and Sue discuss the legal questions of marriage or its religious implications, it is primarily their personal states that are revealed. Their views on the subject as such, unorthodox as they may have seemed at the time of the book's publication, are of secondary importance. Sue's and Jude's involvement in marriage is part of the method by which their characters are established. We may say that Hardy weaves his themes into the very fibres of his characters. Hence it is necessary to examine the themes and how they are presented.

Two contradictory and irreconcilable aspects of Nature are put forward in the novel. On the one hand, there is what we may call the romantic view of nature, nature as the source of freedom, joy, and happiness. On the other hand, we have a growing awareness of the indifference and even inimical tendencies in Nature towards those elements with which, it would seem, she must most be in accord. After Jude gets a thrashing from Farmer Troutham for letting the birds eat off the soil from which he should have kept them away, he reflects that 'Nature's logic was too horrid for him to care for. That mercy towards one set of creatures was cruelty towards another sickened his sense of harmony' (p. 23). A few lines later we read, 'Then, like the natural boy, he forgot his despondency, and sprang up'. Nature's logic is horrid and incomprehensible, yet she works in a manner that conduces to further growth and is favourable to existence.

Nature has her own laws, 'People go on marrying because they can't resist natural forces…' (p. 268). Sue explains to little Father Time that people have children 'because it is a law of nature' (p. 344). When Jude returns to Melchester, a place near Shaston, where Sue, now married to Phillotson, lives, we are told that he did not remember that 'insulted Nature sometimes vindicated her rights' (p. 201). The rights seem to be vindicated and the two, Jude and Sue, are united, and for a short while live in relative happiness. After the disaster of the death of the children, Sue says this to Jude:

'We said—do you remember?—that we would make a virtue of joy. I said it was Nature's intention, Nature's law and raison d'être that we should be joyful in what instincts she afforded us—instincts which civilisation had taken upon itself to thwart' (p. 350).

There is considerable irony here. The instincts Nature afforded Sue are not at all what is normally taken as 'Nature's intention'. But what she says is fully applicable to Jude. Later, he implores her not to think ill of their union, pleading, 'Nature's own marriage it is, unquestionably!' (p. 363) and that 'human nature can't help being itself' (p. 365), thus attempting to justify his own conduct.

As against all this, we have Sue saying, upon realizing that her sold pigeons are destined to be slaughtered, 'O , why should Nature's law be mutual butchery' (p. 318), and Jude telling Sue that she had been intended by Nature to be left intact. Most of all, as things go ill for Jude from the start, he soon comes to realize 'the scorn of Nature for men's finer emotions, and her lack of interest in his aspirations' (p. 185). This is an awareness Sue arrives at later. She ends her speech about Nature's law and raison d'être quoted above by saying, 'An d now Fate has given us this stab in the back [the children's death] for being such fools as to take Nature at her word'. What Jude interprets as Nature's scorn, Sue sees as the working of Fate. Finally, we have Phillotson making the following statement when he considers Sue's and his own misfortunes: 'Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society' (p. 329). Nature's laws are disharmonious. Nature and Fate conspire against men. Human nature is part of Nature, yet Nature is in opposition to it. Society is much more in accord with the cruelty in Nature than the individual with either, though Phillotson's remark implies that the individual too may not altogether be free of cruelty. The unadulterated, romantic sensibility of the early nineteenth century has been disturbed by the impact of Darwinism, and recent social theories, and there is a growing awareness that the old, established standards are no longer adequate to sustain belief of any sort. What is to be noted is that the conflicting views are not presented as objectively observed experience, but arise out of and define specific, personal states.

Nowhere is the inconsistency Hardy alludes to in the preface to the first edition of the book more apparent than in the treatment of the marriage theme. Marriage qua institution is much abused by both Jude and Sue, but if we take the numerous protests against the marriage laws at their face value, we shall most probably overlook what really happens to the characters. Sue considers that marriage is no sacrament (p. 174), that in fact it is a sordid contract (p. 218), a hopelessly vulgar institution. She says to Jude, 'I think I should begin to be afraid of you, Jude, the moment you had contracted to cherish me under a Government Stamp, and I was licensed to be loved on the premises by you' (p. 267). This is not a view she holds as a result of her previous, unfortunate experience with Phillotson. Whilst she was still in Phillotson's house as his wife, she confided to Jude that

'the social moulds civilisation fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns' (p. 214).

Sue's actual shape, her delicate, disproportionate makeup, will not really fit into even the most flexibly conceived social mould, so long as it is a matrimonial mould. Her saying, 'It is none of the natural tragedies of love that's love's usual tragedy in civilised life, but a tragedy artificially manufactured for people' (p. 224) is a statement contrary to the evidence of events in the novel. What is actually shown in the novel is that love's tragedy is not at all artificial tragedy, but natural tragedy. It is Sue's fastidious and weak sexuality, or in other words her frigidity, that is the basic cause of love's tragedy in Jude. Sue's idea of having domestic laws made according to classified temperaments is fanciful and impracticable. In short, all Sue's pronouncements on marriage are a highly skilful camouflaging on her part of the fact which, put plainly as Jude puts it once to her, is her incapability of real love (p. 250). Had Hardy written the novel a decade or two later, he would most probably have made Sue's utterances carry allusions to modern psychological theories. As it is, she inveighs against conventions, institutions, and laws of her time to state a condition which, though not unrelated to them, is fundamentally not caused by them. Sue is not deliberately and coldly decrying the institution of marriage. She is simply making use of concepts and images at her disposal to construct her defensive arguments.

Similar instances are to be found in Jude's thoughts and utterances, in his case revealing a different aspect of character. Jude's thinking

'Is it that the women are to blame; or is it the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springes to noose and hold back those who want to progress?' (p. 226).

is no more than putting to himself a purely rhetorical question, for this is what he has come to believe. Although the domestic springes have noosed him, he has not been held back by them. His marriage to Arabella had only been a brief interlude after which he resumed his intended course, and what stands in his way to progress has, in the main, little to do with any domestic gins. The effect of couching Jude's reflections in such images is that the intellect of a man entertaining scholastic ambitions is somewhat blunted. At the same time his thought reveals that the momentary trouble is not progress, nor his own marital state, but his need of love, the sort of love Sue can never give him, though at this stage he does not know it yet.

Ostensibly there is a strong protest against the marriage laws of the time, but we are actually shown that what matters most is compatibility, and since in Jude we have both conditions—marriage and the 'natural state'—both leading to unhappiness, the edge of the protest is taken off. Marriage itself is much less of a problem than the way people go about it. Divorce is not unobtainable, and in fact is granted in both cases—Jude and Arabella; Sue and Phillotson; but the problem of compatibility remains, and it is the crucial aspects of the characters' different needs of fulfilment and the concomitant personal difficulties that are delineated through the associated theme and images.

Another central theme in Jude is that of Time. Jude's tragedy is occasioned by problems arising at a certain point of time as well as by timeless dilemmas. In so far as Jude is defeated by the prevailing conditions of his own time, he is a victim of forces against which the future may hold a remedy, but in so far as his fortunes are thwarted by the very fact of his existence in an unfriendly and inscrutable universe, there can never be a complete solution to man's predicament on this earth. The awareness that man is subject to time-bound and timeless agencies both of which happen to be in opposition to one's self, is overwhelming and tends to undermine the will to live.

The tragedy of Tess starts with her going to Alec D'urberville to claim kin, and there is good reason to believe that but for that step forced upon her by the economic difficulties of her family, all may have turned out well for her. In Jude's case there is no apparent reason for his turning away from the station of life in which he finds himself placed. At one point, whilst at Christminster at his work, he experiences 'a true illumination'—'that here in the stone yard was a centre of effort as worthy as that dignified by the name of scholarly study within the noblest of the colleges. But he lost it under stress of his old idea' (p. 91). His old idea of learning is partly due to his own characteristic bent, but for the greater part it is somehow induced by the spirit of his time, and we are told that the fact that he regards his trade as a provisional means only is 'his form of the modern vice of unrest'. Sue's tremulous psyche and Jude's high aspirations are seen as products of their time.

The spirit of the time conducing to change and displacement is everywhere at work, affecting people in different ways. Jude feels that a mere interest in books is not enough to gain 'rare ideas'. Every working man has now a taste for books, he thinks (p. 73). What he wants is the scholarly study he believes Christminster can offer him. It is not any new idea that stirs people to action; it is a general fret that sends them in quest of a better lot, without knowing exactly where and how it can be found. All four principal characters keep moving from place to place, and never find any rest. The direction of the impetus is from the lower social stratum upwards, but the energy is dissipated by the endless misadventures and no one reaches a rung higher.

When Jude realizes that he does not stand a chance in Christminster and contemplates entering the Church as a licentiate, he wonders whether his initial, more ambitious scheme 'had degenerated to, even though it might not have originated in, a social unrest which had no foundation in the nobler instincts; which was purely an artificial product of civilisation' (p. 135). As already observed above, Jude's desire for learning springs from his nobler instincts, but it is also related to his time. The social unrest is an artificial product of civilization but it is also the force that sets off Jude to seek fulfilment of his ambition. Are we then to take Jude's intent as a vice? An d if it is a vice, how can it be connected with the nobler instincts? The book does not provide an answer to such questions. Jude perceives in the stone yard that his trade is as dignified an effort as any, but from his childhood there are tendencies in his nature that make him the sort of man that could never really be content with the work of a stonemason.

Although Jude's thirst for knowledge is shared by thousands of young men, and although all are characteristic of the trend of the time, Jude's personal quest stands apart from the general stream. Whereas the mass of young men are 'self-seeking', Jude aims chiefly at altruism, at doing good and benefiting others. This is like facing in the opposite direction from the way things go. Soon after his arrival at Christminster, we are told that 'the deadly animosity of contemporary logic and vision towards so much of what he held in reverence was not revealed to him' (p. 91). It does not take him long to find that out, and though conditions change and the colleges of Christminster become accessible even to such as he later in his own days, his logic and his vision remain out of accord with contemporary tendencies. It is possible to trace the pattern of the changing trends. The widow Edlin, who is used as a choric figure, is there to remind us of a calm and simple past contrasted with the turmoil of the present, and there are two contradictory visions of the future. While Sue considers that in fifty or a hundred years people will act and feel still worse than she and Jude do (p. 296), Jude, on the other hand, lying on his death-bed, says that the time was not ripe for him and Sue—'Our ideas were fifty years too soon to be any good to us' (p. 414). The note of uncertainty as regards the future is unmistakable, but whatever the future may hold, the sombre undertones of the whole novel as well as its ending give little support to Jude's optimistic belief. To give substance to such a view it is necessary to consider Little Father Time, the only truly symbolic figure in the book.

Little Father Time is the embodiment of all the ill winds that have put the time out of joint, a sensitive creature sapped of the joy of life by his perception of the antagonistic turn of events that makes for a denial of life, not for an encouragement of it. When his experience of adversity reaches a new peak upon Jude's and Sue's return to Christminster, and when he hears from Sue, who is pregnant, of a new life that is to come to share the misery, he protests according to his own logic by killing himself and the two other children. In himself, Little Father Time is not incredible. Aged-looking and weird boys or girls are fortunately not representative of childhood even in the most calamitous of times. The vital force usually asserts itself in the early years of life at least. But such children do exist in all times. The boy has inherited from his father a hypersensitivity which engenders an unwillingness to grow up, and when circumstances heighten instead of allaying such a disposition, the death-wish forces itself into consciousness. The monstrous deed is not a fanciful invention on Hardy's part. If we read the column of faits-divers in the daily newspapers with attention, we shall come across such astonishing realities at one time or another. In the novel the boy's suicide is jarring because his act, which is an unrepresentative reality, is introduced into the reality of Jude and Sue which, in spite of the differences that mark them as individuals, is representative. The disaster also serves to provide a tangible cause for the next development in Sue's and Jude's affairs. This development is the result of a latent condition in their relationship which is basically unrelated to the boy's deed, but the extremity he creates helps make the latent overt. In short, on the realistic level of the book, the figure of Little Father Time seems very much like a deus ex machina.

However, on the symbolic level his creation is not a failure at all. Little Father Time is the concrete expression of the impersonal dislocating forces of the time and of the very personal and conscious reaction to the problem of existence of his father, a man whose impulses have been thwarted and whose lurking wish the boy enacts. The boy looks old, partly because the problem of existence is old and timeless, and partly because he as well as Jude never really experienced the joy of youth. His death foreshadows the equally untimely death of his father, but more important still it signifies the end of Jude's brand of idealism as well as the end of the race of Judes. The name Little Father Time is another way of pointing to the agency that is most responsible for the tragedy. Jude's recounting to Sue that according to the doctor the boy's death is a sign of 'the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live' (p. 348), may be taken as a prophetic vision on Hardy's part. For though the World War is in one sense an indication of the determination to live, in another it is also a sign of the 'wish not to live'. The theme of time is used by the author to create individual character as well as general atmosphere.

Christminster (Oxford), both as theme and image, is of major importance in Jude. In a sense, Jude's life-story is presented as a challenge to the citadel of learning. The outcome of the 'deadly war waged between flesh and spirit' might be different if the architects of man's soul dealt less with phantoms and grappled more with the realities of human existence. Jude's spirit is enkindled from the start with the idea of Christminster, and he dies in the city of his dreams with its sounds re-echoing in his ears. Illusion and reality alternate in the complex image of Christminster. Jude's illusions of the place are part of his reality, and his own existence is immaterial to Christminster. Similarly, a preoccupation with the remote, the spectral, is the reality of Christminster academical, whereas the real life of the city is unsubstantial to its scholars. The tendency of man's spirit is to take flight from the real and build its abode in the shadowy. The true need, however, is to apply the intellect to the actual and fashion its moulds accordingly. The proper study of man is Man , that is, the whole of Man, the whole of his life. The pursuit of chimeras and of what ought to be leads to distortion and unhappiness. Only regard for what is and what can be may conceivably reduce human misery.

Jude's arrival at the city of his dreams at night, and his communing with the spirits of its departed, eminent sons is one of the most beautiful passages in the book. An isolated 'self-spectre' himself, he wanders about the medieval colleges, recalling the words of the men of heart and the men of head who had spent their lives within them. The following morning the perfect and ideal apparitions of the night are replaced by the imperfect real. His realization that his presence in Christminster has in no way brought him nearer to his goal does not alter his view of the place as 'the centre of thought and religion—the intellectual and spiritual granary of this country' (p. 120). It is Sue who introduces a dispassionate and more realistic view of Christminster, realistic both from the point of view of its relevance to the spiritual questions of the time and its attitude to people like Jude. Sue has had a platonic relationship with a Christminster graduate, is witty and well read, and has lived in the city long enough without being emotionally attached to it. She tells Jude that 'the mediaevalism of Christminster must go' (p. 157), and that 'at present intellect in Christminster is pushing one way, and religion the other; and so they stand stock-still, like two rams butting each other' (p. 158), that 'it is a place full of fetichists and ghost-seers'. Jude answers that he too is fearful of life, 'spectre-seeing always'. Parallel to the picture of Christminster as abstracted from reality there is the picture of the actual life of the city, and Jude is involved in both pictures. He notices the wide gap that exists between the gown life and the town life and that the latter is a compendious book of humanity little scrutinized by students or teachers. Tinker Taylor, a local labourer and a casual acquaintance of Jude, half mocking his scholastic pursuit tells him that 'there is more to be learnt out-side a book than in' (p. 128), and Sue too is of the opinion that the townspeople see more life as it is than the college people do (p. 158). Though Jude perceives that there is much truth in all this, it is also because of this that his desire for learning remains unshaken throughout. He believes that Christminster is the place for him and such as he, and that instead of its scorning and excluding the so-called self-taught, it should be the first to acknowledge the efforts of men ambitious of learning and offer them the opportunity of fulfilling their aims. However, this is far from being the case.

A number of years later, by which time Jude has realized that his life has been a complete failure, he comes back to Christminster with Sue and the children on the day of its festivities. Standing in the crowd among whom are some of his old acquaintances, who remark that he has not made the grade, Jude says to the people around him:

'I may do some good before I am dead—be a sort of success as a frightful example of what not to do; and so illustrate a moral story' (p. 337).

This is an ambiguous statement. Does Jude mean that he ought not to have set his heart on learning, and because of his having done so, he has ruined his life? Such a view is not borne out by the novel. Other factors, not directly related to learning, have been much more detrimental to his happiness than his disappointed hopes of study. In any case, he had not deliberately chosen his aim; it had sprung directly from his nature and was enhanced by the spirit of the time. Does he mean that poor people like him, who are not 'cold-blooded' and 'selfish', ought not to pursue goals the achievement of which depends on the possession of such inhumane qualities? This is not an unlikely meaning, though it contradicts other views of his and Sue's, namely that Christminster is just the place for men with a passion for learning. Or does Jude mean that the whole pattern of his life, everything that has gone into the making of it, should serve as an example, not to other men like him—since they, like him, are inevitably bound to set their feet on the same path as he has—but to the colleges of Christminster and what they ought not to do? They ought not to shut out men desirous of knowledge; they ought not to ignore the reality of the time and hold on to outworn modes of thought. It seems to me that the general drift of the novel would justify such an interpretation.

In the same speech Jude goes on to say:

'I perceive there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas; what it is can only be discovered by men and women with greater insight than mine—if, indeed, they ever discover it—at least in our time' (p. 338).

The social formulas have to do with the sum total of designs that make up the fabric of society. They set the patterns of economics, educational opportunities, jurisdiction, public opinion, and conventions, but more important still they are conditioned by religion and intellectual accomplishment, and it is from these two spheres, of which Christminster is the centre, that the regeneration of the formulas must come. Jude's appeal, and we may say Hardy's, is made to the authority in whose power it is to control that part of man's fortunes that is given to man to control. For his own part, Jude vows never to care any more about the 'infernal, cursed place'. The disaster of the children's death that befalls him in Christminster is a fateful event underscoring the 'example', but it also points to a power which by its incomprehensibility sets limits to human endeavour.

When Jude returns from his last visit to Sue, now back with Phillotson, he walks with Arabella through the streets of the city, seeing the spirits of the dead as he did on his first arrival in the place. He explains to Arabella:

'I seem to see them and almost hear them rustling. But I don't revere them as I did. I don't believe in half of them … All that has been spoiled for me by the grind of stem reality … They seem laughing at me … The phantoms all about here …' (p. 406).

To this Arabella retorts: 'Come along do! Phantoms! There's neither living nor dead hereabouts except a damn policeman!' Kathleen R. Hooper remarks that 'Arabella gave the final, earthly comment of a world which Jude never understood'.11 On the contrary, Jude has learnt from his bitter experience to look at his world with disillusioned eyes and to understand what is wrong with it and what hopes may be entertained as regards it. Lying on his death-bed, his mind is still preoccupied with the dream that has for ever haunted him. He tells Arabella that he has heard there are schemes to make the University less exclusive and to extend its influence (p. 413), but he knows only too well that for him it is too late.

Essentially there are only two major themes in Jude: one relating to everything connected with the flesh, and the other relating to everything connected with the spirit. Hardy dramatizes the conflict between these two themes, and stresses the need for their integration. Ideally the flesh should inform the spirit and the spirit the flesh. Jude would not have been completely happy if he had been given the opportunity of fulfilling his dreams of learning, but proper studies could have better equipped him to cope with 'stern reality'. One might argue that such studies were not available in his time, but towards such at any rate he aspired. The characters are created through the themes and in a sense they are the themes. They interpret the world and themselves in terms of old systems and outworn modes of thought, whereas their situation cries out for new terms of reference, new concepts, new values. Jude foresaw that the new was bound to come, and it cannot be said that his 'example' was to go un-heeded, but the new formulas that were to emerge and the influence they were to spread were not to be of the kind to foster that good in life, that type of fulfilment at which he had originally aimed. In other words, in Jude Hardy laments the passage of an age and adumbrates the attitudes, or if we want, 'the formulas', that were to characterize the first half of the present century: formulas the latter-day Judes, battering against the walls of the establishment, hope to change.

1 Eugene Goodheart, 'Thomas Hardy and the Lyrical Novel' in Nineteenth Century Fiction, no. 3, December 1957.

2 Walter Allen, The English Novel, Penguin Books, 1958, p. 255.

3 J. I. M. Stewart, Eight Modern Writers, Clarendon Press, 1963, p. 45.

4 Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, Macmillan, London 1957, p. 1 (all further references will be to this edition).

5 Albert J. Guerard, Thomas Hardy: The Novels and Stories, O.U.P., London, 1949, p. 32.

6 Ibid., p. 110.

7 Ibid., p. 152.

8 Ibid., p. 153.

9 Lascelles Abercrombie, Thomas Hardy: A Critical Study, Martin Secker, London, 1912, p. 26.

10 Arthur Mizener, 'Jude the Obscure as Tragedy', in Modern British Fiction, ed. Mark Schorer, O.U.P., N.Y. , 1961.

11 Kathleen R. Hooper, 'Illusion and Reality in Jude the Obscure', in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, no. 2, September 1957, p. 157.

Mary Jacobus (essay date 1975)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8220

SOURCE: "Sue the Obscure," in Essays in Criticism, Vol. X X V , No. 3, July, 1975, pp. 304-28.

[In the following essay, Jacobus accepts Hardy's contention that Jude the Obscure is a novel of contrasting ideas, and thus analyzes the work by focusing on the character of Sue Bridehead, rather than that of Jude.]

Hardy's account of Jude the Obscure raises the problem at once:

Of course the book is all contrasts—or was meant to be in its original conception. Alas, what a miserable accomplishment it is, when I compare it with what I meant to make it!—e.g. Sue and her heathen gods set against Jude's reading the Greek testament; Christminster academical, Christminster in the slums; Jude the saint, Jude the sinner; Sue the Pagan, Sue the saint; marriage, no marriage; &c, &c.

The degree of Hardy's success in executing these strongly-marked contrasts remains the central question about Jude. The bare bones of its design lie dangerously close to the surface, and the urgency of Hardy's commitment constantly threatens its imaginative autonomy. Its realism and its diagrammatic plotting pull in opposite directions, and Hardy's disconcerting tendency to translate ideas into physical realities sometimes leave us uncertain of the intention behind his effects. This apparent discrepancy between intention and achievement is at its most acute in the character of Sue. What did Hardy mean by her, and what in the end did he create? Above all, with what success are Sue and the issues she raises integrated into the novel as a whole?

'The first delineation in fiction of the woman who was coming into notice in her thousands every year—the woman of the feminist movement.' This was one reviewer's response to Sue Bridehead, recalled in the 1912 postscript to Jude. Hardy himself was non-committal; and although Sue has much in common with the 'New Woman' of the 1890s ('the intellectualized, emancipated bundle of nerves that modern conditions were producing'), she strikes us less as a specimen than as an individual whose vivid fictional life springs from and is defined by the novel itself. Hardy elsewhere wrote of her simply as 'a type of woman which has always had an attraction for me', adding that 'the difficulty of drawing the type has kept me from attempting it till now'. For most readers, this unique and painful individuality—at once confused and distinct, fragile and sharply etched—constitutes Hardy's main achievement; Sue is pitied, blamed, puzzled over, or mourned, as if she were a living woman. The difficulty lies in reconciling this fictional vividness with Hardy's elusive intention. To regard Sue primarily as a psychological portrait diminishes the importance of the ideas Hardy makes her express. It is particularly difficult to know where Hardy stands in relation to her feminism. In one sense his refusal to offer an un-ambiguous diagnosis, either within or outside the novel, contributes to our belief in Sue: she continues to haunt and perplex us long after we have finished reading because she is neither case-history nor propaganda. She too is 'obscure'. But Hardy's careful non-alignment also means that he can be accused of dodging or bungling the very issues he has raised. Kate Millett, for instance, sees in Sue's muddle ('by turns an enigma, a pathetic creature, a nut, and an iceberg') a reflection of her creator's intellectual uncertainty: 'Jude the Obscure is on very solid ground when attacking the class system, but when it turns to the sexual revolution, Hardy himself is troubled and confused' (Sexual Politics, 1969, pp. 133-4). The accusation is an important and damaging one. Jude stands or falls on the coherence of its tragic protest, and Hardy's art as well as his clarity is in question. If he fails in dealing with Sue's sexual revolt, then the structure of contrasts on which the novel depends is weakened where it should be strongest—in the power of Sue's tragedy to complement and illuminate Jude's.

The most influential account of Sue's character is pseudo-psychological. In his Study of Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence sees Jude as divided between the male and the female within himself; his tragedy lies in

over-development of one principle of human life at the expense of the other; an over-balancing; a laying of all the stress on the Male, the love, the Spirit, the Mind, the Consciousness; a denying, a blaspheming against the Female, the Law, the Soul, the Senses, the Feelings. (Phoenix, 1936, p. 509)

In Lawrentian terms (the terms of 1914 and The Rainbow), Sue embodies the male principle: 'She was born with the vital female atrophied in her: she was almost male'. Her literary genealogy is that of the 'Amelias and Agneses, those women who submitted to the man-idea'—who betrayed the female within themselves in order to become 'the pure thing'. For such a woman, marriage can only be 'a submission, a service, a slavery', while the suppressed female within continually threatens to destroy her precarious equilibrium (pp. 496-7). Lawrence conveys his sense of her instability and inner division by an image of dizzy exposure:

She had climbed and climbed to be near the stars. And now, at last, on the topmost pinnacle, exposed to all the horrors and magnificence of space, she could not go back. Her strength had fallen from her. Up at that great height, with scarcely any foothold, but only space, space all round her, rising up to her from beneath, she was like a thing suspended, supported almost at the point of extinction by the density of her medium. Her body was lost to her, fallen away, gone. She existed there as a point of consciousness, no more, like one swooned at a great height, held up at the tip of a fine pinnacle that drove upwards into nothingness, (pp. 503-4)

Since Lawrence's Sue is at once self-possessed and self-divided, sexual consummation can only bring desecration to her and negation to Jude:

if it was death to her, or profanation, or pollution, or breaking, it was unnatural to him, blasphemy. How could he, a living, loving man, warm and productive, take with his body the moonlit cold body of a woman who did not live to him, and did not want him? It was monstrous, and it sent him mad. (p. 505)

Lawrence recreates the novel with such imaginative intensity that it is easy to substitute his version for Hardy's. To return to Jude itself is to confront an imagination no less powerful, but radically different in its emphases. More sympathetic, less diagnostic, Hardy also gives weight to ideas which the Study of Thomas Hardy entirely ignores.

Although Lawrence's blueprint does violence to the artistic and intellectual complexity of Jude, the Lawrentian view of Sue remains surprisingly current. Her crimes, ranging from frigidity to husband-murder, make her the villain of the piece in a number of recent critical accounts. And for Kate Millett—criticizing Hardy rather than Sue—she is 'the victim of a cultural literary convention (Lily and Rose) that in granting her a mind insists on withholding a body from her' (Sexual Politics, p. 133). Cast in this way as 'the frigid woman', the lily of her name, Sue becomes less a tragic figure in her own right than an aspect of Jude's tragedy. Of course, there can be no mistaking the depth of Hardy's sympathy for Jude, but has the novel been read too exclusively from his point of view?

To an extent which often goes unnoticed, Hardy offers us a dual focus which valuably modifies the literary convention identified by Kate Millett. We see Sue as she appears to Jude and Phillotson—lovable, ethereal, inconsistent, capable of inflicting great pain, and, for Jude at least, ultimately unforgivable. But during the course of the novel, Hardy also allows us to enter into Sue's consciousness—to hear her point of view at first hand, and, when we no longer do so, to speculate about it. Dialogue plays a central part in Jude, translating its underlying ideas into subjectively-perceived truths. [Edmund] Gosse's complaint that Sue and Jude talk 'a sort of University Extension jargon' is fair. But the novel does concern education—education through the testing of ideas against experience. That sense of life which in Hardy's earlier novels sprang from rural activity or landscape derives in Jude from conversation. Sue's attempts to articulate her changing consciousness—whether exploratory or penetrating, tailing off into uncertainty or toppling into neurotic self-blame—make her a vital counter-part to Jude. When we no longer hear her voice, it is because Sue is alienated from herself as well as us. Her retreat from emancipation to enslavement, from speech to silence, balances Jude's progress from idealism to bitter, articulate disillusion in a double movement which intensifies die novel's protest. 'What are my books but one long plea against "man's inhumanity to man"—to woman—and to the lower animals?' asked Hardy; Jude the Obscure is just such a plea.

On its appearance in the mid-'90s, Jude was inevitably linked with Grant Allen's The Woman Who Did (1895) as another contribution to 'the marriage question' ; for Mrs . Oliphant, it was a sign that Hardy had joined 'The Anti-Marriage League'. But Hardy himself pleaded innocence:

It is curious that some of the papers should look upon the novel as a manifesto on 'the marriage question' (although, of course, it involves it).… The only remarks which can be said to bear on the general marriage question occur in dialogue, and comprise no more than half a dozen pages in a book of five hundred.

The 1912 postscript to Jude clarifies the implications of its epigraph ('The letter killeth'): 'My opinion at that time, if I remember rightly, was what it is now, mat a marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either of the parties—being then essentially and morally no marriage'. But the novel itself says something both more disturbing and more radical, since the 'cruelty' bears particularly on the sensibility with which Hardy endows Sue. It is true that marriage has proved a trap to Jude, ensnared by the time-worn ruse of Arabella's fake pregnancy, but his disillusion with Arabella's artificial dimples and tresses brings neither the distress nor the personal discovery which marriage brings to Sue. '"O Susanna Florence Mary!… Yo u don't know what marriage means!"' (Wessex ed., 1912, p. 203) laments Jude to himself, when she marries Phillotson in a tangle of pique, muddle, obligation, and ignorance. We watch her gradual awakening. Her views on the marriage service come first, wryly conveyed in a letter to Jude—as yet unquestioning of conventional religion: '"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. Bless your exalted views of woman, O Churchman!'" (p. 204). What she discovers in marriage itself is the independent sexual identity which survives this property transaction. Her aversion to Phillotson (an aversion endorsed by the traditional wisdom of Aunt Drusilla and Wido w Edlin) is essentially a discovery about herself, tearfully and haltingly confessed to the more experienced Jude:

'though I like Mr. Phillotson as a friend, I don't like him—it is a torture to me to—live with him as a husband!… there is nothing wrong except my own wickedness, I suppose you'd call it—a repugnance on my part, for a reason I cannot disclose, and what would not be admitted as one by the world in general!… What tortures me so much is the necessity of being responsive to this man whenever he wishes, good as he is morally!—the dreadful contract to feel in a particular way in a matter whose essence is its voluntariness!… (p. 255)

In the last phrase, Sue is partly being Shelleyan; but she is also protesting, as Mil l had done in The Subjection of Women (1869), at 'the lowest degradation of a human being, that of being made the instrument of an animal function contrary to her inclinations' (p. 57). Mor e im portant, she no longer expresses a feminism that is only intellectually related to herself. She has now experienced, in a way too personal to tell anyone else, what 'belonging' to Phillotson actually means. As so often in the dialogue he gives Sue, Hard y holds the balance between her beliefs (the echoes of Shelley and Mill) and feelings which she has to articulate for herself—guiltily owning up to a sexual repugnance which 'the world in general' would refuse to recognize. Later the same night, when she and Jude have been woken by the cry of a trapped rabbit, Hardy stresses the change that has taken place in her consciousness; and again the mournful yet impatient speech rhythms authenticate Sue's new perception of herself:

'before I married him I had never thought out fully what marriage meant, even though I knew. It was idiotic of me—there is no excuse. I was old enough, and I thought I was very experienced… I am certain one ought to be allowed to undo what one has done so ignorantly! I daresay it happens to lots of women; only they submit, and I kick. …' (p. 258)

We are left with the image of the rabbit writhing in the gin. It is Sue's special tragedy that she has enough life to kick, but not enough strength to escape.

The image is picked up in the following chapter, when Jude reflects on his ow n experience of' "the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springes'" (p. 261). Bot h he and Sue are released by partners who acknowledge other laws than 'the artificial system of things'—Arabella, impelled by an animal instinct when Jude has served her need; Phillotson, by genuine compassion. Bu t Hardy shows us that more is at issue than the freedom to choose another partner. He is not simply advocating divorce, but—as Mrs . Oliphant detected—questioning the institution of marriage itself. Again , it is primarily through Sue's consciousness that the novel explores the tyranny of sexual orthodoxy, implying the doubt elsewhere explicitly expressed by Hardy, 'whether marriage, as we at present understand it, is such a desirable goal for all women as it is assumed to be'. Sue's time with Phillotson has taught her to recognize the gap between the identity imposed by society, and her real inner self: 'I am called Mrs . Richard Phillotson, living a calm wedded life with my counterpart of that name. Bu t I am not really Mrs . Richard Phillotson, but a woma n tossed about, all alone, with aberrant passions, and unaccountable antipathies. …' (p. 247) To be called Mrs . Jude Fawley would be no less a denial of the troubled individual who is Sue Bridehead. The central aspect of Sue's character is not that in her the female is atrophied, as Lawrence maintained, but that in her the individual is highly developed. Havelock Elli s put it well, writing of 'the refinement of sexual sensibility with which this book largely deals':

To treat Jude, who wavers between two women, and Sue, who finds the laws of marriage too mighty for her lightly-poised organism, as shocking monstrosities, reveals a curious attitude in the critics who have committed themselves to that view. Clearly they consider human sexual relationships to be as simple as those of the farmyard. They are as shocked as a farmer would be to find that a hen had views of her own concerning the lord of the harem. If, let us say, you decide that Indian Game and Plymouth Rock make a good cross, you put your cock and hens together, and the matter is settled; and if you decide that a man and a woman are in love with each other, you marry them and the matter is likewise setüed for the whole term of their natural lives.

(Savoy, 6 October 1896, p. 46.)

Sue is not a hen with views of her own , but a woma n for who m the laws of the farmyard spell oppression. Institutionalized sex takes as little account of her 'lightly-poised organism' as it does of Jude's wavering between two women. Hardy told Gosse that Sue's sexuality was 'healthy as far as it goes, but unusually weak and fastidious'. Jude, by contrast, is aroused rather than repelled by the pig's pizzle which Arabella flings at him, and easily deflected from his dream of Christminster by her dimples. But the opposition between his need for sexual fulfilment and Sue's reserve is never presented simply in terms of Jude's frustration. Sue is allowed to state her ow n case when she speaks of her platonic relationship with the Christminster undergraduate wh o is responsible for many of her unorthodox ideas:' "People say I must be cold-natured—sexless—on account of it. Bu t I won't have it! Some of the most passionately erotic poets have been the most self-contained in their daily lives'" (pp. 178-9); later in the same conversation, she defends the Son g of Song s against its Christia n allegorists (' "I hate such humbug as could attempt to plaster over with ecclesiastical abstractions such ecstatic, natural, human love as lies in that great and passionate song!"' , p. 182). Hardy sets her passionate imagination against Jude's unthinking passion—and then tests each against the claims of the other, using a specific sexual relationship to intensify the novel's wider vision of human frustration and defeat.

From Jude's point of view, Sue's religion of pagan joy is a bitter irony; she first liberates him from his religious asceticism, then refuses to satisfy him. Seen from Sue's point of view, however, her paganism is primarily an expression of revolt. When she sets up statues of Venus and Apollo in her bedroom and chants Swinburne, she is striking a private blow at the self-denying spiritual fervour which at the same moment inspires Jude's plain living and high thinking in another part of Christminster. What stands out is not Sue's comical blaspheming against the ethos of Mis s Fontover's ecclesiastical knick-knack shop, but her inner refusal to conform. It is this area of personal freedom she tries to retain in her relationships. She will live with the Christminster undergraduate—but on her terms, not his. She is happy to go to Philotson 'as a friend' ; it is as a husband, with rights over her body, that she rejects him. In the same way—as critics have often noted—she is at her most forthcoming to Jude when she has put between them an engagement, or a marriage, or a window, or simply man's clothes, as on the evening of her flight from the Melchester teachers' training college. When she asks the bewildered Phillotson to let her go, she has found in John Stuart Mill the intellectual basis for her instinctive assertion of individuality:

'And do you mean, by living away from me, living by yourself?' [asks Phillotson].

'Well, if you insisted, yes. But I meant living with Jude.'

'As his wife?'

'As I choose.'

Phillotson writhed.

She continued: 'She, or he, "who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation". J. S. Mill's words, those are. I have been reading it up. Why can't you act upon them? I wish to, always.'

'What do I care about J. S. Mill!' moaned he. 'I only want to lead a quiet life!' (p. 269)

Confronted by Sue's blithe application of theory to life, we are likely to have some sympathy with Phillotson. Yet the force of' "As I choose"' remains. Sue takes her text from the third chapter of On Liberty (1859), 'O f Individuality':

There is always need of persons not only to discover new truths, and point out when what were once truths are true no longer, but also to commence new practices, and set the example of more enlightened conduct, and better taste and sense in human life … exceptional individuals, instead of being deterred, should be encouraged in acting differently from the mass.… In this age the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service, (pp. 106, 115, 120)

With this persuasive plea as a context, we may be less inclined to smile at Sue's earnestness. But' "Who were we,'" she laments at the end of the novel,' "to think we could act as pioneers!'" (p. 425).

Elsewhere, Sue's timidity, irresolution, and inconsistency often strike us more forcibly than her knowledge of Mill . The split between belief and instinctive behaviour is most acutely analyzed in the scenes leading up to the consummation of her relationship with Jude. Till she leaves Phillotson, Sue has successfully held out for the right to give or withhold herself as she chooses; the Christminster undergraduate dies unfulfilled, and Phillotson lets her go when her leap from a first-floor window convinces him of her aversion. The question which hangs over her third relationship is: will it prove a new departure, or only a repetition? a victory or a defeat? Hardy charts her surrender to Jude's more urgent sexuality with a mixture of acerbity and tenderness. The complexity of his sympathy is nowhere more enriching. He himself had known Mill' s On Liberty 'almost by heart' as a young man, as well as sharing Sue's taste for Shelley and Swinburne. But Jude the Obscure belongs to a period thirty years later, and its absolutes are qualified by experience. Moreover, Mill had been largely concerned with the relation of individual to society; Hardy is also concerned with the relation of individual to individual—with the conflict between personal freedom and human commitment. When Sue comes to Jude, she begins by re-enacting the pattern of advance and retreat, of boldness followed by flight, which had characterized her even as a child at Marygreen. By chance and authorial design, she and Jude go for their first night together to the same hotel, the same room even, in which Jude had spent a night with Arabella not long before. Sue's tearful indignation at this discovery (' "Why are you so gross! 7 jumped out of the window!'", p. 293) is only dispelled by extorting a rueful tribute to her own contrasting spirituality. The words she puts into Jude's mouth, from Shelley's Epipsychidion, have an additional irony when one recalls Hardy's mistrust of Shelleyan individuals such as Angel Clare and Eldred Fitzpiers:

' "There was a Being whom my spirit oft
  Met on its visioned wanderings far aloft.
A seraph of Heaven, too gentle to be human,
  Veiling beneath the radiant form of woman.… "

O it is too flattering, so I won't go on! But say it's
me!—say it's me!'

'It is you dear; exactly like you!' (p. 294)

Sue thus wins the first round at Jude's expense (he, apparently, must love only her, but she need not commit herself to him); and as he goes off sighingly to another room, the balance of our sympathy is surely with him.

But the balance is short-lived. Hardy is imaginatively generous towards both sides of the struggle, but as always his most intense feeling is for the loser. Sue's chief weapons are her undoubted attraction for Jude and her moral advantage (' "Why are you so gross!"'): Jude's weapon is simply his ability to take himself elsewhere. When Arabella returns to upset their precarious equilibrium (Jude pressing for marriage, Sue evasive as ever), she reveals to Sue that the price she pays for withholding herself is insecurity—that the complement of personal freedom must be self-reliance. Jude justifies his refusal to turn away his former wife in humane terms; but Sue's piteous entreaties show her tacit recognition of the sexual threat posed by Arabella:' "Don't go now, Jude!… O, it is only to entrap you.… Don't, don't go, dear! She is such a low-passioned woman. …'" (p. 318). Jude seizes this chance to make his protest against the conditions of intimacy which Sue had earlier forced him to celebrate:

' … Please, please stay at home, Jude, and not go to her, now she's not your wife any more than I!'

'Well, she is, rather more than you, come to that,' he said, taking his hat determinedly. 'I've wanted you to be, and I've waited with the patience of Job, and I don't see that I've got anything by my self-denial. I shall certainly give her something, and hear what she is so anxious to tell me; no man could do less!' (p. 318)

' "No man could do less'" opposes charitable humanity to Sue's ungiving chastity. Yet her meekness in the face of his resolve, her child-like distress when he goes out into the night to find Arabella, and her undisguised relief when he returns without having seen her, give poignancy to Sue's capitulation. She succumbs to Jude, but it is under duress:.' "I ought to have known you would conquer in the long run, living like this!'", she tells him;' "I give in!'" (p. 321). The blend of pleasure and regret which we feel in her defeat is beautifully caught in the kisses she exchanges with Jude the following day—kisses, Hardy tells us, returned by Sue 'in a way she had never done before. Times had decidedly changed. "The little bird is caught at last!" she said, a sadness showing in her smile.' (p. 322) Jude's reply (' "No—only nested'") consoles both her and us; but this time our sympathy is with her.

Hardy wrote that Jude had 'never really possessed [Sue] as freely as he desired'. But although she remains elusive to the last, 'That the twain were happy—between their times of sadness—was indubitable' (p. 348). Hardy subtly conveys the extent of her sexual awakening, and we gain enough sense of a shared sexual happiness to make its betrayal by Sue herself, at the end of the novel, a tragic one. In a central scene we see the two together, now lovers, visiting the Great Wessex Agricultural Show with Little Father Time in tow. It is a scene singled out by Lawrence—perhaps because, as in many of his own most sexually-charged scenes, flowers provide the catalyst:

when they went to the flower show, her sense of the roses, and Jude's sense of the roses, would be most, most poignant.… The roses, how the roses glowed for them! … the real marriage of Jude and Sue was in the roses. Then, in the third state, in the spirit, these two beings met upon the roses and in the roses were symbolized in consummation. The rose is the symbol of marriage-consummation in its beauty. (Phoenix, pp. 506-7)

Lawrence may be right that Sue and Jude never know 'actual, sure-footed happiness'; there is always a sense of precariousness in their lives, as there is always a sense of rootlessness. But his insistence that this is a communion of minds which sexual consummation can only violate misses the vibrancy of fulfilment in the scene as Hardy presents it. The day of holiday has brought Arabella and her husband—'the average husband and wife'—to the show along with Sue and Jude. While one couple are sullen and indifferent, the other ('the more exceptional') reveal 'that complete mutual understanding' which makes the cynical Arabella doubt that they are actually married. What kind of happiness theirs is emerges from an incident in the flower tent:

the more exceptional couple and the boy still lingered in the pavilion of flowers—an enchanted palace to their appreciative taste—Sue's usually pale cheeks reflecting the pink of the tinted roses at which she gazed; for the gay sights, the air, the music, and the excitement of a day's outing with Jude, had quickened her blood and made her eyes sparkle with vivacity. She adored roses, and what Arabella had witnessed was Sue detaining Jude almost against his will while she learnt the names of this variety and that, and put her face within an inch of their blooms to smell them.

'I should like to push my face quite into them—the dears!' she had said. 'But I suppose it is against the rules to touch them—isn't it, Jude?'

'Yes, you baby,' said he: and then playfully gave her a little push, so that her nose went among the petals.

'The policeman will be down on us, and I shall say it was my husband's fault!'

Then she looked up at him, and smiled in a way that told so much to Arabella, (pp. 357-8)

The roses are indeed symbolic, as Lawrence asserts—but they are symbolic of more than spiritual communion. The rose which complements the lily in Sue has been brought into flower by Jude; it is he who gives her the playful push into contact with her own sensuous nature, making her fully and joyously responsive here. The 'cultural literary convention (Lily and Rose)' has been realistically blurred. What Arabella sees makes her jealous enough to accept Vilbert's love-philtre, and her lowering presence, like that of Satan spying on Adam and Eve in their prelapserian garden, accentuates the innocence of their sexuality.

Nevertheless, Sue and Jude are childlike here—'The Simpletons' of the novel's original title.' "Silly fools—like two children!'" (p. 365), grumbles Arabella in the background. Their vulnerability is heightened by the exaggerated sense of transience voiced by Little Father Time—unable to enjoy the flowers because he knows they will soon be withered. What he foresees, in a parody of Hardy's own vision, Sue and Jude are to experience. 'The more exceptional couple', they also prove least able to withstand what time brings. Three years later, Arabella is a prosperous widow while Sue ekes out the family income selling Christminster cakes; Jude is sick and out of work, and Sue, already the mother of two children, is expecting a third. In the interval has come their restless movement from place to place, in search of work and the right to live by a private code of morals. They recoil from the cynical forms of civil marriage and the unthinking bourgeois ritual enacted in the name of religion; they are turned off from the job of restoring the Ten Commandments painted on the wall of a country church, in an episode which makes the point of Hardy's epigraph—the difference between Old Testament law and New Testament charity—with graphic plainness. In Mill' s words, 'the strongest of all the arguments against the interference of the public with purely personal conduct, is that when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place' (On Liberty, pp. 149-50).

But Hardy is not simply concerned to show the tragic defeat of exceptional individuals at the hands of society—what he elsewhere calls 'the triumph of the crowd over the hero, of the commonplace majority over the exceptional few'. Nature also conspires against them. Fulfilling natural laws, they have to face natural consequences—children. Mil l had written of a scheme of things that 'cannot have had, for its sole or even principal object, the good of human or other sentient beings. Sue echoes his opinion of parenthood when she tells Arabella that' "it seems such a terribly tragic thing to bring beings into the world'" (p. 375)—

The fact itself, of causing the existence of a human being, is one of the most responsible actions in the range of human life. To undertake this responsibility—to bestow a life which may be either a curse or a blessing—unless the being on which it is to be bestowed will have at least the ordinary chances of a desirable existence, is a crime against that being. (On Liberty, p. 194)

This is the view of life that prematurely overwhelms Little Father Time; for him, his parents have committed a crime in bringing children into the world, not he who commits one in taking them out of it. Hardy's engineering of the novel's tragic crisis may lack tact; but the urgency of his protest against the double tyranny of society and Nature over 'the exceptional few' gives classic inexorability to his modern theme.

Like the flinging of the pig's pizzle (showing 'the contrast between the ideal life a man wished to lead, and the squalid real life he was fated to lead'), the death of the children brings the novel's underlying metaphors into the open. The family's doomed return to Christminster confronts us with more than just the death of Jude's hopes and his inevitable exclusion from Arnold's city of lost causes (' "I' m an outsider to the end of my days!'", p. 396). We also witness in Christminster the collapse of the couple's struggle for happiness on a purely personal level; as Mill had promised, 'from him that hath not, shall be taken even that which he hath'. The death of the children is the price Sue and Jude have to pay for their sexual fulfilment, in the face of a hostile society and the absence of contraception. Mrs . Oliphant jeered at Hardy for what she called his 'solution of the great insoluble question of what is to be the fate of children in such circumstances': 'Does Mr. Hardy think this is really a good way of disposing of the unfortunate progeny of such connections?' The episode is indeed grotesque; but the idea which underlies it, as often in Jude, is more powerful and more valid than the means used to express it. Its true force emerges less from the clumsily-contrived massacre than from the painful conversation which precipitates it. Pregnant and encumbered by children, Sue has has only found lodgings in Christminster on condition that Jude goes elsewhere; even so, the landlady's husband refuses to let them stay beyond the next day. It is in this context that Sue and Little Father Time, deeply depressed, talk together;

'It would be better to be out o' the world than in it, wouldn't it?'

'It would almost, dear.'

"Tis because of us children too, isn't it, that you can't get a good lodging?'

'Well—people do object to children sometimes.'

'Then if children make so much trouble, why do people have 'em?'

'Oh—because it is a law of nature.'

'But we don't ask to be born?'

'No indeed.' (p. 402)

The gap between adult's and child's perception is deceptively narrowed (Little Father Time groping to express what Sue knows too well); and—like Jude when Sue blames herself afterwards—we can comprehend her mistaken honesty in breaking the news that another child is on the way:

The boy burst out weeping. 'O you don't care, you don't care!' he cried in bitter reproach. 'How ever could you, mother, be so wicked and cruel as this, when you needn't have done it till we was better off, and father well!—To bring us all into more trouble! No room for us, and father a-forced to go away, and we turned out tomorrow; and yet you be going to have another of us soon! … 'Tis done o'purpose!—'tis—'tis!' He walked up and down sobbing, (p. 403)

All Sue can reply is' "I can't explain, dear! But it—is not quite on purpose—I can't help it!"' (p. 403), and indeed she can't. What Little Father Time understands is already too much for him (' "I wish I hadn't been born!"', p. 402); what he can't understand accentuates Sue's helplessness. After the tragedy, she expresses with terrible clarity her sense of the forces massed against them: ' "There is something external to us which says, 'You shan't!' First it said, 'Yo u shan't learn!' Then it said, 'Yo u shan't labour!' Now it says, 'Yo u shan't love!'"' (p. 407). 'The coming universal wish not to live', portentously diagnosed by the doctor, objectifies Sue's feelings here and anticipates Jude's final, deathbed negation of life:' "Let the day perish wherein I was born …" ' (pp. 406, 488).

The death of the children is the most flagrant instance of Hardy's preparedness to sacrifice verisimilitude to his diagrammatic design, but we are never allowed to forget that Jude is a novel of contrasting ideas. The culminating and most crucial of them is that between Sue's unbalance and Jude's disillusion. Throughout the book, however, the rigid ironies of Hardy's scheme have been translated into the changing consciousness of his characters. Hence the unexpected effect of a novel at once fixed and fluid, over-emphatic and true to life. Events which seem contrived precipitate inner changes which are painfully authenticated. The peculiar modernity of Jude lies in the weight it gives to such changes. The sturdy Wessex world of Hardy's earlier novels has been ousted by 'the ache of modernism'; no longer sustained by an enduring rural context, Sue and Jude have nothing to fall back on but their ideas, and one by one these fail them. Jude's mental education reveals the limitations of Christminster and evangelical Christianity. Sue's education—her experience as a woman—brings her from clarity to compromise, from compromise to collapse. The birdlike, white-clothed figure at the Great Wessex Agricultural Show becomes a heap of black garments sobbing and abasing herself beneath the cross in the Church of St. Silas of Ceremonies. Arnold's Christminster, for all its sweetness and light, gives Jude only his bitter sense of exclusion: Newman's Christminster—its Victorian complement—gives Sue her sense of guilt. She begins with Hellenic intellect as her light, and ends with Hebraic conscience as her yoke. Jude (increasingly the recording consciousness of the novel) underlines the tragic reversal of their positions:

'she was once a woman whose intellect was to mine like a star to a benzoline lamp: who saw all my superstitions as cobwebs that she could brush away with a word. Then bitter affliction came to us, and her intellect broke, and she veered round to darkness. Strange difference of sex, that time and circumstance, which enlarge the views of most men, narrow the views of women almost invariably.' (p. 484)

It is precisely Sue's femaleness which breaks her. When she loses her unborn child—her last stake in the future—we can only find Lawrence's psychic interpretation appallingly inappropriate: 'She was no woman. An d her children, the proof thereof, vanished like hoarfrost from her' (Phoenix, p. 507).

Sue's self-mortification after the death of her children (' "We should mortify the flesh—the terrible flesh—the curse of Adam!'", p. 416) is psychologically plausible; we recall the self-punishing impulse -hinted at earlier in her pre-enactment with Jude of the wedding ceremony which will bind her to Phillotson. But it is too easy to write off her return to Phillotson as a morbid recurrence of this 'emotional epicureanism', the 'colossal inconsistency', noted by Jude years before. The tragic implications of her return emerge from Hardy's insistence that Sue is both the same person and significantly different. The woman who remarries Phillotson is not the girl who had married him long before:

She had never in her life looked so much like the lily her name connoted as she did in that pallid morning light. Chastened, world-weary, remorseful, the strain on her nerves had preyed upon her flesh and bones, and she appeared smaller in outline than she had formerly done, though Sue had not been a large woman in her days of rudest health. (p. 445)

The oblique reminder of Sue's sprite-like insubstantiality gives pitying perspective to this second wedding; the burden has been too heavy, the bearer too frail. But it is not just that Sue is worn out by suffering. A younger Sue had denied her sexuality in ignorance: the older Sue does so knowingly. As we see from her reunion with Jude, three months later, she does still love him as passionately and physically as she is able. When Jude upbraids her (' "Sue, Sue, you are not worth a man's love!"') she bursts out:

'I can't endure you to say that! … Don't, don't scorn me! Kiss me, O kiss me lots of times, and say I am not a coward and a contemptible humbug—I can't bear it!' She rushed up to him and, with her mouth on his, continued: 'I must tell you—O I must—my darling Love! It has been—only a church marriage—an apparent marriage I mean!' (pp. 470-1)

Afterwards, she confesses to Widow Edlin:' "I find I still love him—O, grossly'" (p. 476)—applying to herself the word she had once used disapprovingly of Jude. But' "I've got over myself now'", she tells him, reminded of their dead children. We see the lengths she is prepared to go in getting over herself in the ritual reparation which is our last direct sight of Sue. Sex with love has brought only the death of her children: sex without love now brings the death of her deepest self. Earlier she had rent her embroidered nightgown, symbol of her shared joy with Jude, replacing it by a sacrificial, shroud-like calico garment in which to act out this penance. Hardy spares us nothing that matters of the harrowing scene in which she offers up her body on the altar of conventional morality, as she has earlier offered up her mind to a repressive form of Christianity. We overhear the conversation at Phillotson's bedroom door, gain a glimpse of his impatience ('There was something in [his] tone now which seemed to show that his three months of re-marriage with Sue had somehow not been so satisfactory as his magnanimity or amative patience had anticipated', p. 479); we witness Sue's oath of self-denial, her irrepressible repugnance (' "O God!"'), and her final submission—the subjection of the female to a covertly sadistic sexual code which demands the total surrender of her consciousness, individuality, and specialness:

Placing the candlestick on the chest of drawers he led her through the doorway, and lifting her bodily, kissed her. A quick look of aversion passed over her face, but clenching her teeth she uttered no cry. (p. 480)

As silence falls, Widow Edlin offers her choric comment on this life-denying consummation:' "Ah ! poor soul! Weddings be funerals 'a b'lieve nowadays"' (p. 481).

The reviewer who identified Sue as a 'New Woman' also recorded his regret that 'the portrait of the newcomer had been left to be drawn by a man, and was not done by one of her own sex, who would never have allowed her to break down at the end'. Hardy was writing less to celebrate her revolt than 'to point the tragedy of unfulfilled aims' (p. viii); and while his sex did not prevent him doing justice to the anguish of Sue's tragedy, he did in one important respect subordinate it to Jude's. Sue's breakdown accentuates Jude's strength and his fidelity to the values which originally inspired their struggle. As she blinds and shackles herself, he grows ever more clear-sighted. Though she is enslaved in body, and he enslaved by his own, he at least retains his intellectual freedom, railing against the state of things to the end. This contrast means that the complaint that Jude the Obscure is not fully tragic—that its hero remains a muddler, a man dragged down by his own weakness—is un-justified. Her submission to doctrine may be paralleled by his drunken remarriage to Arabella (gin-drunk as she is creed-drunk); but as his body grows weaker, his mind grows stronger. What Sue betrays, he cleaves to. In the painful scene in which she abjures their sexual relationship, Jude is spokesman for a humane code which she is unable to sustain. Jude's anguished accusation,' "You have never loved me as I love you—never—never!'" is no more than the truth, and there is poetic justice when he turns back on Sue the Shelleyan tribute she had once forced him to make:' "Yo u are, upon the whole, a sort of fay, or sprite—not a woman!'" (p. 426). Jude's plea,' "Stay with me for humanity's sake'", seeks to transcend differences of sex and creed, binding them together in their common humanity. His symbolic action is the more moving because his belief in the sacredness of their bond remains:' "Then let the veil of our temple be rent in two from this hour!". He went to the bed, removed one of the pair of pillows thereon, and flung it to the floor' (pp. 427-8). When he goes to see Sue for the last time, he reproaches her with' "I would have died game!'" (p. 470), and the reproach signals his tragic determination to remain true to his values even in death. His last, suicidal visit to Sue springs from a consciously undertaken resolution. He tells the scornful and incredulous Arabella:

'You think you are the stronger; and so you are, in a physical sense, now.… But I am not so weak in another way as you think. I made up my mind that a man confined to his room by inflammation of the lungs, a fellow who had only two wishes left in the world, to see a particular woman, and then to die, could neatly accomplish those two wishes at one stroke, by taking this journey in the rain. That I've done. I have seen her for the last time, and I've finished myself—put an end to a feverish life which ought never to have been begun!' (p. 473)

' "I meant to do for myself", he asserts, and he succeeds. Like Henchard in The Mayor of Casterbridge, Jude wills himself out of existence; his act of self-obliteration is also self-affirming because he heroically refuses to betray what he believes—Samson-like, not only in his weakness for women, but in his final strength of purpose. However bitter, however despairing, he does die game, and Sue remains unforgiven.

But the last word in the novel goes to Sue, as Arabella and Widow Edlin talk beside Jude's open coffin to the sound of another Remembrance Day celebration:

'Did he forgive her?' [asks Widow Edlin]

'Not as I know.'

'Well—poor little thing, 'tis to be believed she's found forgiveness somewhere! She said she had found peace!'

'She may swear that on her knees to the holy cross upon her necklace till she's hoarse, but it won't be true!' said Arabella. 'She's never found peace since she left his arms, and never will again till she's as he is now!' (pp. 493-4)

In the end, Sue's tormented consciousness haunts us more than Jude's bitter oblivion. What her life with Phillotson can be we are left to imagine—' "Quite a staid, worn woman now. 'Tis the man—she can't stomach un, even now!'" (p. 493), reports Widow Edlin—but it is clearly a living death. Arabella, with the crude insight which characterizes her throughout, offers Phillotson her own cynical view of the Mosaic law under which Sue suffers: 'There's nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf taskmaster for taming us women. Besides, you've got the laws on your side. Moses knew…" Then shall the man be guiltless, but the woman shall bear her iniquity."' (p. 384)

Thus the novel's thesis—'The letter killeth'—is worked out in the interlocking tragedies of a man and a woman; and Hardy's attempt 'to deal unaffectedly with the fret and fever, derision and disaster, that may press in the wake of the strongest passion known to humanity' (p. viii), comprehends Sue's specialized suffering along with Jude's. In one of those astonishing leaps of sympathy which occur in his own novels, Lawrence voices the novel's central plea for Sue:

Sue had a being, special and beautiful.… Why must man be so utterly irreverent, that he approaches each being as if it were a no-being? Why must it be assumed that Sue is an 'ordinary' woman—as if such a thing existed? Why must she feel ashamed if she is specialized? (Phoenix, p. 510).

'She was Sue Bridehead, something very particular. Why was there no place for her?' is indeed the question Hardy leaves us asking at the end of Jude the Obscure. This overwhelming sense of Sue's specialness is at once the basis of Hardy's protest on her behalf, and a measure of his imaginative achievement. The cogency of his general plea combines with his portrayal of Sue's individual 'obscurity'; the realistic sense of the gap between what she thinks and what she does, between belief and behaviour, imparts unique complexity and life to the static contrasts of the novel's original conception. Through Jude's obscurity Hardy exposes 'the contrast between the ideal life a man wished to lead, and the squalid real life he was fated to lead': through Sue's obscurity he probes the relationship between character and ideas in such a way as to leave one's mind engaged with her as it is engaged with few other women in fiction. Hardy's intention in Jude may be incompletely realized, but the novel is not less suggestive, and its protest not less eloquent, for that.

Kathleen Blake (essay date 1978)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9813

SOURCE: "Sue Bridehead: The Woman of the Feminist Movement," in Studies in English Literature: 1500-1900, Vol. XVIII , No. 4, 1978, pp. 703-20.

[In the following essay, Blake probes Hardy's portrayal of the feminine in Jude the Obscure, noting that Sue Bridehead, in repressing her sexual urges as part of a "deliberate effort at widening her possibilities" represents "a daring and plausible try at personal liberation."]

Curiously enough, I am more interested in the Sue story than in any I have written.

Sue is a type of woman which has always had an attraction for me, but the difficulty of drawing the type has kept me from attempting it till now.

Hardy's fascination with Sue Bridehead has been shared by many readers, some of whom feel she takes over Jude the Obscure from Jude. She is complex to the point of being irresistible, mystifying, or for some exasperating. She seems to Yelverton Tyrell, writing in 1896, "an incurably morbid organism," and to Desmond Hawkins, more than half a century later, "just about the nastiest little bitch in English literature."

Sue Bridehead will be more fascinating than frustrating to those who can find a thread that makes her windings worth following, and who can recognize in her mazes something more than the uniqueness of neurosis. Tyrell asks, "Why dwell on this fantastic greensickness?" Albert Guerard answers for the "minute responsibility" of Hardy's characterization, and Michael Steig argues her psychological coherence in clinical terms. Havelock Ellis and Robert Heilman carry the argument for our interest beyond the psychological consistency of what looks odd in Sue, to its representative importance.

Clearly Hardy thought Sue represented a type, however brilliantly individualized. She herself says that she is not such an exception among women as Jude thinks, particularly on the subject of marriage. She also says that she and Jude are not alone in their peculiarities (pp. 300, 327 [citations are from the 1912 Wessex edition of Jude the Obscure]). An important passage in Hardy's postscript of 1912 to the preface of Jude pinpoints Sue's type as "the woman of the feminist movement—the slight, pale 'bachelor girl'—the intellectualized, emancipated bundle of nerves that modern conditions are producing" (p. 50). By including it in his postscript, Hardy seconds the opinion of a German critic who wrote to him on Sue's feminism. No one seems to know who this German critic was. In fact the passage has been pretty much ignored. Some contemporary reviewers, such as Tyrell, classed Jude with "the fiction of Sex and the New Woman." And Hardy seems to have seen the novel in similar terms. When he contemplated dramatizing it, his projected titles were "the New Woman" or "A Woman With Ideas." But this view of the novel fell rather quickly from sight. Only recently has it begun to reappear, as in Lloyd Fernando's 'New Women' in the Late Victorian Novel and A. O. J. Cockshut's Man and Woman, A Study of Love in the Novel. An essay by Mary Jacobus recognizes the conflict between Sue's desire to be an individual and the "femaler ness that breaks her" but sets the struggle in rather narrowly personal terms so that her feminism remains disconnected from a wider Victorian framework. A similar lack of contemporary ideological framework causes Kate Millett to doubt Sue's coherence as a character because in her the new woman is at odds with the "frigid woman." I think that to place Sue in relation to Victorian thought on the woman question is to reveal the coherence of this "woman of the feminist movement," whose daring and precise logic of emancipation also produces its rending tensions. The feminism by which Sue frees her brilliant individuality makes her a "frigid woman" at the same time that it keeps her in constant peril of the "femaleness that breaks her."

Most criticism may have steered clear of feminist analysis of the novel because it is widely agreed that Hardy was doctrinaire in no cause or philosophy. He himself disclaims in a letter to Edmund Gosse that Jude is simply a problem novel on the marriage question. While not an avowed feminist, he knew something about feminist ideas. For instance, he quotes Tennyson's Princess in The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). His library contained such examples of late-century new-woman fiction as Olive Schreiner's Story of An African Farm, Sarah Grand's The Heavenly Twins, and Grant Allen's The Woman Who Did. He sympathized with certain feminist views. If the divorce issue is not all there is to Jude, it is part. Hardy also knew and cared about certain women who were touched by the cause.

His first wife Emma was interested in women's rights, but the two models usually proposed for Sue Bridehead are Tryphena Sparks and Florence Henniker. While Robert Gittings' biography of Hardy shows that Tryphena Sparks must have been at least what Victorians called a "strong-minded woman," Florence Henniker was the more demonstrably an "enfranchised woman." Hardy's letters characterize her in these terms. One letter indicates that he plans to get the Subjection of Women. This directly implies Mrs . Henniker's feminist interests and their influence on Hardy. However, she was apparently not cut to any stock pattern. Hardy says that he is surprised at her agreeing with Mill. This response is difficult to interpret. But it seems of a piece with his disappointment that a woman in some senses "enfranchised" should be in others conventional, for instance in her religious beliefs. A woman emerges contradictory in her views—like Sue—with the contradictions of a new type. Florence Henniker herself wrote fiction, and one of her heroines called forth Hardy's admiration—"the girl … is very distinct—the modern intelligent mentally emancipated young woman of cities, for whom the married life you kindly provide for her would ultimately prove no great charm—by far the most interesting type of femininity the world provides for man's eyes at the present day." This sounds like Sue's type. The heroine's mistake, the conventional marriage, reflects what for Hardy was the similarly mistaken conventionality sometimes shown by her creator and, presumably, prototype.

Lloyd Fernando contrasts Jude to other new-woman fiction of the period whose heroines' perfection is made out of theories, not psychological probability. Hardy shows how and why Sue Bridehead is a free woman but a repressive personality, sophisticated but infantile, passionate but sexless, independent but needing men, unconventional but conventional, a feminist but a flirt. He observes her with such undogmatic exactness, with such pure fascinated tenacity, that he shows us how this "bundle of nerves" works, and how her nerves go wrong.

Sue Bridehead wants to free herself of the worst of a woman's fate. Hardy outlines that fate in the section on the young women at the Melchester Training School:

they all lay in their cubicles, their tender feminine faces upturned to the flaring gas-jets … every face bearing the legend 'The Weaker' upon it, as the penalty of the sex wherein they were moulded, which by no possible exertion of their willing hearts and abilities could be made strong while the inexorable laws of nature remain what they are. (p. 183)

Hardy gives two versions of the reason for women's hard lot. One is social. When Sue compares a bride to a sacrificial heifer, Jude answers that women should not protest against the man but against the conditions that make him press her (p. 328). But the narrator charges masculine nature itself when he says that Sue is ignorant of "that side of [men's] natures which wore out women's hearts and lives" (p. 218). Hardy is able to have his sexual disaster both ways by piling one on top of the other. When Sue says "it is none of the natural tragedies of love that's love's usual tragedy in civilized life, but a tragedy artificially manufactured" (p. 257), he implies that, even take away the artificial, the natural tragedy would still remain.

The tragedy begins with sex. Hardy describes the students in the Melchester School with tender nostalgia: their hurry to shed the temporary immunity from the "deadly war" of passion provided by their "species of nunnery" only gives them longer to regret its loss (p. 47, 182). The young women are preoccupied with last year's seduction, young men who may turn out not to be cousins, late hours, and interesting delinquencies. They are safe, but restless, in the blockaded sexuality of their college regimen:

They formed a pretty, suggestive, pathetic sight, of whose pathos and beauty they were themselves unconscious, and would not discover till, amid the storms and strains of after-years, with their injustice, loneliness, child-bearing, and bereavement, their minds would revert to this experience as to something which had been allowed to slip past them insufficiently regarded, (p. 183)

Hardy's position is clear. Women suffer by the operations of sexuality—injustice, loneliness, child-bearing, and bereavement. Children bring suffering, Mrs . Yeobright says to little Johnny Nunsuch in The Return of the Native (1878). Mother woe is one's personal suffering and the knowledge of having given birth only to suffering. The Well-Beloved (1897), written just before Jude, expresses another liability of motherhood, that it stunts as well as afflicts. Mrs . Pine-Avon illustrates the rule that the "advance as girls [is] lost in their recession as matrons." Why ? "Perhaps not by reason of their faults as individuals, but of their misfortune as child-rearers." By the same token marriage offers no great advantage to a woman. Hardy thinks it is wrong for Florence Henniker's advanced young heroine to marry. There is an interesting late letter recounting the news of his sister-inlaw's successful confinement. He responds to the glad tidings with an opposite sentiment: "if I were a woman I should think twice before entering into matrimony in these days of emancipation when everything is open to the sex."

The Training-School students enjoy temporary immunity from sexual disaster. Enforced from without, it is, with all of its repressiveness, yet a haven to be missed later. Sue Bridehead enjoys a more sustained immunity, though still inherently and tragically unstable, enforced from within. Hers is sexual self-repression in the interest of personal emancipation, not doctrinaire in its expression in the novel but capable of analysis in the context of nineteenth-century feminism.

Sue is a woman seeking self-determination. A strong phase of her personality is contained in the phrase, "I shall do just as I choose!" (p. 197). She often does it, buying the forbidden statues, leaving the school, throwing over Phillotson and Jude turn and turn about. She says she wants "an occupation in which I shall be more independent" (p. 147). She quotes Mil l on liberty.

Her model of freedom comes from childhood. However, old Mis s Fawley's intriguing account of Sue as a. girl pictures her not in the full freedom of infancy but in moments of crucial consciousness of the threats to freedom, so that the childish Sue comes across more as a rebel than a free spirit. She was a good student and accomplished in other ways. "She could do things that only boys do, as a rule." But she was "not exactly a tomboy," partly it seems because she was already aware of gender and its divisions. She would suddenly refuse to play the boys' games. Yet she defied the limits placed on girls. She, who could hit and slide into the pond with the best of the boys, was once cried shame upon by her aunt for wading into that pond with her shoes and stockings off. She answered with twelve-year-old awareness of sexual roles and rebellion against them: "Move on, aunty! This is no sight for modest eyes!" (pp. 154-155).

Jean Brooks is one of the few critics willing to comment on the meaning of Sue's childhood. She compares her infantilism, her longing for childhood, with Catherine Earnshaw's, calling it "a death-wish longing." In my view neither Catherine nor Sue exhibits a death-wish so much as a life-wish. They hark back to a time before the split into sexual and thereby limited beings. Catherine comes to grief by being made a lady of, losing Wuthering Heights, the moors, Heathcliff, her heaven. For an androgynous union as of brother and sister in the panelled bed at the Heights is substituted the division and violence of adult love. Catherine dies in childbirth.

A catalog might be made of brilliant girl children of Victorian literature who stand to lose by growing up and do. Many say that Jane Eyre and Maggie Tulliver are less at their ends than their beginnings. Jane is rather diminished to a happy marriage with her "master." Maggie embraces self-renunciation and death. A classic instance of a fascinating girl's growing up to be a not-very-interesting woman is Paulina Bassompierre in Charlotte Brontë's Villette. In the brilliant opening chapters the six-year-old Polly threatens to take the novel away from its heroine, she is so complex, bizarre, above all so individual. But she comes to learn that she must bear a great deal at the hands of men, her father and her eventual husband, because she is a girl. She profits by the lesson, and the result is a happy marriage and the forfeiture of our attention in favor of the unhappy and unmarried Lucy Snowe. One of the most consistently engaging and admirable female characters of Victorian fiction, whose interest lies in her capability, not its defeat, is Alice. She is intelligent, resourceful, strong-minded, aggressive in a polite way that pleases by contrast to the outrageousness of the creatures she meets. She will stand no nonsense at the end of Wonderland and wins her game at the end of Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll is often suspiciously regarded for liking little girls. The liking was eccentric insofar as it tended towards exclusiveness, but is it in itself incomprehensible? Ma y not girls have something that they lose in growing up, especially in growing up to be Victorian ladies? Carroll said that he ceased seeing much of a child-friend after about the age of twelve because in most cases she ceased to be interesting. This may be taken as a comment on Carroll or on the girls. It is usually taken the first way, but I think the second way may be equally illuminating. It sheds an indirect light on Sue Bridehead's desire to "get back to the life of my infancy and its freedom," "to remain as I began" (pp. 181, 191).

Her method is to remain a virgin. The account of her relationship with the Christminster undergraduate is an important outline of the method. Contact with this young man represents educational "advantages" for Sue, opportunity beyond the usual girl's education. Jude says to her, "you don't talk quite like a girl,—well, a girl who has had no advantages" (p. 189). This is because of her exposure to masculine learning, to books that she would never have gotten hold of without the undergraduate. Sue chooses to be part of a wider world, instead of being cut out of it as out of the boys' games.

In this sense she follows the line of what George Moore calls in his Drama in Muslin one of the two representative types of emancipated woman in the later nineteenth century. This is the woman who gravitates toward men more than ever before because masculine contact, in contrast to her constrictive feminine circle, means "light, freedom, and instruction." Yet in another sense Sue belongs to the apparently opposite type of Moore's analysis, the woman who rejects men because of their reduction of women to merely sexual beings. Sue attempts a daring and dangerous combination of gravitation and rejection. This is her method. She says that she owes all of her advantages to a certain peculiarity that has shaped her life. It is that she has no fear of men and can mix with them freely. She removes the sexual barrier by as much as possible removing the sexual element from the relationship. This she does by repressing sexual invitation in herself. "Until [a woman] says by a look 'Come on' he is always afraid to, and if you never say it, or look it, he never comes" (p. 190).

I say that Sue represses her sexuality in an almost deliberate effort at widening her opportunities, but this analysis depends on her having sexual impulses to repress. I think she does, though many would not agree. Gosse says that "the vita sexualis of Sue is the central interest of the book," but later critics usually locate the interest in her lack of a sexual life. She is often taken at Jude's estimate on those occasions when he calls her sexless, a disembodied creature, incorporeal as a spirit, though it is to be noticed that he takes it all back when, for instance, she shows sexual jealousy over Arabella. Hardy explains in a letter to Gosse that Sue's oddity is sexual in origin, but not perversion and not entire lack. He says that her sexual drive is healthy as far as it goes but weak and fastidious. Michael Steig and Mary Jacobus are in the minority in giving her a significant sexual side. Wayne Burns says that critics have been led astray in denying it by the classic analysis of D. H. Lawrence.

Lawrence finds the woman in Sue Bridehead atrophied. He does not find her completely defunct. However he does assume that she was born thus atrophied, whereas I think it makes a difference that Hardy gives strong evidence of an originally passionate nature self-restrained and so debilitated. This is the force of her purchase of the statues of Venus and Apollo, her reading of Swinburne, her interpretation of the Song of Solomon as a paean to "ecstatic, natural, human love" (p. 195). She says herself that she loves Jude "grossly" (p. 434), and Arabella, who knows about these things, has the last word in the novel when she says Sue will never find peace outside of Jude's arms. It is true that Hardy's picture of Sue's sexual basis is so complex that it sometimes seems contradictory. For instance, one perplexing passage says she is "unfitted by temperament and instinct to fulfill the conditions of the matrimonial relation with Phillotson, possibly with scarce any man" (p. 260). This seems to imply inborn coldness; but then again is it sexual relations as such that instinct unfits her for, or their conditions, that is, their enforced nature in marriage? Also the ambiguity of the "possibly" is increased by the fact that two pages before Sue has kissed "close and long" with Jude, running spontaneously to meet his embrace and leaving it with "flushed cheeks."

I think when Hardy describes Sue at the Melchester School as "a woman clipped and pruned by severe discipline, an under-brightness shining through from the depths which that discipline had not yet been able to reach" (p. 175), we may understand both the under-brightness and the discipline as sexual in nature. Central to the treatment of the Training School is its powerful but repressed sexual charge. But unlike the other young women's discipline, Sue's is not only externally laid on. Hers is also a matter of herself neither saying or looking "Come on." The likeliest way to accomplish this over the long run would be to stop feeling "Come on."

A number of critics say that beneath her unconventionality Sue is really conventional. Heilman and Emmett call her sexual standoffishness a giveaway of ordinary Victorian prudishness. Millett suggests the same thing. But it is not ordinary. There was more than one tradition of female chastity. The ordinary one may be represented by the rule in Charlotte Yonge's complete Victorian lady's guide, Womankind—that a young lady must exercise self-restraint since "in almost all men there is a worse part which makes them willing to incite a girl to go as far as she will with them, and is flattered at the approaches to indiscretion which all the time make her forfeit their respect." Less ordinary is the specialized version of certain feminists. In fact Victorian feminists were responding to the same thing that Victorian prudes were—the noticeable disadvantages of being seen in a sexual light by men.

It is a commonplace of male literary treatment of emancipated women in the century to picture them like Tennyson's Princess Ida, walled off from the masculine world in a sort of convent-college of militant chastity, over whose gates stands written, death to any man that enters. It is a scientific commonplace to infer, like Herbert Spencer, flatchestedness in intellectually advanced women. The image of the new woman who rejects men appears often in the journals, for instance in the anti-feminist Saturday Review, which in an article of 1896 opposes the granting of university degrees to women because "it ministers to the new aspiration of some women for 'living their own lives'—that is, in fact, getting rid of the fetters of matrimony and maternity." I will cite George Moore again on this emancipated type:

women who in the tumult of their aspirations, and their passionate yearnings towards the new ideal, and the memory of the abasement their sex have in the past, and still are being in the present, subjected to, forget the laws of life, and with virulent virtue and protest, condemn love—that is to say, love in the sense of sexual intercourse—and claim a higher mission for woman than to be the mother of men.

There may be a question whether this reflects mainly masculine presuppositions or new women as they actually lived and thought. This is also the question where Hardy gets Sue. We should turn to what some of the feminists themselves said.

A classic illustration of feminist ambivalence about sex is Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Women. Wollstonecraft lavishes outrage on the demeaning of women as the sexual objects of men, so that their whole training is towards the arts of enticement at the expense of every other reasonable human endeavor. Wollstonecraft was herself a passionate woman, tempestuous even; she attempted suicide twice for deserted love. She expresses as little attraction to the Houyhnhnms as the Yahoos. She defends healthy physicality in women—an appetite that is not puny and ladylike, unconstrained exercise in sport, dancing even to the point of hot faces and sweat. "Women as well as men ought to have the common appetites and passions of their nature, they are only brutal when unchecked by reason." But the point is that they ought to be checked. A heavy emphasis of the Vindication is to devalue passionate love. It is a romantic interlude and not the sine qua non, to be made the object of a woman's whole life. Wollstonecraft insists on the extremely short life of passion, cooled in weeks or months to be replaced by rational married comradeship. "In a great degree, love and friendship cannot subsist in the same bosom." She is in a hurry to get to the friendly stage and to dilate on its virtues. "A master and mistress of a family ought not to continue to love each other with passion." Since Wollstonecraft and virtually all feminists after her lay the blame for a woman's oppression and incapacity on her rearing first and foremost as man's sexual object, it is no wonder that many of them feel some reservation about sexuality, at the very least demoting it from the top rank of importance. So Wollstonecraft devotes a chapter to modesty, she praises Diana, she is disgusted by women's habits of bodily intimacy, she is very sensible of the "gross" and "nasty," and sounds distinctly puritanical. She does not denounce motherhood. In fact she says it is a woman's noblest function and that instead of being trained for the harem she should be trained for the nursery. But a number of later feminists wanted to escape both. For instance, in her Morality of Marriage Mona Caird says, "the gardener takes care that his very peach-trees and rose-bushes shall not be weakened by overproduction … valuable animals are spared in the same way and for the same reason. It is only women for whom there is no mercy." She asks, "do we not see that the mother of half a dozen children, who struggles to cultivate her faculties, to be an intelligent human being, nearly always breaks down under the burden, or shows very marked intellectual limitations?" Such feminists had twice as much reason for sharing Wollstonecraft's low estimation of sex, and their position helps to explain Sue Bridehead.

A valuable book by J. A. and Olive Banks treats later nineteenth-century feminist doctrine as part of an investigation of Feminism and Family Planning in Victorian England. Its discussion of feminists' sexual attitudes helps explain their silence on birth control, controversial in the 1870s. The Banks conclude that silence meant nonsupport, the reason being suspicion of contraceptive methods for offering further sexual license to men, to which women owed so much of their oppression. Feminist journals like the Englishwoman's Journal, the Englishwoman's Review, and the Victorian Magazine were not silent on another controversial issue of the 1870s and 1880s. This was Josephine Butler's campaign against the Contagious Diseases Act, which took prostitutes under state regulation and enforced their medical examination in order to stem the spread of venereal disease. The Act was seen by most feminists as condoning the double standard by treating men's philandering as a venial sin, a mere hygiene problem. The law was considered offensive since it detained prostitutes while their customers went free, and offered no guarantee against indiscriminate detention. The Banks illustrate the feminist position by citing a speech in favor of the Act's repeal that attacks "the assumption that indulgence is a necessity of man." The attitude held after the Act fell. A writer in the early twentieth-century Freewoman finds "sex-intercourse—otherwise subjection to man" and concludes that "women are forced to crush down sex, but in doing so, they are able to use the greatest dynamic, passion, for the liberation of women." According to the feminists, the solution to the problem of venereal disease, among other problems, was chastity for men, as women already practiced it. The Banks sum up this line of thought with the suffragist slogan, "Votes for Women and Purity for Men." One of their most bizarre evidences of feminist antagonism to sexuality is a poem by Ellis Ethelmer, "Woman Free" of 1893, which looks to the equalization of the sexes for respite from menstruation by removal of its cause, men's undue sexual demands on women.

Some did support both contraception and women's rights. George Drysdale's Elements of Social Science, or Physical, Sexual, and Natural Religion argues the benefit of "venereal exercise" for women and men alike, to be enjoyed without Malthusian disaster by the use of birth control. He says that maladies of sexual frustration are in fact worse for a woman (from iron deficient blood to hysteria). She needs relief even more than a man because she is, under "our unfortunate social arrangements, far more dependent on love than man." We can see the feminism in the phrase "unfortunate social arrangements," and also foresee the parting of the ways between him and other feminists. His argument for sexual fulfillment partly concedes to the "unfortunate social arrangements" that make a woman's life destitute without it. The opposite tack is to minimize the need for love so as to reduce women's dependence on men in this as in other ways. The latter line of thought represents the feminist mainstream according to the Banks.

Feminist uneasiness about sex could be more or less encompassing. A review would have to include in addition to Wollstonecraft's asceticism, Margaret Fuller's denial of the Byronic axiom that love is a woman's whole existence and her glorification of virginity in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, and Christabel Pankhurst's salvaging in The Great Scourge and How to End It of the one valuable lesson—chastity—from women's history of subjection. J. S. Mill identifies the wife's duty of submission to her husband's desire as the ultimate form of slavery.

Hardy explicitly says in a letter to Gosse what he felt he must leave circumspectly implied in his novel, that part of Sue's reluctance to marry is her reluctance to relinquish the right to "withhold herself at pleasure, or altogether." This is behind Sue's aversion to being "licensed to be loved on the premises" (p. 300). As Fernando points out, the link between women's rights and the right over one's own body expressed in withholding it casts Sue in a distinctly feminist light.

Certainly she speaks of sex and marriage as the opposite of freedom. When she finally sleeps with Jude it is giving in, being conquered, being caught (pp. 307-308). She doesn't want to have children. She wishes "some harmless mode of vegetation might have peopled Paradise" (p. 267). A bride, to her, is the heifer brought to the sacrifice (p. 328). Jude reflects this attitude when he greets her, newly married to Phillotson, as a woman still free, with an individuality not yet squashed and digested by wifedom (p. 232).

Living fifteen months with her undergraduate friend, Sue remains as she began. Jude congratulates her on her innocence, but she responds rather unexpectedly. She says that she is not particularly innocent. In fact, she has a bad conscience about her method. She says a "better woman" would not have held off (p. 192). Sue is uneasy about her inhibition of sexuality. This ambivalence again shows her distance from merely ordinary attitudes on female purity. Neither is she a feminist programmatically heart-whole in her principles because she is simultaneously a believer in "ecstatic, natural, human love."

Her division roughly reflects the division in feminist theory, which had its hedonist along with its stronger ascetic impulse. For instance, Wollstonecraft's writings after the Vindication show her recognition of the strength of female passion, however heavily fraught with problems, and there were a few true erotic enthusiasts among the advocates of free love discussed by Hal Sears in The Sex Radicals, Free Love in High Victorian America, though the larger number of them stressed a woman's right of refusal, restraint, abstinence, continence, and varieties of quite stringent sublimation. A good spokesman for the feminism of erotic liberation is Edmund d'Auvergne in the Freewoman. Where Christabel Pankhurst endorses chastity in the cause of women, d'Auvergne finds it a male imposition and thinks Penelope should have enjoyed herself with the suitors as Odysseus did with Circe and Calypso.

"Better women" would have slept with their house-mates. Though it seems to be altogether necessary, holding out is not altogether good, which is why Sue Bridehead reflects about her life with the undergraduate, "men are—so much better than women!" (p. 191). There is an irony in her method of liberation. It allows her to mingle freely with men and to share their advantages, eliminating the barrier of gender by as much as possible eliminating gender. Sue is "almost as one of their own sex" (p. 190). Almost but not quite. It is significant that she is described as boyish, dressed in Jude's clothes, a Ganymede (p. 196). The liberating strategy makes her in a sense a boy rather than a man. It rules out exactly that aspect of masculinity that makes men "better."

Throughout the novel Sue suffers oddly excessive guilt culminating in her desire at the end to prick herself all over with pins to bleed the badness out (p. 385). I think the double source of her bad conscience can be traced to her relation with the undergraduate which prefigures that with Jude. She combines Moore's two types of liberation, to live with men and to escape them. This program involves injury to herself and to the man. She stunts her own nature and frustrates her lover.

There is evidence that Sue knows that sexual repression means loss as well as gain. She is defensive against people's idea that she is sexless—"I won't have it!" (p. 192). On occasion she seems to regret her coldness, even to Phillotson—"I am so cold, or devoid of gratitude, or so something" (p. 280). She suspects that Jude will hold her in "contempt" for not loving Phillotson as a husband. She feels some "shamefacedness" at letting Phillotson know of her incomplete relations with Jude (pp. 254, 294). She shows herself the reverse of proud when she says, "I know I am a poor miserable creature. My nature is not so passionate as yours" (p. 282). She knows she makes others miserable as well. She helps kill the undergraduate, wounds Phillotson in career and spirit, tortures Jude—"O I seem so bad—upsetting men's courses like this!" (p. 280).

Sue attempts a compromise. But to mitigate the first sort of injury is the more certainly to impose the other. That is, the more she allows her sexual nature to survive in self-protective permutations, the more vulnerable she makes her lover. Bad conscience is a distinguishing feature of her attempt to live a free woman. The compromise is essentially Platonic in theory, or more specifically Shelleyan. She enunciates it in the passage on her life with the undergraduate. "Some of the most passionately erotic poets have been the most self-contained in their daily lives" (p. 192). This justifies both eroticism and self-containment. It is a doctrine of sublimation quite Freudian in its assumption of the importance of sexual drive to higher mental or spiritual attainments. Implied also is the perpetuation of the drive by obstacle and deflection, so that it is not quelled by satiation. This idea runs all through Hardy, as brilliantly demonstrated by J. Hillis Miller in Thomas Hardy, Distance and Desire. The theory of augmenting desire by distance gives Sue part of her brief against marriage. If married people were forbidden each other's embrace instead of locked into it by contract, she says, "there'd be little cooling then!" (p. 300).

The concrete illustration of Sue's Platonic/Shelleyan love theory is her fondness for windows. Her escape from the Training School window seems to represent sexual liberation, since she goes to Jude's lodging, but the jump from Phillotson's bedroom window represents quite another kind, one which Jude comes to experience himself in a milder version when Sue sends him to sleep by himself. The two modes resolve into Sue's favorite disposition of the sexes, making spiritual love with a window in between. Jude and Sue have a tender talk through a window at Marygreen (p. 256), and their interview at Shaston becomes more tender once Jude is outside the casement. She says, '" I can talk to you better like this than when you were inside' … Now that the high window-sill was between them, so that he could not get at her" (p. 247).

If Sue's project for liberation is in good part one of inhibited sexuality, it by no means aims at total extirpation, or total rejection of men. The reasons are that she needs men for the advantage they offer, the undergraduate's books, for instance, and just as important, she needs them for their sexual stimulus. This sounds paradoxical for the repressive Sue, but the more repressed she is, the more stimulus does she need, for sublimation must have something to work on. I think Lawrence shows the finest insight of anyone who has written on Sue Bridehead when he says that she needs Jude to arouse the atrophied female in her, so as to stimulate the brightness of her mind.

Jude calls her a flirt (p. 246), which she is, and the novel is a classic formulation of flirt psychology, all the more remarkable for linking the flirt to the feminist. If we think these roles mutually exclusive, as Cockshut does, we are cast back on the idea that Sue is not a new woman but an ordinary old one after all. This misses a lot. Heilman's is a good analysis of Sue as coquette. He observes that the coquette wants to attract and yet remain unobtainable. He gives the reason that she needs to exert power. It seems to me that this is validly observed from a man's point of view, Jude's say, who feels his helplessness under a woman's sway, and it may be part of the picture on the woman's side too. It is commonly said that flirts use men, but less commonly said what they use them for. I think a great deal of Sue's use of men comes from her feminist double bind. She needs to keep alive in herself a sexuality in danger of being disciplined all the way down to the source.

Men may feel that a woman triumphs in the power of frigidity by remaining untouchable while making a man know his own vulnerability, but it should also be understood that she may freeze in her own cold. She may need, even desperately, for a man to warm her. Masculine impotence is widely understood to spawn in the sufferer psychological complications of the most fascinating pathos. Feminine impotence is usually understood as the man's suffering more than the woman's. But Hardy goes a great deal beyond the usual, that is, beyond the masculine perspective. He shows the impulse behind Sue's "love of being loved," which is the more insatiable for her own difficulty in loving (p. 246, 284). This impulse owes less to the power of the strong than to the need of the much weakened.

In Jude the Obscure, more than in any of his other novels, Hardy investigates the potential liability of the doctrine of distance and desire, that is, of desire stretched to farther and farther distances from direct satisfaction, so that it begins to attenuate, until it is in danger of losing itself. The novel also examines what such a loss would mean. Sue Bridehead is like a reinvestigation from the inside of Marty South of The Woodlanders, published seven years before (1887). Marty and Giles Winterborne enjoy the most serene love in the book because it dispenses with sex. In Jude Hardy still depicts passion as virulent, and so Sue defends herself against it. But the novel also shows, intimately, dismayingly, what it would mean to try to be like Marty South, "a being who had rejected with indifference the attribute of sex for the loftier quality of abstract humanism."

Sue's inhibition of sexuality, though not beyond her uneasy consciousness, is beyond her control. Hardy shows that it is there to be drawn out, but only if Jude takes the initiative. "B y every law of nature and sex a kiss was the only rejoinder that fitted the mood and the moment, under the suasion of which Sue's undemonstrative regard of him might not inconceivably have changed its temperature" (pp. 200-201). He does not kiss her, and his acquiescence in her sexlessness reinforces it in her.

However, her attenuated sexual nature does remain alive in alternative and bizarre forms. There is her jealously, which proves to Jude that she is not; after all a sexless creature (p. 319). There is her disgust, which she cherishes in an odd way. The only thing worse than her shrinking from Phillotson would be to get used to him, for then it would be "like saying that the amputation of a limb is no affliction, since a person gets comfortably accustomed to the use of a wooden leg or arm in the course of time!" (p. 254). To feel repugnance is at least not to accept being an amputee. The oddest form of Sue's rerouted sexuality is her device of provoking pain in order to feel pity, as when she makes Jude walk up the church aisle with her just before she is to marry Phillotson. She later says that her relation to Jude began in the wish to make his heart ache for her without letting hers ache for him (p. 393). But Hardy shows that her feeling is really much more complicated. In fact, Sue goes out of her way to induce in herself pain, long-suffering, and pity. In so doing she is "an epicure in emotions," satisfying her "curiosity to hunt up a new sensation" (pp. 215-216). Far from triumphing in lack of feeling, Sue strains after sensation of some sort. Since she does not feel desire directly, she invents original and "perverse" substitutes.

A curious technique for stimulating sensation in herself is to pose obstacles which will produce pain, which she can then pity. What makes this curious is that the obstacles are sometimes social conventions that she does not believe in. For instance, she plans to punish Jude by letter for making her give way to an unconventional impulse and allow a kiss. Of course she is usually highly unconventional, on both the subject of religion and the subject of marriage, so that in theory it should not matter to her that the future parson kisses a woman who is not his wife. Yet she turns around to make it matter, according to the extraordinary logic that "things that were right in theory were wrong in practice." This is not simple illogic but a quite orderly psychological maneuver for the production of sentiment: "Tears of pity for Jude's approaching sufferings at her hands mingled with those which had surged up in pity for herself" (p. 260).

It is important to understand Sue's unexpected invocations of convention. These have led some to think hers an unconventionality of the surface only; according to this interpretation her prostration to the letter of the law at the end is simply a true showing of the ordinary stuff she has been made of all along. A woman's succumbing to convention is a repeated idea in Hardy, as in "The Elopement": "in time convention won her, as it wins all women at last." He gives several explanations for Sue's succumbing. One does support the view that she has a conventional stratum to fall back on, when courage or reason fails, or circumstances become too strong. That is, Phillotson explains her return to the idea of the indissolubility of marriage by her soaking in Christminster sentiment and teaching (p. 398), in spite of all she has said against them. There is in this sense some credence to Lawrence's analysis that Sue is the product of ages of Christianity in spite of her proclaimed paganism. Sue herself often blames her timidity for the breakdown of her theoretic unorthodoxy. Jude questions whether the demise of her advanced views is accountable to a defect in women's reason: "Is a woman a thinking unit at all?" (p. 391). Later he attributes the narrowing of her views to the way that "time and circumstances" operate on women (p. 440). Hardy seems to accept Jude's idea of "strange difference of sex"; he calls women "The Weaker" himself. But in what sense weaker? Of course one way of answering would be as Jude implies, that men's views enlarge while women's narrow in adversity because men are made of stronger stuff. Another way of answering would be, less that men are stronger than that "time and circumstances" are less strong against them, which turns out to be the case in the novel. "The woman mostly gets the worst of it, in the long run!" says Jude. "She does," says Sue (p. 394).

In giving so many accounts of what weakens Sue, Hardy comes across as less dogmatic than any isolated passage may suggest. He is true, in the aggregate, to a complexity in her character beyond the simple explanations that he has his characters, as it were, try out on her. Above all. he shows that even when Sue appears to act conventionally, she often does so out of the most unconventional of motives. This makes inadequate the idea that she exposes at the end an ordinariness that has only been covered over with daring theories. Sue may be overpowered, she may fall short of her promise, she may buckle to the letter of the law, but she is never ordinary. Just as her sexual repression comes from her feminism, more than from the Victorian commonplace of feminine purity which it externally resembles, so does much of her behavior represent tactics in a highly individualized feminist program, sometimes just when it looks the most externally conventional.

We have seen how Sue uses convention unconventionally to induce sensation. Another way she uses it is to shield herself from sex, for reasons very much her own, as we have also seen. For instance, she goes to visit Phillotson in his illness after she has left him. He shows signs of warming from friend to husband, and Sue, in her "incipient fright" shows herself ready to seize on "any line of defense against marital feelings in him" (p. 294, my emphasis). She claims her own wickedness in leaving, so that he can't possibly want her back. There is no question of her believing this; she grasps at it willy-nilly. Another instance of Sue's self-defense with any odd weapon that comes to hand is her tortured reasoning to show why she cannot marry Jude. She invokes the letter of the law in its very finest print. Her argument goes like this: since she did not commit adultery with Jude, her divorce from Phillotson was obtained under false pretenses; it is no divorce, so she cannot marry Jude, which she clearly does not want to do for personal reasons quite other than legal (p. 298).

Sue's contradictoriness has depth and coherence. It represents an impressively original experiment in life and freedom. It also fails of its own divisions. Lawrence comes closest to explaining how this is, though his explanation must be disentangled from his sometimes offensive definitions of what it means to be a woman or a man, and from his idea that Sue was born with an un-healthy overbalance of the masculine. He recognizes that Hardy is concerned with something more complex than the pioneer's defeat by the simple retribution of an out-raged society. He proposes the analysis that the pioneer breaks down through inability to bear the isolation. But I think he goes beyond this too, by suggesting that Sue's breakdown inheres in her very method of pioneering. He says, "It was a cruelly difficult position.… she wanted some quickening for this atrophied female. She wanted even kisses. That the new rousing might give her a sense of life. But she could only live in the mind … She could only receive the highest stimulus, which she must inevitably seek, from a man who put her in constant jeopardy."

This accords with my own view. Sue's method of emancipation is sexual repression, but by no means total repudiation of sex or men. In addition to wanting what men have to offer intellectually, she needs men to keep alive the driving force of feeling, sexual at its root, recognized as essential in her Platonic/Shelleyan theory of sublimation. A man stimulates her sexual nature, which she directs into relatively safe channels, jealousy, disgust, and epicurean emotions, thereby evading the worst of the "inexorable laws of nature" for women. But the safety is precarious because the man must feel desire direct, to satisfy her "love of being loved." He is always there with his desire, reminding her of the comparative debility of her own, and of the injury she causes in leaving him unsatisfied. She feels guilt on both counts. She feels herself a kind of stand-out to the life force which she values and needs in him, even though she knows it would also sweep her away from her individuality and her freedom. The man is always there, always insisting, which she wants, but he is also blaming her, as it is clear Jude does. In spite of his protestations of love to her as an incarnate spirit, when he sees his chance, he presses for what he really wants by complaining of the "poor returns" he gets from her on his love (p. 306). Using Arabella's reappearance he pressures Sue into sleeping with him. Her balance is precarious because it rests upon a difference between what she feels and what Jude feels, a difference at the same time necessary to her purposes and dangerous to them. She "gives in," she sleeps with him, and the balance is upset.

Yet Sue and Jude are happy together for a certain unspecified number of years. Hardy moves very quickly over this period, which leaves some readers in doubt of their happiness. Neither Lawrence nor Heilman can believe that Sue could have adjusted to a normal sexual relationship. Though the picture remains sketchy, I think it is important for an interpretation of Sue to take Hardy at his word: "that the twain were happy—between their times of sadness—was indubitable" (p. 329). Sue's reservation is overcome, as charmingly symbolized by Jude's pushing her face into the roses at the Great Wessex Agricultural Show, which she had thought the rules prohibited her to touch. "'Happy?' he murmured. She nodded."

The flower scene represents a return to "Greek joyousness" (pp. 337-338). Sue explains later that they lived according to a new theory of nature—to "make a virtue of joy … be joyful in what instincts she afforded us" (p. 379). She says that with whatever coolness on her side her relation with Jude began, she did get to love him after Arabella's arrival pushed them together, and that this love is passionate we gather from the way she returns his kisses even after she has renounced him to return to Phillotson. Arabella notices that if she is cooler than Jude, "she cares for him pretty middling much" (p. 333). Sue is able to love and she does. She puts her Platonic theory behind her and lives for a time by a new code. Yet Hardy shows that the self-protectiveness of the old code was against real dangers, which descend upon Sue when she abandons it, making her revert to an extreme version of the sexual renunciation which had been her original position. But now instead of being self-creative, it is self-destructive.

The liability of love is made flesh in children. Sue is not ashamed of her passion during her happy time with Jude, especially since she still protects her freedom from being married and licensed to be loved on the premises. But she does question the result of passion. Since the woman bears the children, she bears the question more heavily. This is especially true for this pair, since Sue has more of herself—a star to Jude's benzoline lamp—to lose (p. 440). When Father Time first calls Sue mother, she begins to feel herself "getting intertwined with my kind." She feels she must give over "struggling against the current" (p. 320). Sue is someone who had tried to live by Mill' s doctrine—"who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation" (p. 265). For her, to give up the struggle is to give up her higher faculties. The children make compromise necessary, to which Sue and Jude add compromise on the compromise, so that they give up some of their own freedom without providing their family complete respectability. They can laugh when Jude is fired for carving the ten commandments while breaking the seventh, but laughter is less possible when looking for lodgings for a family of five when the landlady wants to know, "Are you really a married woman?" (p. 370). Sue must either be true to her principles by saying she isn't, or to her children by saying she is. Given the social structure, children represent a conflict between personal liberty and concession to one's kind. But Hardy goes beyond blaming society. Sue says, "it seems such a terribly tragic thing to bring beings into the world—so presumptuous—that I question my right to do it sometimes!" (pp. 352-353). Her guilt at bearing children seems well-founded in view of the Hardy world that awaits them—in Phillotson's summary, "cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society" (p. 359). The joy-in-instinct theory of nature by which Sue had tried to live is revealed as partial through the crucial episode of little Father Time's murder-suicide.

Father Time is so broadly symbolic that he is rather hard to take and hard to pin down. What makes him, for one thing, Sue's and Jude's "nodal point, their focus, their expression in a single term" (p. 377)? Does he enact the interior necessity of their love's disruption and Sue's about-face, or is he only one of Hardy's supernumeraries of nemesis? I think the catastrophe he brings about is not coincidental, because he acts out what Sue already feels, that she should not have had children. Having them is something she tells little Jude she must be "forgiven" for (p. 374). Sue explains that a "law of nature" brought them to birth (p. 373), and in killing them and himself he repudiates this law of nature.

Sue had originally sought to sidestep the law, before rather than after the fact. Then for a time she had allowed herself to imagine that the law is joy-in-instinct. But it turns out to be the inexorable law of nature, as it is called in the early passage on the women students. Women live out this law intimately, in their own bodies, and it means "injustice, loneliness, child-bearing, and bereavement." "The woman gets the worst of it." Jude blames himself for having disrupted the precarious equilibrium of their relationship, which had allowed evasion of the worst of nature's law (pp. 383, 394). Sue agrees that she should have remained as she began. Circumstances have persuaded her that she was right in her original position.

Hardy seems to support by the catastrophic fact Sue's analysis that "there is something external to us which says, 'you shan't,'" including '"you shan't love'" (p. 377). However precarious, there seems to be some reasonableness in her original attempt to evade this external "you shan't" by means of an internally imposed "you shan't." The latter allows a semblance of volition and self-determination which harnesses instinct to safer ends, at least, than hanging.

Sue's reaction to the decimation of her family is understandable. It is a return to an extreme form of her original position, self-mastery, self-renunciation. But no longer does she try to control her fate; she places it utterly out-side her own hands. She now wishes to "mortify the flesh, the terrible flesh—the curse of Adam" (p. 384). This sounds like the sexual repression she started out with, except that then she never denied the force for possible good of sexuality. The contrast can be seen in that before she counted men "better" for their desire, while at the end she counts women "superior" for never instigating, only responding (p. 392). Before she had thought that instinct could be made the drivewheel of personal development. She had not wanted to accept amputation and was glad even of disgust as a sign that the flesh could still feel its loss. The burning of the night-gown worn with Jude and the forcing of her nature to go to Phillotson represent, in contrast, a terribly complete amputation.

In trying at the end to utterly eradicate instinct in herself, she gives up all forward motion. She says she wants to die in childbirth. Spiritually, she makes her sexual nature into death, whereas before in its paradoxical way it had been life. So Sue is described as a person bereft of will. She is "cowed," feels "creeping paralysis." "I have no more fighting strength left, no more enterprise." "All initiatory power seemed to have left her." Self-suppression is now "despairing" (pp. 382, 369, 400).

Hardy says in a letter to Florence Henniker, "seriously I don't see any possible scheme for the union of the sexes that w[ou]ld be satisfactory." This attitude turns Jude into something quite different from a social-problem novel, since the problem goes deeper than society. It renders doubtful much optimism for what might have been had Sue and Jude not been fifty years before their time. The law of nature would still remain. To inhibit nature is not the answer. It causes some loss and some guilt. It also doesn't work very well, since instinct cannot be totally stultified if it is to remain at call for redirection. The love of being loved is actually a clamoring need. Instinct must feed on the stimulus of a lover's direct desire, with all the disequilibrium that implies. But to act on natural impulse is not the answer either. The law of nature is "inexorable," and procreation brings guilt and retribution both. Sue's precarious balance is an impressive experiment in self-creation. The experiment might have continued to work after its fashion, but the internal pressure is great, so that it is no surprise or final blame to her when the upset comes.

The German reviewer whom Hardy credits in his preface with calling Sue "the woman of the feminist movement," also says that if she had been created by a woman she would never have been allowed to break down at the end (p. 50). Not all who say that Hardy is great on women say that he is kind to them. Lascelles Abercrombie calls his treatment "subtle, a little cruel, not as tolerant as it seems." He often shows a woman character weak, changeable, and in the wrong, and he is quick, often distressingly so (the earlier the novel the more distressingly) to generalize from the woman to women, while the man is allowed to represent only himself. He characterizes women straightforwardly as "The Weaker" in Jude. However, I do not think this weakness comes across in the richly detailed portrait of Sue Bridehead as weakness in animal force, intellect, drive, venturesomeness, originality, or accomplishment. The explanations Hardy offers for her weakness become less definitive as they multiply. If Jude sometimes seems a paradise of loose ends, in Arthur Mizener's nice phrase, I think it never seems more so than when we hear that Sue's collapse comes from her indoctrination in conventions, or that women lack courage, or is it reason, or is it that they contract as men expand? No doubt a woman author, that is, a feminist woman author, would not have had Sue break down for these reasons. But I don't think they are Hardy's essential reasons either.

Rather in Sue Bridehead he dramatizes a daring and plausible try at personal liberation which runs into problems, reflective of the times but by no means yet altogether superceded, that a woman gains freedom as she gains access to a man's wider world while ceasing to be his sexual object. She sets about to mix with men freely, but neither to say or look or feel "Come on," rather to redirect that impulse to safer channels. But once the premise is acted on, she runs afoul of universal law, which touches women so closely, and which dictates that if it is dangerous to act naturally, so is it dangerous to inhibit nature. Sue's breakdown is not a judgment on her. It is a judgment on the way things are between the sexes according to Hardy, and that is a war that probably can't be won.

John Goode (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6286

SOURCE: "Sue Bridehead and the New Woman," in Women Writing about Women, edited by Mary Jacobus, Croom Helm, 1979, pp. 100-13.

[In the following essay, Goode concentrates on the character of Sue Bridehead as he examines Jude the Obscure in terms of late nineteenth-century feminism, and explores the means by which the novel exposes the mystifications of ideologically structured reality.]


Criticism of Jude the Obscure usually takes it to be a representation; hence, however hard such analysis tries to come to terms with the novel's radicalism,-it is inevitably ideological. Criticism of this kind necessarily dissolves the specific literary effect of the text, the author's 'production', into its component sources which are situated in 'reality'—that is to say, the ideological structure of experience by which we (including Hardy) insert our-selves into the hegemony. But Jude is such a truly radical novel precisely because it takes reality apart; that is, it doesn't merely reproduce reality, even as a 'series of seemings', but exposes its flaws and its mystifications. You cannot come to terms with the novel either as a moral fable or as an exhibition of social reality because it is the very terms of those structures, their ideological base, that it interrogates. After the death of her children, before she has, as they say, broken down, Sue tells Jude: 'There is something external to us which says, "Yo u shan't!" First it said, "Yo u shan't learn!" Then it said, "You shan't labour!" Now it says, "Yo u shan't love!'" (VI . ii) This very precisely defines the overdetermined form of the novel. Learning, labour and love—the three human activities on which bourgeois ideology bases its libertarian pride—are shown to be denied by 'something external'. In most novels, including Hardy's own earlier work, these three are accommodated within 'the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality' (Far from the Madding Crowd, LVI) ; even Tess is left free finally to love. Here it really doesn't matter what the external is, whether nature's inexorable law or social oppression. What matters is that it is external; it might as well be God. But although Jude comments that this is bitter, he does not answer when Sue replies that it is true. Because he cannot answer, he has no way to stop her from seeking to propitiate this external with the mortification of the flesh, the terrible flesh. A further precision is needed in our reading of this passage. Sue can say this because she is more articulate than Jude, who has already broken down by returning absurdly to the centre of his dream (Christminster). That is why he is horrified by her denial of love. Jude on his own account, even with Sue's aid, can confront and articulate what forbids learning and labour (and confront it as ideological). But it is only Sue who can demystify love and identify its determinants. And that is what most critics cannot take, and why criticism of the novel tends to sprawl from fiction to reality when it comes to Sue.

Most accounts of Jude the Obscure cannot cope with Sue except by reference to some ideologically structured reality. This usually enables the critic to say one of two things, both of which are demonstrably false representations of the text: either that Hardy's presentation of Sue is inconsistent, or that she is a neurotic type of the frigid woman. The most extreme version of the second reading is, of course, Lawrence's, which sees Sue as 'no woman' but a witch, whose attraction to Jude in the first place is in reaction to the incomprehensible womanliness of Arabella:

And this tragedy is the result of over-development of one principle of human life at the expense of the other; an over-balancing; a laying of all the stress on the Male, the Love, the Spirit, the Mind, the Consciousness; a denying, a blaspheming against the Female, the Law, the Soul, the Senses, the Feelings.1

I don't need to stress the sexism of Lawrence's account; it is remarkably like that of the reactionary reviewers such as Mrs Oliphant and R.Y . Tyrell whom Havelock Ellis implicitly rebuked when he said that to describe Sue as neurotic was to reveal an attitude which considers 'human sexual relationships to be as simple as those of the farmyard'.2 But I think that Lawrence is important because what he identifies as Sue's 'maleness' is her articulateness:

That which was female in her she wanted to consume within the male force, to consume it in the fire of understanding, of giving utterance. Whereas an ordinary woman knows that she contains all understanding, that she is the unutterable which man must forever continue to try to utter.

What is unforgivable about Sue is her utterance, her subjecting of experience to the trials of language. Lawrence, underneath the hysterical ideology, seems very acute to me, for he recognises that Sue is destructive because she utters herself—whereas in the ideology of sexism, the woman is an image to be uttered. That is to say, woman achieves her womanliness at the point at which she is silent and therefore can be inserted as 'love' into the world of learning and labour; or rather, in Lawrence's own terms, as the 'Law' which silences all questions.

The most available feminist inversion of Lawrence's ideology makes the inconsistencies of Sue's character part of the limitations of the novelist himself. Kate Milieu on the one hand affirms Sue's rationality ('Sue is only too logical. She has understood the world, absorbed its propositions, and finally implemented that guilt which precipitated her own self-hatred. Nothing remains to her but to destroy herself) 3 ; but on the other hand she clearly feels that Hardy loads the dice against Sue because of his own uncertainty, so that a woman who can be articulated by the feminist as 'an intelligent rebel against sexual politics' is presented to us as "by turns an enigma, a pathetic creature, a nut, and an iceberg'. She complains that we are never allowed to see Sue's motivation and processes of change, but decides that the clue to Sue, as to Arabella, is that they both despise womanhood, and that in Sue's case, this makes her hold sexuality in terror. It is not that Millett doesn't recognise the validity of Hardy's representation; it is rather that Hardy himself doesn't understand what defeats her.

I want to try to show that both approaches to Sue are wrong, but more than this, that a significant silence in both critics indicates the way in which they are wrong—and that this, in turn, indicates where the fictive effect of the novel displaces its own ideology in a mirror. For it is quite remarkable how many critics either despise Sue or blame Hardy for the confusion without ever asking whether the difficulty resides in the ways in which we articulate the world. Perhaps the most revealing recent account is John Lucas's. 4 Lucas finds Jude a less achieved novel than Tess, because by making Sue so unrepresentative, and failing to place her against some concept of womanhood ('we need more in the way of women than the novel actually gives us') Hardy fails to enable us to decide how much of the tragedy resides in the artificial system of things, and how much in the 'inexorable laws of nature' which make women what they are. Hardy, it is true, had already created a 'pure woman', but maybe we should ask whether the woman in Jude isn't precisely the question that is posed against that strange creation. Tess is the subject of the novel: that makes her inevitably an object of the reader's consumption (no novel has ever produced so much of what Sontag required in place of hermeneutics, namely, an erotics of art). But Sue is not the centre of the novel, she exists as a function of Jude's experience, hence as an object for him. It is surely possible that the questions come from her inability to take shape as that object. Lucas says that while we can understand why Sue shies away from Phillotson, the fact that she shies away from Jude makes her pathological, for although sex can be oppressive, it 'is, or ought to be mutual' (my italics). Millett, we have noticed, says that Sue hates her sexuality; Lawrence, that she is sexless. First of all, as I shall show, this is not really true. What is true, however, is that Sue exposes the ideology of Lucas's statement. Yo u can't, I think (as Millett says), be solid about the class system and muddled about sexual politics. These critics are muddled about both, and they are muddled because neither Hardy nor Sue will let go of the questions.


When Sue has retreated back into her marriage with Phillotson, Jude poses what I take to be the fundamental ideological question posed by the novel and found unforgivable by the critics who cannot take Sue:

'What I can't understand in you is your extraordinary blindness now to your old logic. Is it peculiar to you, or is it common to woman? Is a woman a thinking unit at all, or a fraction always wanting its integer?' (VI. iii)

If this question is asked in the novel it is surely naïve to ask it of the novel. What is more important is that this question should be asked; it poses for Sue only one of two possibilities—that the nature of her blindness to her own logic must be explained either by her 'peculiarity', or by her belonging to womanhood. Either way, she is committed to being an image, and it is this that pervades the novel. Nobody ever confronts Jude with the choice between being a man or being peculiar. The essential thing is that Sue must be available to understanding. We might want to deduce that Hardy feels the same way as Jude at this point, but I think to do so would go both against the consistency of the novel and against Hardy's whole career as a writer. Twenty years before he wrote Jude, Hardy had made Bathsheba Everdene say:' "It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs'" (Far from the Madding Crowd, LI) . He built a career as a writer out of the very mediations that woman as subject has to create to define her own subjectivity. The plots that turn on caprice, the scenes which reach outside the interaction of manners, the images which embody contradiction, are all constructs made by the novelist to articulate those unspeakable (though not unutterable) feelings. In Jude, for the first time in his major fiction, the woman is no longer the vessel of those mediations, but the object of male understanding. Sue not only speaks for herself because she is an intelligent rebel; she is called on to speak for herself—to place herself in relation to other woman and to their ways of feeling. She several times has to relate her particularity to what all women are like 'really'. In other words, she has to affirm that she is a woman, or admit her ethereal nature—her 'peculiarity'. If we think about the novel naturalistically, without any ideological idyllicising of love (it 'is or ought to be mutual'), we might ask ourselves about the absurdity of Jude's lack of understanding. Sue has been driven around the country by prejudice and poverty, she is stuck in Christminster by Jude's obsession, and now all her children have been killed by Jude's son whom she has made her own. Our perfect union, she tells Jude, is stained with blood. But of course we don't consider it naturalistically, because we don't ever ask what is happening to Sue; because it is rather a question of Sue happening to Jude. So what matters is where this reaction puts her, rather than why it comes about.

Sue is more than anything an image; that is literally how she comes into Jude's life, as a photograph, and how she is continually represented to us throughout the novel—dressed in Jude's clothes, walking in the distance with Phillotson, looking like a heap of clothes on the floor of St Silas's church. But if she is an image, it is a vital part of this image that it has a voice, and hence a logic. Although logic and image play contrasting and reinforcing roles in relation to one another at different points in the novel, it is the relationship between them which calls in question the ideological alternative between peculiarity, on one hand, and the nature of woman, on the other. Sue thus has an instrumentality which makes it irrelevant to ask what kind of ordeal she is undergoing, at least until the novel moves towards the shared experience of Jude and Sue in the Aldbrickham section. For example, at the very beginning Jude sees her haloed in the Christminster ecclesiastical art shop, while we see her buying pagan statues: a relatively simple juxtaposition of false image and conscious decision. But although Hardy presents her logic as having a potential subjectivity (that is, Sue's purchase of the statue is private, tentative, naïve and confused—it could be the frail start of an emancipation), by the time this logic has come to Jude's notice it is formed and decisive, something for him to understand and adjust his own attitude by. I don't think that this confusion entails confusion on Hardy's part, for it is as a confusing image that Sue is effective in breaking down Jude's illusions. Nor do I think that it is because she is in some way pathological. Sue has a potential coherence which is kept at bay by her function. If she is in any sense to be seen as abnormal, it is only in the sense that neurosis becomes normative in Freud because it exposes what a 'healthy' state of mind represses.

The question of her sexuality is crucial in this. It isn't an easy question. Jude himself calls her sexless before the consummation, then explicitly withdraws it when she gives in, only to repeat it in the last section when he is confronted with her return to Phillotson. And that seems to me what we are supposed to feel—an extreme confusion. But this confusion is not seen to reside in her personality; rather, it resides in the insertion of her dual role of image and logic into the world experienced by Jude. From the start this opens up a gap between what she actually says and the way that it is taken. When she tells Jude about the undergraduate who is supposed to have died of unrequited love, she cites it as an example of' "what people call a peculiarity in me'" but immediately goes on to affirm that her peculiarity lies merely in having no fear of men because she knows they are not always out to molest you. The differentiation here is cultural:' "I have not felt about them what most women are taught to feel.'" Jude makes it biologistic. Equally there is no mystery about why she never became the undergraduate's mistress:' "He wanted me to be his mistress, in fact, but I wasn't in love with him'" (III . iv). It seems very straightforward, and the undergraduate's claim that he died of a broken heart is surely intended to be preposterous. That is, until Jude's reception of the story is defined: 'Jude felt much depressed; she seemed to get further and further away from him with her strange ways and curious unconsciousness of gender' (III . iv). The only sexual terror in this seems to me to be Jude's—the sense that there must be something unnatural in a woman who won't give way to a man she doesn't love. And yet at the same time, what Sue affirms seems to offer very different possibilities:' "I suppose, Jude, it is odd that you should see me like this and all my things hanging there? Yet what nonsense! They are only a woman's clothes—sexless cloth and linen'" (III . iii). It seems to suggest, if only fragmentarily (though it goes with Aunt Drusilla's story of Sue as a child, her resistance to invidious comparison with Arabella, the adoption of Jude's son, and 'that complete mutual understanding' between her and Jude at the fair), a repressed version of a sexuality not possible in the novel itself.

That is all very well, but it is still true that Sue clearly doesn't want to consummate her relationship with Jude, and that she retreats into the most conventional guilt about their sexual relationship when the children are dead. But I think that if we take Sue's function into account, we cannot make the mistake of thinking that there is some inherent inconsistency in her characterisation. Again it is a question of the relationship of the image to the logic. For what seems to me to be most truly radical about this novel is that sexuality is not left as a kind of idyllic enclave within the oppressive social system. Loving is subject to that external denial too. We have to bear in mind what the meaning of the marriage to Phillotson is. It comes out of that dislocation between logic and image which Sue enacts and which Jude never emancipates her from. Marriage has to do, as Phillotson makes clear, with the régularisation of the sentiments, the ordering of sexuality in terms which will be socially effective. The evocation of Mill in this context is not, as Eagleton says, bourgeois liberalism; 3 it is rather the taking of that affirmation into the area at which the ideology works most opaquely, the point at which the artificial system of things leagues itself with the laws of nature. Lucas quotes as an example of Hardy's muddle the passage about the young women in the dormitory:

their tender feminine faces upturned to the flaring gas-jets which at intervals stretched down the long dormitories, every face bearing the legend 'The Weaker' upon it, as the penalty of the sex wherein they were moulded, which by no possible exertion of their willing hearts and abilities could be made strong while the inexorable laws of nature remain what they are. (III. iii)

Strictly theoretically, this might constitute an evasion (is it social oppression or the laws of nature that make women the weaker sex?), but the same point has to be made about this that is made about Sue's representativeness: it is the area of confusion between the two which constitutes the basis of the novel's question. Does Hardy mean to suggest the possibility that the laws of nature might change? Surely to do so calls into question the whole phenomenology of the narrative. This is a 'pretty, suggestive, pathetic sight', like the sleeping young women, an arena of understanding that slips out of our grasp as soon as it is glimpsed. Such contiguity of nature and society is exactly what constitutes the ideology of marriage. Sue's challenge to marriage is a challenge to the social structure itself, as Gillingham realises:' "if people did as you want to do, there'd be a general domestic disintegration. The family would no longer be the social unit'" (IVol. iv). The Shelleyan counter to this is not marked by its sexlessness. Epipsychidion, which Sue invokes shortly after this, is about a love which evolves itself in transcendence of a prison, as some of the lines she omits make clear.

High, spirit-wingèd Heart! who dost forever
Beat thine unfeeling bars with vain endeavour,
Till those bright plumes of thought, in which arrayed
It over-soared this low and worldly shade,
Lie shattered; and thy panting, wounded breast
Stains with dear blood its unmaternal nest!
                                                  (11. 13-18)

The last line surely reminds us of the blood-stained perfect union. Physical sexuality is continually implicated with marriage, and those early chapters in Aldbrickham are about the subject of marriage and 'the other thing' (sexuality) together, because sexuality is blood-stained. Once they have children, Jude and Sue have to live the economic life of the couple. In a sense Sue is right to see the children's death as retribution. It is the payment for a return to 'Greek joyousness'. Throughout the novel, what Jude and Sue aspire to is comradeship. This has to define itself against marriage, and thus against 'sexuality'. And yet, there can be no doubt that the real making of this comradeship comes in those few pages between the consummation and the return to Christminster. It is just, however, that it cannot descend into the world of actuality without being destroyed. And that is what Sue recognises in her mortification at the end. She and Jude were wrong to make their relationship physical because you cannot be comrades in a world of domestic gins.

As I have argued, Sue has to perform the function of articulating all this. The pattern of openness and retreat recognises the war between logic and image. But that is to put it too metaphysically; Sue is only bodiless in so far as the body of the woman is a basis of capitalist reproduction, and therefore not her own. At this point I should stress that I am not trying to find an apologetic for Sue. It is not a question of discovering a psychology or making her representative. What makes Sue effective is her function in the novel, which is the function of an exposing image—that is to say, of an image carrying its own logic which is not the logic of the understandable, comprising both what she utters and what she seems, the gap between them and the collusion they make. As this image she destroys the lives of the order-loving individuals who aspire out of their loneliness through her. It is this destruction, however, that uncovers the determinants of both their aspiration and their loneliness. The sexual fascination of Sue and its demand for comradeship exposes the very impossibility of sexuality. Outside the field of possibility which she calls attention to, there is always the external that limits the field. Where I think we can go so wrong in this novel is to treat it in terms of a representation which we then find incomprehensible. It is the incomprehensibility that constitutes the novel's effect; the incomprehensibility of Sue (who as an image is offered for comprehension) is one way at least in which the incomprehensibility of the world (i.e. bourgeois ideology) is offered. To seek to tie her down to representativeness, or to the explicable, would be to postulate that ideology is 'false consciousness'. But we are talking about a literary effect and it is the literary function of Sue as part of what Hardy produces in this novel that constitutes the basis of our understanding. An d the case of Sue is relatively specific.


Hardy in the 'Postscript' of 1912 cites, perhaps disingenuously, a German critic who said that Sue was the first delineation in fiction of the woman of the feminist movement. In fact, as Elaine Showalter establishes, feminism is dominant in fiction already by the time Hardy writes Jude.6 And more than this, Sue clearly belongs to a literary variant of the feminist heroine which became fashionable in English fiction after the first performance in England of Hedda Gabier in 1891, and which came to be known as the New Woman. A. R. Cunningham gives an informative account of this variant in 'The "New Woman Fiction" of the 1890s',7 showing how other texts before Jude have heroines who cite Mill and Spencer and aspire to the emancipation which is doomed 'either through personal weakness or social law', and who even in some cases retreat like Sue into Christianity. While the better-known writers such as Grant Allen and Sarah Grand celebrate the New Woman largely as a figure of purity, other writers (most notably George Egerton) use the type as a means of confronting the displaced sexuality of woman. What I think characterises Hardy is that he uses this literary device not as a subject offered to the reader's amazement, but as an active force within the novel which answers to the buried ideology of the questing hero. In other words, whereas Arabella limits Jude's dream, Sue translates his dream into questions, taking him beyond the bewilderment of 'the artificial system of things' into the bewilderment of nature's inexorable law. Nevertheless she does this as an image, and what makes for her coherence is neither her consistency nor Hardy's, but the persistent way in which she exposes the limits of meaning. Although this is clearly a subject requiring elaboration, I want (rather than placing Sue in her immediate context as the New Woman) to see the novel in terms of the larger context of feminist literature at the end of the nineteenth century by relating it briefly to the best feminist text of that period, The Story of An African Farm.

Olive Schreiner's novel appeared in 1883 and there was a first edition in Hardy's library, though I have no idea whether he read it, and I am not trying to claim that it influenced him. More importantly, it seems to me, the relationship of Schreiner's novel to ideology shares a great deal with that of Hardy's. It is not accidental that Schreiner's text gets treated in very similar ways to Hardy's. Even Elaine Showalter says that matters of plot and construction were beyond Schreiner, and that what marks her writing is its ardour rather than its art. Schreiner as a writer, in fact, gets treated rather like Sue as a character—the talented neurotic who was unable to keep up any significant level of productivity. Of course there isn't much after The Story of An African Farm, but to have achieved that much seems fairly remarkable, and it is clear to me at least that it is a carefully structured text, positing many voices against one another, not—obviously—in a way that makes for an identifiable coherence or for a comfortably distanced fiction. But the relationship of Waldo to Lyndall is a liaison of speech, each of them stimulated into thought and given voice by a 'stranger' (the traveller who interprets Waldo's carving, the lover through whom Lyndall experiences the conditions of female sexuality); they are only able to communicate because they do not get entrammelled in sexuality:' "I like you so much, I love you." She rested her cheek softly against his shoulder. "When I am with you I never know that I am a woman and you are a man; I only know that we are both things that think."' 8 As well as this possibility of a comradeship making language the bridge which 'reality' denies to both of them, what is also important in relation to Jude is that Lyndall should define the difference between man and woman as the difference between expecting to work and being expected to seem:

'It is not what is done to us, but what is made of us,' she said at last, 'that wrongs us. No man can be really injured but by what modifies himself. We all enter the world little plastic beings, with so much natural force perhaps, but for the rest—blank; and the world tells us what we are to be, and shapes us by the ends it sets before us. To you it says—Work; and to us it says—Seem! To you it says—As you approximate to man's highest ideal of God, as your arm is strong and your knowledge great, and the power to labour is with you, so you shall gain all that human heart desires. To us it says—Strength shall not help you, nor knowledge, nor labour. You shall gain what men gain, but by other means. And so the world makes men and women.

'Look at this little chin of mine, Waldo, with the dimple in it. It is but a small part of my person; but though I had a knowledge of all things under the sun, and the wisdom to use it, and the deep loving heart of an angel, it would not stead me through life like this little chin. I can win money with it, I can win love; I can win power with it, I can win fame. What would knowledge help me?

The less a woman has in her head the lighter she is for climbing. I once heard an old man say, that he never saw intellect help a woman so much as a pretty ankle; and it was the truth. They begin to shape us to our cursed end,' she said, with her lips drawn in to look as though they smiled, 'when we are tiny things in shoes and socks. We sit with our little feet drawn up under us in the window, and look out at the boys in their happy play. We want to go. Then a loving hand is laid on us: "Little one, you cannot go," they say; "your little face will burn, and your nice white dress be spoiled." We feel it must be for our good, it is so lovingly said; but we cannot understand; and we kneel still with one little cheek wistfully pressed against the pane. Afterwards we go and thread blue beads, and make a string for our neck; and we go and stand before the glass. We see the complexion we were not to spoil, and the white frock, and we look into our own great eyes. Then the curse begins to act on us. It finishes its work when we are grown women, who no more look out wistfully at a more healthy life; we are contented. We fit our sphere as a Chinese woman's foot fits her shoe, exactly, as though God had made both—and yet He knows nothing of either. In some of us the shaping to our end has been quite completed. The parts we are not to use have been quite atrophied, and have even dropped off; but in others, and we are not less to be pitied, they have been weakened and left. We wear the bandages, but our limbs have not grown to them; we know that we are compressed, and chafe against them.'9

That is what constitutes the unattainability of the woman; being expected to seem, she cannot talk unless she is able not to be a woman. In that gap between talking and seeming exists not only the character of Lyndall, but also the very form of the novel. The reality of the novel is more highly fragmented than many other texts of the period, and yet the writing itself acts out its ideological commitment to the Emersonian unity which is so often noticed in The Story of An African Farm—noticed, without its being seen as the instrument which makes possible the novel's own particular version of comradeship. Formally, this Emersonian unity comes to a head when Waldo's life is suddenly presented as phases of our life. In terms of the novel's meaning it is there in the final consolation of the hunter (a feather from the white bird of Truth) and the commitment Waldo makes to dreams. The form of the novel, that is to say, is instrumental.

But the instrumentality which the text achieves through its form must be defined in terms of its ideological recognition. When the stranger is telling Waldo of the hunter's search for truth, he makes it a precondition of that search that the hunter releases the birds of certain concepts from their cage: 'He went to his cage, and with his hands broke down the bars, and the jagged iron tore his flesh. It is sometimes n commitment easier has to build than to break.' 10 The Emersonian commitment has to be seen in the context of this total démystification. Patiently the novel erodes all the ideological supports of the characters, so that it is the very fracturing of form that gives the novel its instrumentality. Now a fiction is a representation—it is itself an image, so that to provide a text which is a coherent representation would be the same as being understandable. An d I have tried to show what constitutes Sue's effectivity is that she isn't—that she constitutes an image which breaks down the certainties through her own logic. This is, self-consciously, the aesthetic of The Story of An African Farm: the preface to the second edition clearly foreshadows the 'series of seemings' which follow ('the method of the life we all lead [where] nothing can be prophesied', as opposed to 'the stage method'). Significantly, both Schreiner and George Egerton move towards fragmented form. An Egerton story is not only short, it is chopped. An d it is also strictly speaking incomprehensible. The heroine of 'A Cross Line', for example, is able to speak to the stranger, but what she says is enigmatic and she only goes to him because he accepts the enigma. The account of woman here picks up all the themes—image, enigma, liar:

Then she fancies she is on the stage of an ancient theatre out in the open air, with hundreds of faces upturned towards her. She is gauze-clad in a cobweb garment of wondrous tissue. Her arms are clasped by jewelled snakes, and one with quivering diamond fangs coils round her hips. Her hair floats loosely, and her feet are sandal-clad, and the delicate breath of vines and the salt freshness of an incoming sea seems to fill her nostrils. She bounds forward and dances, bends her lissom waist, and curves her slender arms, and gives to the soul of each man what he craves, be it good or evil. And she can feel now, lying here in the shade of Irish hills with her head resting on her scarlet shawl and her eyes closed, the grand intoxicating power of swaying all these human souls to wonder and applause. She can see herself with parted lips and panting, rounded breasts, and a dancing devil in each glowing eye, sway voluptuously to the wild music that rises, now slow, now fast, now deliriously wild, seductive, intoxicating, with a human note of passion in its strain. She can feel the answering shiver of feeling that quivers up to her from the dense audience, spellbound by the motion of her glancing feet, and she flies swifter and swifter, and lighter and lighter, till the very serpents seem alive with jewelled scintillations. One quivering, gleaming, daring bound, and she stands with outstretched arms and passion-filled eyes, poised on one slender foot, asking a supreme note to finish her dream of motion. And the men rise to a man and answer her, and cheer, cheer till the echoes shout from the surrounding hills and tumble wildly down the crags. The clouds have sailed away, leaving long feathery streaks in their wake. Her eyes have an inseeing look, and she is tremulous with excitement. She can hear yet that last grand shout, and the strain of that old-time music that she has never heard in this life of hers, save as an inner accompaniment to the memory of hidden things, born with her, not of this time.

And her thoughts go to other women she has known, women good and bad, school friends, casual acquaintances, women workers—joyless machines for grinding daily corn, unwilling maids grown old in the endeavour to get settled, patient wives who bear little ones to indifferent husbands until they wear out—a long array. She busies herself with questioning. Have they, too, this thirst for excitement, for change, this restless craving for sun and love and motion? Stray words, half confidences, glimpses through soul-chinks of suppressed fires, actual outbreaks, domestic catastrophes, how the ghosts dance in the cells of her memory! And she laughs, laughs softly to herself because the denseness of man, his chivalrous conservative devotion to the female idea he has created blinds him, perhaps happily, to the problems of her complex nature. Ay, she mutters musingly, the wisest of them can only say we are enigmas.11

The point about this passage is that it is a self-communing—it offers what the understanding of the good husband leaves out, what is inexplicable to the new lover. I'm here trying to talk about form and content at once: both the structure and the portrayal move towards that inconsistency which constitutes Sue's effectiveness. The New Woman is most effective in that sense, not because she reads John Stuart Mill , has reservations about the exploitation of her sexuality, or submits to the external (death, the lover, God), but because that dance opens up the ideological structure of reality. The end of Hedda Gabier sums up the challenge to intelligibility:' "People just don't do things like that." '


References in the text are to the chapter divisions of Hardy's novels.

1'Study of Thomas Hardy' in E. D. McDonald (éd.), Phoenix: The Posthumous Papers of D. H. Lawrence (London, 1967), p. 509.

2 R. G. Cox (ed.), Thomas Hardy: The Critical Heritage (London, 1970), p. 311.

3'Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (London, 1972), pp. 130-4.

4The Literature of Change: Studies in the Nineteenth-Century Provincial Novel (Hassocks, Sussex, 1977), pp. 188-91.

5Introduction to Jude the Obscure, New Wessex edn. (London, 1975), p. 15.

6Elaine Showalter, A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (London, 1977), pp. 182-215.

7Victorian Studies, vol. xvii (1974), pp. 177-86.

8Olive Schreiner, The Story of An African Farm, 2 (London, 1883), vol. ii, p. 94.

9Ibid., vol. ii, pp. 39-42.

10 Ibid., vol. i, p. 301.

11George Egerton, Keynotes (London, 1893), pp. 19-21.

Elizabeth Langland (essay date 1980)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6602

SOURCE: "A Perspective of One's Own: Thomas Hardy and the Elusive Sue Bridehead," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. XII , No. 1, Spring, 1980, pp. 12-28.

[In the following essay, Langland investigates Hardy's portrayal of Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure, concluding that she is an "unevenly conceived character" riddled with inconsistencies, but that these flaws point to the novel's "distinctly modern" narrative sensibility.]

Form and content are inseparable. Story depends on technique, depends, Henry James claimed, on "every word and every punctuation point." Although Thomas Hardy could be expected to resist his contemporary's strict attention to minutiae, James's broad point about the inter-dependence of idea and form nonetheless helps explain problems in Hardy's Jude the Obscure and particularly in that elusive character, Sue Bridehead, who is a touch-stone for many of the difficulties posed by Hardy's final novel. Critics have called this character childish, selfish, sadistic, masochistic, narcissistic, and frigid, all in explanation of what has been defined as her dominant trait: inconsistency. But these conclusions have not satisfied even their authors, among whom Irving Howe is representative in cautioning: "Yet one thing, surely the most important, must be said about Sue Bridehead. As she appears in the novel itself, rather than in the grinder of analysis, she is an utterly charming and vibrant creature." Perhaps a character can be so fluid and complex that she eludes the combined critical efforts to capture her. But, before despairing of analysis altogether, we should consider Sue's inconsistency and elusiveness in light of formal difficulties in Hardy's last novel.

That Sue Bridehead has resisted satisfactory analysis points both to problems in the formal conception of Jude and to the inadequacies of its point of view in conveying a growing sensitivity to other versions of the novel's central experiences. An omniscient narrator, such as Hardy offers in Jude, should be a guarantee of reliability, but Hardy's final narrator eludes and evades. And, for the first time, Hardy lets the perspective of a single character, Jude Fawley, dominate the story. To complicate matters further, it is not clear to what extent Jude's perspective is judged by the narrator, or even, as criticism has made clear, to what extent Hardy himself is involved in his narrator's and character's perspectives. In light of these complications, inconsistencies in Sue Bridehead's character and behavior call for reassessment.

We must disentangle Sue's character from the problematic narrative point of view which presents her—a point of view primarily Jude's, but buttressed by the narrator's. To do so, we confront questions of character autonomy and the matrix for judging character. As James saw, we cannot simply wrest character from the context of narrative technique and point of view. In discussing Sue's character, we must continually account for the novel's point of view which is closely allied with Jude's experience and with a man's perspective on an unconventional woman. And, any effort to resolve questions about Sue's personality must take into account the relationships among mimesis, narrative technique, and character development.

In this larger context, we recognize that Jude's primacy in the novel must shape Sue's role in it, much as in Tess of the D'Urbervilles the eponymous character determines and limits the representation of Alec D'Urberville and Angel Clare. In Jude the Obscure, Arabella and Sue clearly have as one primary function their appeal to opposite poles in the protagonist's nature: the fleshly and the spiritual. Such an observation has become commonplace, but its consequences for character representation have great importance. Hardy's last novel does not imitate Sue and Jude equally. It imitates the way in which one credulous and naive, but well-intentioned, man, Jude, confronts a world which he sees as increasingly inimical to his desires and goals. He is limited by the society in which he finds himself, by what Hardy calls the "hereditary curse of temperament," and by the conventionality of his own nature. Thus, one of Sue Bridehead's other narrative functions is to unmask the deep-seated assumptions which baffle Jude's hopes. That we come to recognize his personal limitations is essential to a tragic denouement which finds him partially responsible for his fate, not merely a pawn in society's or the universe's machinations. His share of responsibility gives Jude a tragic stature.

This imitation, with its focus on Jude's experience and his point of view, accords with the subject Hardy initially anticipated, the story of a young man '"who could not go to Oxford'—His struggles and ultimate failure. Suicide." But, in correspondence with Edmond Gosse after completing the work in 1895, Hardy admits his subject has broadened, stating that his novel is concerned first with the "labours of a poor student to get a University degree, and secondly with the tragic issues of two bad marriages. …" The new subject, now added to the original topic, potentially conflicts with full examination of the first, since it calls for examination of the positions and perspectives of both personalities in a marriage. Clearly feeling the increasing interest of his Sue plot, Hardy confessed to Florence Henniker in August 1895, "Curiously enough, I am more interested in the Sue story than in any I have written." Furthermore, dissatisfaction with his representation of Sue kept Hardy tinkering with her character through several revisions of the novel. Robert C. Slack has documented the textual changes in Jude the Obscure between the 1903 and 1912 Macmillan editions, and he finds them mainly concerned with revising passages which deal with Sue. Hardy's revisions alter the "affective meaning of a detail or of a passage … to give [Sue] more human sympathy." And, Slack adds, this group of revisions has "a consistent direction."

But the effect of such revisions must remain superficial when one considers both the force of Jude's controlling perspective on Sue and the continuing influence of the novel's original intention. A narrative technique focusing on Jude's perspectives is perhaps adequate to the story Hardy had initially envisioned but inadequate to the novel's subsequent development and to Hardy's growing interest in Sue. What had happened seems clear enough. Hardy's original story took on a new direction—or, perhaps it might be fairer to say, that a subplot of the envisioned original assumed greater importance in writing. A narrative technique which focused on Jude's perspective was perfectly adequate to depict the Sue of the story Hardy first envisioned, but not to depict the personality Hardy had become interested in as he wrote.

That Sue is enmeshed in Jude's limited point of view, then, helps account for our sense of inconsistencies in her character. We attempt to judge as a personality in her own right a figure intended to serve merely to define another personality. Often, when Jude looks at his cousin, he in fact gazes into a mirror which reflects the image of his own ambivalence. He finds Sue "almost an ideality" (p. 114 [Page references are to Jude the Obscure, the Wessex edition, 1912], "almost a divinity" (p. 174), "vision" (p. 223), "ethereal" (p. 224), "uncarnate" (p. 224), "disembodied creature" (p. 294), "sweet, tantalizing phantom" (p. 294), but he cannot ask whether this perceived spirituality is a reflection of her essence or an image of his fear that the fleshliness embodied in Arabella will once again ensnare him. It is Jude who tells us Sue is unpredictable and inconsistent: "her actions were always unpredictable" (p. 211), or "Possibly she would go on inflicting such pains again and again … in all her colossal inconsistency" (p. 210), or he "decided that she was rather unreasonable, not to say capricious" (p. 190), a "riddle" (p. 160), "one lovely conundrum" (p. 162).

His tendency to blame his cousin in this "gentle" way often reveals Jude's rationalizations of his own failures to act decisively as well. Jude has a keen eye for Sue's departures from candor, but he does not question his own consistency or honesty in concealing his marriage to Arabella from Sue. Interpretations of Jude's interview with his cousin, Sue, after she has run away from Melchester Boarding School focus on the radical inconsistency of her behavior, yet that behavior appears in a different light when we remember that Jude, too, is with-holding information—his marriage to Arabella—and consequently behaving inconsistently. He cannot respond to Sue in expected ways, failing to kiss her when "by every law of nature and sex a kiss was the only rejoinder that fitted the mood and the moment.… [But Jude] had, in fact, come in part to tell his own fatal story. It was upon his lips; yet at the hour of this distress he could not disclose it" (p. 189). Jude chides Sue for her frigidity, but never questions the conventional attitudes which underlie his assumption that it is all right to sleep with Arabella despite his relationship with Sue, or that mere sexual intimacy makes Arabella more his wife than Sue with whom he shares intimacies of a more substantial kind.

If we see Sue as merely a narrative device to reveal Jude, we need not trouble ourselves with these "inconsistencies" in her character. But Sue refuses to be read as a device. Although the critical literature acknowledges limitations in Jude's point of view, it rarely accounts for the resultant distortions in its judgment of Sue. Its failure to do so leads to the problematic conclusion that Sue is what Jude, despite his limitations, thinks she is.

The novel's narrator, whose omniscience seems a guarantee of his reliability, tends sporadically to confirm Jude's conclusions. But close examination reveals inconsistencies even in that supposedly omniscient perspective. When the narrator offers comment, he does little to establish a viewpoint more dispassionate and reliable than Jude's. In such cases, his remarks are often confusing rather than definitive. So, Dale Kramer has recently made an effort to "clarify the nature of the narrator's selfcontradictoriness." Kramer considers the striking example of a narrative comment which occurs after Sue and Jude kiss passionately for the first time—"Then the slim little wife of a husband whose person was disagreeable to her, the ethereal, fine-nerved, sensitive girl, quite unfitted by temperament and instinct to fulfill the conditions of the matrimonial relation with Phillotson, possibly with scarce any man"—and concludes that the italicized words show a "temporal perspective [in the narrator] as limited as that of any human character." The remark is typical of a series of narrative comments which ultimately pose problems for readers. As in this case, the narrator's observations do not substantiate conclusions drawn from our interpretation of incident and character. In evident despite of the narrator's remarks, Sue has just kissed Jude passionately. And, Aunt Drusilla's remark about Phillotson ("there be certain men here and there that no woman of any niceness can stomach. I should have said he was one" [p. 229]) helps support the perfectly natural aversion of Sue to her husband. Both Sue's actions and Aunt Drusilla's observation afford a more coherent view of Sue's character than the narrator offers.

Not only do Jude's and the narrator's perspectives present problems for our interpretation of Sue, but the continuing influence of the novel's original intention creates uncertainty over Sue's scope and purpose in the novel. The problem resolves itself into two main questions: what roles or role as fictional construct does Sue play in the novel, and in what ways does her "reality" seem to exceed these roles? In answer to the first, many critics have identified Sue's several functions: she is a double to Jude who, in formal terms, changes place with him in the course of the novel; she is the spiritual woman who contrasts with Arabella, the sensual woman; she represents the "sceptical voice of the present age"; she reveals the need and failure to make reason accord with feeling; she expresses the excess of selfishness and the lack of charity, of loving-kindness. In these interpretations, Sue is a schematic character, not a whole personality. She is one half of an equation: spirit/flesh, ego/alter ego, reason/feeling, intellect/emotion, selfishness/selflessness. Hardy encourages this interpretive bias in his claim, "O f course the book is all contrasts—or was meant to be in its original conception."

But Hardy's own reservation about the fulfillment of his original conception leads us to the second question, one more difficult but more essential to our problem here. To what extent does Sue become a cohesive personality and exceed the boundaries of those narrative functions intended for her? More particularly, to what extent does Sue become equal in significance to Jude and therefore exceed the capacities of the single perspective technique to reveal her adequately? And to what extent does she, as woman, not share Jude's problems, facing problems unique to her position in society and history instead? Finally, to what extent does Sue's role introduce larger contemporaneous issues of the "woman question" which ultimately cannot find resolution within the scope of the novel's subject.

The fullness of her role—a function of the developing story—and the slimness of her presentation—a function of the technique—have led critics to search beyond the novel's presentation to psychological interpretations of this character as being masochistic, narcissistic, frigid, or hysterical. Some of her comments seem to support such constructions. We hear narcissism in Sue's laments: "'Some women's love of being loved is insatiable …'" (p. 245), '"But sometimes a woman's love of being loved gets the better of her conscience"' (p. 290), or '"my liking for you is not as some women's perhaps. But it is a delight in being with you, of a supremely delicate kind …'" (p. 289). A masochism seems to dominate her tendency to self-blame: '"Everything is my fault always!"' (p. 189), or '" I am in the wrong! I always am!'" (p. 268), or '" I know I am a poor miserable creature'" (p. 288). And finally, frigidity suggests itself in the characterizations of her as "spirit … disembodied creature … tantalizing phantom" whose normal sexuality is asexuality:

A seraph of Heaven too gentle to be human,
Veiling beneath that radiant form of woman…
(p. 294)

When Sue's character is not drawn along psychological lines, it is perceived along sociological lines. Sue is a "type" or the "type" of new woman, as flat and stereotypical in her own way as some of Charles Dickens's pure heroines. She is the "Bachelor girl" heralded by the reviewer Hardy cites in his "Postscript" to Jude. She grafts a new independence and intellectuality onto woman's traditional dependence and emotionalism, and in this grafting major inconsistencies necessarily result. This new feminist, in the words of Lloyd Fernando, ["New Women" in the Late Victorian Novel, 1977], "does not merely defy law and convention, she has put herself so far beyond them in spirit in the pursuit of individual independence that her personality has become grievously impoverished." Fernando continues, Sue "personifies the extreme refinement of sexual sensibility, the extreme moral fastidiousness toward which idealizing young feminists unwittingly tended." Robert Gittings concurs in seeing Sue as a type but disagrees as to which one. For Gittings, [in Young Thomas Hardy, 1975], Sue is not the "New Woman" of the 1890s, but "The Girl of the Period" in the 1860s. He bases his conclusions on the quality of Sue's intellectualisai: her typical loss of faith and substitution of Positivism. Hardy himself encourages such interpretations since he spoke of Sue as a "type of woman which has always had an attraction for me," seeming to refer to her spirituality and intellectuality.

It is reasonable to assume that Hardy's original intention for the novel did envision Sue in these comparatively one-dimensional ways—spiritual, new woman, girl of the period. But as the character gained prominence and complexity, her personality did not necessarily evolve along those lines. Indeed, as the novel and the character change tack, Sue gains dimensions which are incompatible with Hardy's original scheme.

Lest we appear simply to be affirming the old inconsistencies—sometimes Sue is one thing, sometimes another—we need to make some distinctions. A personality can be defined as inconsistent in a novel; if his portrayed nature is to be flighty, spasmatic, or impulsive, we are aesthetically comfortable with expecting the unexpected from him. Most critics have seen Sue's inconsistency in this way. But as we have seen, the consequences of this perspective is a sense that the grinder of analysis is an inadequate tool for capturing Sue's character. A more radical inconsistency emerges when the character is inconsistent with her own personality; that is, the creator has failed to create a completely credible individual; or the creator finds those adhesive tapes of shopworn philosophy—this time about women—easier to apply than to reexamine the premise of his narrative framework.

Although the presentation of Sue is already difficult because of the novel's point of view and changing intentions, that presentation is further complicated by the terms for character evaluation. We have trouble crediting Sue with a cohesive, healthy personality because of the novel's deep ambivalence over the proper terms for evaluation of her. Whereas Jude and the narrator are increasingly clear that the source of Jude's tragedy is not the wrath of God '"only … man and senseless circumstance"' (p. 413), neither is quite sure about the source of Sue's tragedy. Hardy himself seems uncertain. The wild card of evaluation is Sue qua Woman, the innate disposition of this mysterious sex.

Katharine Rogers has explored the pervasive, though subtle, bias against women—with Sue standing for "typical woman"—in her "Women in Thomas Hardy" [Centennial Review 19 (1975)]. Rogers points out that, even though they may "conscientiously" qualify such conclusions, both Jude and the narrator tend to blame Sue/ Woman for their own failures and pain. A characteristic passage captures the tensions:

Strange that [Jude's] first aspiration—towards academical proficiency—had been checked by a woman, and that his second aspiration—towards apostleship—had also been checked by a woman. "Is it," he said, "that the women are to blame; or is it the artificial system of things, under which the natural sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springes to noose and hold back those who want to progress?" (p. 261).

The second cause—inadequate social mechanisms—asks for a serious consideration, but the first, less unbiased, conviction that "women are to blame"—holds an equal attraction for Jude and the narrator.

This pervasive tendency to blame women's innate dispositions rather than to examine the social mechanisms which coerce them is mirrored on the individual level in Jude's tendency to search for the cause of Sue's behavior in the nature of her sex rather than in her situation. Jude speculates, giving Sue in marriage to PhiUotson, "Women were different from men in such matters. Was it that they were, instead of more sensitive, as reputed, more callous, and less romantic.… Or was Sue simply so perverse…" (p. 209). When Jude belatedly reveals his marriage to Arabella, he terms Sue's outrage and betrayal the "exercise of those narrow womanly humors on impulse that were necessary to give her sex" (p. 200). Readers aware of Jude's duplicity must find such reductive generalizations either revelatory of Jude's failures or indicative of a sudden narrowing of the novel's meaning and significance, not to mention its humane vision. The narrator, too, joins Jude in these generalizations: "With a woman's disregard of her dignity when in the presence of nobody but herself, she also trotted down, sobbing articulately as she went" (p. 319). These words describe Sue's response to Jude's departure to visit Arabella, and they force us to contemplate the character not as an individual in anguish and indecision, but as a gender performing according to its innate nature.

The explanation of Sue's behavior by gender is echoed in more subtle ways. For example, PhiUotson, discovering that Sue is avoiding him by sleeping in the clothes closet under stairs, speculates, " 'What must a woman's aversion be when it is stronger than her fear of spiders!'" (p. 266). Or Phillotson tries to decide, "What precise shade of satisfaction was to be gathered from a woman's gratitude that the man who loved her had not been often to see her?" (p. 193). Obviously Hardy is heightening the sexual significance of these scenes by referring to genders, but "the man who loved her" is an epithet for Phillotson, whereas the periphrases "a woman's aversion" and "a woman's gratitude" have a broader scope. They talk about more than Sue's particular behavior. Each invokes a class norm about women's response to general situations by which the character seeks to measure Sue. The effect, is, again, to evaluate Sue's behavior in terms of sex rather than in terms of individual character or particular situation.

Even Sue is made to participate in these generalizations either seriously, as when she explains her refusal to become Jude's lover as "a woman's natural timidity when the crisis comes" (p. 288), or in self-mockery, as when she comments on Phillotson, '"According to the rule of women's whims I suppose I ought to suddenly love him, because he has let me go so generously and unexpectedly'" (p. 286).

Finally, at the conclusion of the novel, Jude questions whether Sue's "extraordinary blindness … to [her] old logic is … common to woman. Is a woman a thinking unit at all, or a fraction always wanting its integer?" (p. 424). He claims, "I would argue with you if I didn't know that a woman in your state of feeling is quite beyond all appeals to her brains" (p. 470). Or, Jude ponders, "events which had enlarged his own views of life … had not operated in the same manner on Sue's" (pp. 415-16) and then, to explain her behavior, generalizes, "Strange difference of sex, that time and circumstance, which enlarge the views of most men, narrow the views of women almost invariably" (p. 484). This reductive interpretation of a complex tragedy will hardly satisfy readers who have been attracted by the complex side of Hardy's vision.

On the other hand, when Sue judges Jude, she always ascribes his failure to inadequate social mechanisms or to his personal biases rather than to his nature as "Man." No comparable concept "Man" emerges in the novel, except in occasional comparisons between a man's and a woman's sexual appetites. Rather, the novel in its judgments of Jude, asks us to consider the interaction of the individual with social possibility, so that we recognize with Jude that "there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas" (p. 394). The ease with which we might dismiss Sue's social position and perspective as woman need not disturb us if Sue remains a minor character; but, as she achieves increasing prominence through the marriage plot, the inadequacies of a judgment by gender emerge. As Sue becomes more prominent in the novel, we tend to accord to her the same terms for evaluation we accord to Jude, recognizing that her "inconsistencies," as well as Jude's, can be traced to the discrepancies between social pressure and individual needs, between individual ideals and quotidian realities.

Despite the plenitude of social analysis regarding Jude's fate, the novel is relatively lacking in equivalent analyses of Sue's. The pressures she must face as a woman of conviction in the 1890s far outweigh Jude's, yet they are, within the confines imposed by the novel's techniques, largely ignored. The reader can speculate on Sue's problems in light of such famous contemporaneous works as Ibsen's Doll's House. And George Eliot's novels also have much to say about the social hobbles on women of talent and aspiration. But in Jude the Obscure, Hardy, the narrator, and Jude have not finally decided on the cause of Sue's failures.

That Sue is Woman is of enormous importance to the novel's tensions, even though neither Jude nor the narrator can perceive much of what must be Sue's inner struggles. Jude aspires beyond his class; Sue aspires beyond her class and her sex. Jude's aspirations accord with his nature as man. Although society's "freezing negative" tells him to stay in his place, we do not conclude he has a fragmented or inconsistent personality because he aspires. Males have always aspired; aspiration against social restrictions is expected and normal. So, the class conflict Jude experiences in no way undermines the cohesiveness of his personality. Sue's is not simply a class conflict; it is a conflict of genders, a conflict finally between what woman can and is expected to do. The sociological and psychological analyses of Sue miss this point. They see her as a type and assume that the inevitable fragmentation of her personality follows. In this view, her aspirations are merely symptoms of her fragmented personality. The novel—albeit unevenly—suggests another possibility, that of a coherent, cohesive personality give the appearance of fragmentation by conflicting demands on her as individual and by reductive generalizations about her as Woman.

Hardy finally cannot decide by what standard to judge Sue. Indeed, his problems increase as Sue becomes more prominent because her problems are partly a function of the all-obscuring fact that she is a woman. That fact is important, not as an explanation of innate disposition but as it explains Sue's particular circumstances, not as it reveals a "type," but as it sharpens an individual's dilemma. What is missing from the novel, then, are counterpoints to the generalizations about woman's nature, vivid depictions of what it means as a social and historical fact to be a woman in Jude's world. We are missing the analogues for Sue to the novel's frequent explanations of what it means to be a poor man of humble origins. One brief scene does touch on that meaning. It occurs just after Sue flees Melchester Boarding School and the focus reverts momentarily to Sue's seventy young peers:

Half-an-hour later they all lay in their cubicles, their tender feminine faces upturned to the flaring gas-jets which at intervals stretched down the long dormitories, every face bearing the legend "The Weaker" upon it, as the penalty of the sex wherein they were moulded, which by no possible exertion of their willing hearts and abilities could be made strong while the inexorable laws of nature remain what they are. They formed a pretty, suggestive, pathetic sight, of whose pathos and beauty they were themselves unconscious, and would not discover till, amid the storms and strains of after-years, with their injustice, loneliness, child-bearing, and bereavement, their minds would revert to this experience as to something which had been allowed to slip past them insufficiently regarded (p. 168).

The narrator still reverts to Nature—"the inexorable laws of [woman's] nature"—as explanation for "injustice, loneliness, child-bearing, bereavement," but the dramatized scene itself is sensitive to the chains social convention has forged for women. Women are locked in veritable prisons to safeguard their chastity of mind and body; by such lights, Sue has become a fallen woman. But the narrator's sense that social institutions imprison women is rare in Jude, the "laws of nature" being a more convenient view.

Conflicts of presentation and evaluation continue as we turn to a more pointed discussion of the distance between Sue's social position and her expectations and personal aspirations as articulated in the action of the novel but little understood by Jude, the novel's center of perception. Sue herself recognizes the obvious contradictions between intellect and emotion, statement and action. And her understanding articulates a consistency not superficially apparent. She tells Phillotson that she married him when her "theoretic unconventionality broke down" (p. 267), acknowledging her desire to be accepted socially at the same time that she cannot intellectually endure the terms of that acceptance. So, when Jude reproaches her for the "affectation of independent views" and accuses her of being "as enslaved to the social code as any woman I know," she does not admit the justice of his claim and argues, '"Not mentally. But I haven't the courage of my views, as I said before'" (p. 290). To identify Sue's rejection of tradition with a rejection of emotion and to see her intellect and ideas as divorced from her feelings is an oversimplification. Beneath both rejection and espousal lie deep feelings: a human desire to be accepted and loved and the passionate resistance of a cohesive personality to the self-suppression and loss of identity traditional love dictates and to the demands made on women in that contract. In this light, Sue suffers from a commitment to complexity of feeling rather than from an impoverishment of emotion.

Sue has integrity. Initially, she does not feel she should submit to anyone or anything against her feelings. She does not want to suffer, arguing with Phillotson, "'Wh y should I suffer for what I was born to be …'" (p. 268). The integrity of her life—in the face of enormous pressures from Jude and Phillotson—is remarkable. Jude is certainly incapable of the same strength of will in his relationship with Arabella. Sue wishes to make a life for herself not dependent on a man, and, even after she joins Jude, she insists on contributing her share of work with the result that Jude himself becomes more independent. She has the courage and self-respect not to bind Jude in marriage, and her pronouncements on this institution are consistently illuminating, intelligent, and rational. Hardy has, in fact, made Sue, not Jude, the mouthpiece for his own feelings expressed in the "postscript" to the novel.

Sue's attitudes toward sex and marriage provide the clearest measure of the distance separating her ambitions and desires from social possibilities shaping her self-realization. They provide the clearest measure of her cohesive personality. Her feelings about marriage and sex derive from a sense of her individuality and independence, which seem to her threatened by sexual or formal commitments. Sue wants an identity of her own. She does not see marriage as her ultimate goal in life. She is fearful of submerging her identity in that of another or worse, of becoming a kind of chattel. Before marrying Phillotson, she laments to Jude, "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" (p. 204). An d Jude echoes her unconventional opinion after her marriage by saying that she is still '"dear, free Sue Bridehead.… Wifedom has not yet squashed up and digested you in its vast maw as an atom which has no further individuality'" (p. 227). Partly in acknowledgment of Sue's feelings, Jude adopts the trade of monument mason: "it was the only arrangement under which Sue, who particularly wished to be no burden on him, could render any assistance" (p. 314).

In wanting an identity of her own, an identity through work and financial contribution, Sue is asking for something which men take for granted and which conventional women by and large reject. Arabella, for example, is always looking for a man to keep her, and she finally promises her father that she will take herself off his hands if he will help her snare Jude. Sue is torn between the conventional expectations that she needs to snare a man and essentially imprison him in marriage—a position so crudely expressed by Arabella—and her own understanding which teaches her to esteem herself. Her decision to avoid marriage is, by her lights, a mark of respect for herself and Jude, not an instance of flirtation, frigidity, childishness, or self-enclosure.

In the novel marriage does indeed emerge as a grotesque trap, a gin to maim the creatures caught in it. Arabella tricks Jude into marriage twice, once with a pretended pregnancy and once with liquor. When married, she complacently remarks, '"Don't take on, dear. What's done can't be undone,'" while Jude wonders "what he had done … that he deserved to be caught in a gin which would cripple him, if not her also, for the rest of a life-time?" (p. 71). If Sue demands her own freedom, she secures as much for Jude as well; living in their simple way, Jude is "more independent than before" (p. 314).

Neither Sue nor Jude can persuade themselves to marry. On this issue they share similar fears, although Sue again is more articulate than Jude. Kramer argues [in Thomas Hardy: The Forms of Tragedy, 1975] that the "only condition of the matrimonial relationship that she [Sue] is unfitted to fill is its coerciveness." And, in fact, here Sue's sexuality appears perfectly healthy. As lovers, she and Jude remain in a "dreamy paradise" (p. 328), and the advent of the child, Father Time, "rather helped than injured their happiness" because it brings into their lives "a new and tender interest of an ennobling and unselfish kind" (p. 348). Still, Sue fears the "iron contract" of marriage because it exacts certain behavior from the participants; it "licenses" love. And Arabella's blunt advice that Sue should "coax" Jude to marry her so that she has legal remedies and protection against his possible brutality only confirms Sue in her feelings that marriage is a "hopelessly vulgar" (p. 326) institution, "a sort of trap to catch a man" (pp. 323-25). Her pride will not let her act in ways repugnant to her self-esteem. She adopts a courageous position, made the more courageous by the lack of understanding support.

The issues go deeper. Jude shares her fears: "though he thought they ought to be able to do it, he felt checked by the dread of incompetency just as she did" (p. 345). Jude seems to realize a possibility that he might lapse into indifference, and such a fear is not without validity since, as we have seen, Jude is very conventional about human relationships. What freedom he attains seems principally a reflex of Sue's vision. Arabella calls him a "baby" because he is so gullible to conventional appeals. He, of course, marries Arabella because she says she is pregnant. Once married, Jude, of course, regards the arrangement as lifelong. Arabella suggests divorce. Once Sue joins him, they should, of course, have sexual relations because men and women do. And once divorced from their first spouses, they should, of course, marry. And when Arabella returns, she is more his wife than Sue since Arabella and Jude have had sexual relations. Even at the end of the novel, when Jude remarries Arabella, he claims hotly, the conventional blinkers still on: "'I said I' d do anything to—save a woman's honour … And I've done it!'" (p. 464). Never does Jude see the tension between sex and friendship, between marriage and identity, although he initially thought that "if he could only get over the sense of her [Sue's] sex,… what a comrade she would make" (p. 184). Jude's complicated initial responses to Sue reveal the confusions in his attitude toward woman as friend and woman as sexual object. Conventional in his instincts, Jude here reminds us of Hardy's Angel Clare, whose instincts betrayed him back to a rigid conventionality in his response to Tess. Sue is justified in fearing that, in a conventional relationship, Jude might well behave in totally conventional ways. He himself senses and fears it.

This is not to blame Jude for the tragedy. Rather it argues that we conclude something more than that "Jude's choice of Sue is what dooms him" Unfortunately the novel's conclusion once again limits the complexity and cohesiveness we have afforded Sue's character and, in so doing, encourages rather simplistic explanations. The stereotypic case study of a masochistic, narcissistic, hysterical, or intellectual-but-emotionally-impoverished woman is fulfilled in Sue's decision to return to Phillotson. Yet that conclusion, beginning with the death of the children, is curiously attenuated. The children exist in the novel principally to die. They have no convincing life; they do not engage us as personalities. Jude, who has come to Christminster still dominated by his early illusions, finally "sees," whereas Sue blinds herself.

The final acts of Hardy's drama are ritualistic; the dancers simply change places. Sue—a complex personality—is relegated to "Woman": "was woman a thinking integer at all"; "Strange difference of sex, that time and circumstance … narrow the views of women.…" Aspects of her character—independence from traditional form and beliefs, emotional integrity, her sparkling intellect—are lopped off as if they had never existed. Her grief becomes her undoing in the narrator's eyes, but that final sketch of Sue seriously reduces, even contradicts, the character we have come to know through the novel's action. If we compare her with Angel Clare, whose narrative role in Tess is analogous to Sue's in Jude, we discover great differences. Angel's liberal notions are tested by Tess's revelation of her relationship with Alec, and his ideas are immediately found incompatible with his instincts. Sue's ideas, especially about marriage, have been consistently supported by her instincts and feelings. The action shows her to be what she believes she is—until the end.

The critical need to construct a coherent and logical character out of Sue—consistent even in her inconsistencies—has led to portraits which often, as the critic stands back to survey his work, must be qualified by the statement that she is really much more wonderful than this. Perhaps the only way to explain the contradiction between a critic's and a reader's Sue is finally to acknowledge that the artist's conception itself is inconsistent and flawed, that because of Hardy's change of subject, there is an imbalance in the narrative technique never compensated for despite revision. And that imbalance is heightened by ambivalent and incomplete evaluation of Sue. Sue remains an unevenly conceived character. Hardy, sensitive to ambiguity in his final novel, has extended his narrative art to its limits. But if the narrative technique complicates the portrait of Sue, it partially compensates for these problems in rendering the pathos of limited human understanding and so anticipates narrative experimentation in the twentieth century. The flaws in Sue's presentation and the limits of the novel's evaluation of her seem to mirror Jude's partial understanding, the partial understanding which underlies and baffles all human intercourse, attempts at meaning, and strivings for self-realization. Despite the typically nineteenth-century attempt at an omniscient narrator, then, the narrative sensibility underlying Jude the Obscure is distinctively modern.

Problems of individual limitations are at the heart of Hardy's last novel. His former tendency to find the tragic source in malevolent forces or inimical nature is more muted. In Jude, we have nothing comparable to Egdon Heath, and the choric voice of previous novels finds a thin and unconvincing substitute in Aunt Drusilla's warnings to Jude and Sue about the doom of hereditary temperament. They are destroyed by the gins and nets of a society very imperfectly tuned to their individual needs and by their own failures to understand each other.

Seen in this light, it is not surprising that Jude the Obscure is Hardy's last novel. It is the novel in which judgments and pronouncements are not so easy. Point of view is problematic. The complexities of the world Hardy depicts are not easily placed in a large philosophical perspective. An d Jude, unlike Tess in her moments at Stonehenge, seems incapable of tragic transcendence and cathartic understanding. In earlier works, Hardy is genuinely comfortable in the philosophical, tragic mode. As his narrative vision and techniques become increasingly sensitive to the ambiguity of personal desire, social expectation and individual responsibility, his novelistic art becomes mature and subtle. But Thomas Hardy seems unhappy with the novelistic vision which stresses the ambiguity of experience, and he turns to a more congenial mode—poetry—which plays with the ambiguity of idea and which does not engage one in the painful complexities and failure of lived lives. Nonetheless, his final novel, Jude, stands as a testimony to Hardy's understanding of the painful immediacy of experience and the terrible ways in which personal limitations combine with social limitations to produce a disaster which no philosophy can redeem.

David Sonstroem (essay date 1981)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4206

SOURCE: "Order and Disorder in Jude the Obscure," in English Literature in Transition: 1880-1920, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1981, pp. 6-15.

[In the following excerpt, Sonstroem focuses on Jude's at times "disorderly, random, [and] repetitive" migrations within the structured course of Jude the Obscure to illustrate the thematic implications of Hardy's framing of chaos in "intricate order."]

In his thought-provoking "A propos de la construction de Jude the Obscure,"1 Fernand Lagarde presents Hardy's novel as a rigidly balanced quasi-architectural construction, within which characters dance an intricate "ronde" or quadrille. In support of his view he points to the symmetrical disposition of chapters within each Part of the novel and among the six Parts, to the placement of a crisis at the precise center of each Part, and to many other such structural harmonies. He notes, too, the extensive network of similarities and contrasts among the personalities and careers of the four leading characters—implicit relationships that Hardy carries into even minute details: "Le roman tout entier est un subtil entrelacs de correspondances" (211); "On n'en fimirait pas de dresser une liste de ces rapprochements, de ces répétitions de l'expérience" (208). In short, for Lagarde Jude the Obscure is a thoroughgoing "recherche de la symétrie" (191).

At least one critic takes issue with his reading, finding it "remarkable" but "ultimately resistible." 2 I suspect that Michael Mitigate's wariness is due to the abiding impression of disorganization conveyed by Jude—an impression of messy randomness that no skillful, extensive demonstration of order can dispel. Nor is he alone in sensing a chaotic streak: Ward Hellstrom, for example, has noted that "Jude's movement from place to place is a dramatic illustration of 'the modern vice of unrest,'" and Ian Gregor has similarly observed, "our sense of the form of the novel in reading it, is of something … turbulent, a sense not of imposed design but of vexed movement.… "3

For my part, I find Lagarde's reading of Jude irrefutable but incomplete. The intricate design that he describes is demonstrably present in the novel, and he deserves thanks for opening our eyes to the remarkable extent of it. But in discerning narrative symmetries and thematic designs, he scants the erratic emotional, intellectual, and especially physical vagaries of the leading characters, those of Jude especially. At one point Lagarde does recognize a strain of disorder in this aspect of the book: referring to Vilbert, he remarks, "sa ronde immuable, placée comme elle l'est au début et à la fin du roman, vient à point nommè souligner la déroute de ceux qui osent tenter d'organiser à leur guise leur destinée." But within a few lines even Jude's peregrinations are included in what Lagarde calls "les mouvements de la danse" (199). I would maintain that Lagarde is at his weakest in considering simple movement of characters from place to place—the aspect of the novel from which other readers gain their impression of it as chaotic. To right me balance, I wish to examine Jude's itinerary in detail. I shall then proceed to a brief consideration of the relationship between the extraordinary order and the extraordinary disorder that Hardy depicts in Jude the Obscure.

Jude's journeys take place in and about "Wessex"—southwestern England overlaid with Hardy's fictive place-names, contracted somewhat, and suffused with his significances. We are led to assume that Jude is born in Marygreen. After his mother's death he lives for a time with his father in Mellstock, South Wessex. When his father, too, dies, the ten-year-old orphan returns to Marygreen to be reared by his great-aunt Drusilla. In this drab hamlet Jude reaches young manhood while nursing an obsessive, unrealistic vision of Christminster, the university town he worships from a distance as "the heavenly Jerusalem" (I, iii, p. 18). Jude's next move is to Alfredston, where he learns stone-masonry to support himself while preparing for entrance to Christminster. On one of his weekly walks between Alfredston and Marygreen he encounters Arabella Donn. An onrush of animal passion prevails, and shortly he finds himself married to her and living in a cottage between Alfredston and Marygreen. Even in geographical terms he has taken a backward step on his way to Christminster. But Arabella soon leaves him, and he returns to Alfredston. Three years later he finally goes to Christminster, taking a room in a suburb nicknamed "Beersheba" (the original Beersheba, we remember, was at a great remove from Jerusalem, being on die very outskirts of the Promised Land). In Christminster Jude comes to know his cousin, Sue Bridehead, to whom he has felt a rarefied attraction even before meeting her. In the course of their first interview they walk from Christminster to nearby Lumsdon to call on his old schoolmaster, Richard Phillotson, under whom Sue promptly takes a position as pupil-teacher. Jude journeys at least twice to Lumsdon to see her and once to Marygreen to visit his aunt, now in failing health. Discouraged by his inability to gain access to the university or to Sue's affections, Jude eventually returns to Marygreen. But soon he moves to Melchester to be near Sue, now attending the Melchester Normal School in preparation for marrying Phillotson. When she anticipates her rustication and flees to Shaston, Jude visits her there. After Sue weds Phillotson, Jude revisits his sick aunt in Marygreen and then continues to Christminster. There he happens upon Arabella, with whom he goes to Aldbrickham to spend the night. Returning the next day to Christminster, he is sought out by Sue, and he goes with her to Marygreen to visit their aunt yet again. Thence he reverts to his old quarters and employment at Melchester. After a disillusioning round trip to Kennetbridge to meet the composer of a hymn that has moved him, Jude journeys to Shaston to see Sue. Within a week he is called from Melchester to Marygreen upon the death of his aunt. There he again sees Sue and then goes back to Melchester.

When Sue forsakes Phillotson for Jude, Jude boards her train at Melchester, and they proceed to Aldbrickham—the first stage on their travels as a couple. There the discordant keynote of their relationship is struck: they quarrel when Jude inadvertently takes Sue to the very hotel to which he had brought Arabella a month before. Nevertheless, they remain together in Aldbrickham for some time. When gossip over their irregular domestic connection hinders Jude from finding work, they leave Aldbrickham to lead a nomadic life, driven for several years from place to place. Hardy mentions Sandbourne, Casterbridge, Exonbury, Stoke-Barehills, Quartershot, and Kennetbridge as typical stations in their wayfaring, and he pauses to present the couple in more detail at fairs at Stoke-Barehills and Kennetbridge. Eventually they return to Christminster, where after much difficulty they find lodgings for Sue and the children in one place and for Jude in another. The catastrophic death of the children ensues, and a chastened Sue returns to Phillotson, now teaching at Marygreen. Still at Christminster, Jude remarries Arabella in the carelessness of his despair and contracts consumption. He recklessly travels to Marygreen in a driving rain for a final meeting with Sue. Then he returns to Christminster and Arabella, where after a time he dies, utterly discouraged and embittered, at the dismal locus of his brightest dreams.…

[A map of Jude's migrations would indicate] a course remarkable for its length, its frequent shifts in direction, and its asymmetry—remarkable, too, for its repetitious revisitings, yet its apparent randomness. What do these qualities signify? The peculiar purport of Jude's itinerary emerges when we compare it on the one hand with the direct course of the protagonist in a shapelier novel and on the other hand with the utterly random course of the protagonist in a loosely organized novel.

Although Jude's path is probably an accurate condensation of that which most human beings actually take through life, it is extraordinarily elaborate and ungainly for the protagonist of a novel. Compare it, for example, with that of Jane Eyre. In Jane Eyre each place has its own meaning, and Jane's path is one of progress. Jane proceeds from Gateshead to Lowood, Thornfield, Marsh End, and finally Ferndean. Every new locale marks a stage in her growth, presenting her with a more advanced opportunity or challenge, as geographical movement reenforces personal development. Although Jane revisits Gateshead once and once Thornfield, Charlotte Bronte permits her to do so largely to show the reader that Jane cannot in fact reenter a situation she has outgrown. As Jane develops, she suffers her full share of dilemmas, but the relatively limited number of stages in her trim itinerary and their sharp differentiation bespeak the sureness of her growth.

In comparison with Jane's course or any other typical protagonist's, Jude's is much more extensive and far untidier. Others may log more miles than Jude does, but it would be hard to find a protagonist who changes direction so often. Jude's course is unusual, too, in its lack of economy—its turns and returns that bring about no real changes. Melchester, Lumsdon, and especially Marygreen and Christminster draw Jude time and again but to no significant effect. He leaves as he arrives, no happier and little wiser. None of the many removals marks an advance or makes a big difference. 5 Indeed, much of the poignancy of the novel hinges on Jude's expectation, which dies hard, that a change of place will bring about an improvement in his circumstances: his very last words to Sue are "Let us … run away together!" (VI , vii, p. 309). Jude never fully learns that the novelist's convention is not true to life: a change of place is not accompanied by a change in the human condition.

On the other hand, Jude's path through life is extensive and erratic enough to be that of a picaro, yet again there are telling differences. Unlike a picaresque novel, Jude the Obscure is not episodic. Jude holds to the same or at least related goals as he moves from place to place, and he suffers in one place the consequences of his behavior in another. In other words, Jude's world is uniform and interconnected, as the picaro's is not. Furthermore, the picaro instinctively comprehends and makes the most of the world in which he finds himself, whereas Jude mistakes the nature of his world, to his greater sorrow. The typical picaro, an unreflective creature, has no goal in life other than random adventure; he attends utterly to the here and now. Never bored because everything that concerns him changes as he goes, he lives on the difference between place and place, each locale appearing to him as a fresh and self-contained world. One might say that he is reborn with every removal. Not so Jude. Jude is never satisfied with the here and now, looking always beyond immediate circumstances for fulfillment. Unlike the picaro, he is always disappointed: as he moves, the world stays the same at base, and his past hounds him. His constant revisiting of Christminster and, to a lesser degree, Marygreen and Melchester (whereas Jack Wilton, for example in Thomas Nash's The Unfortunate Traveller visits no place twice) is a sign of the dreary uniformity of Jude's world. Unwilling to give up the premise that things are different elsewhere, Jude compulsively returns again and again to the sites of his greatest expectations in the hope of finding something fresh and better that he has overlooked. He never finds any such thing. His failure is especially galling because of the presence in the novel of Arabella and the itinerant Vilbert (a well-matched pair indeed), both of whom operate on picaresque assumptions and thrive in so doing. In short, the extensive, random path of the picaro signifies the vibrant exploration of a perpetually varying world, whereas Jude's extensive path—sometimes repetitive, sometimes random—signifies a wearisome struggle to escape a world teasingly diverse in superficial appearance but always ultimately noxious to decent, sensitive humanity.

Comparing Jude the Obscure both with the conventional novel and with the picaresque novel, we find it differing from both in the same basic way. Whereas both assume the fictive convention that change of situation is accompanied by important changes in the human condition, Jude contradicts the assumption. In any respect that matters, one place is like any other.

Hardy makes his point by means of Jude's travels and also by subsidiary means. For instance, the second chapter shows Jude in the middle of Farmer Troutham's field, a "wide and lonely depression in the general level of the upland." In this "vast concave"

the brown surface of the field went right up towards the sky all round, where it was lost by degrees in the mist that shut out the actual verge and accentuated the solitude. The only marks on the uniformity of the scene were a rick of last year's produce standing in the midst of the arable, the rooks that rose at his approach, and the path athwart the fallow.… The fresh harrow-lines seemed to stretch like the channellings in a piece of new corduroy, lending a meanly utilitarian air to the expanse, taking away its gradations, and depriving it of all history beyond that of the few recent months.… (I, ii, p. 13)

The field in all its ugly uniformity is the world writ small, and the map of Jude's wanderings might well be scored into its soil.

Another way in which Hardy develops the meaninglessness of situation is to show Jude pursuing more than one goal. Jude is attracted not only to Christminster but also, of course, to Arabella and Sue, human counterparts to his geographical desires. The easily won Arabella and the skittish Sue promise, like Christminster, a fulfillment that proves chimerical. Life with each of them, like life in Christminster, is ordinary and distressing after all. By having Jude pursue several unsatisfying goals—companions as well as locations—Hardy leads us beyond questioning the individual objects of Jude's aspirations to questioning the assumption common to them all, namely, that a better situation is somewhere to be found. Hardy encourages this more radical consideration by taking every opportunity to show, in the latter half of the book especially, how very much the earthy Arabella and the aetherial Sue resemble each other. Sue winces when Arabella remarks, "Bolted from your first [husband], didn't you, like me?" (V, ii, p. 213) but the parallel is justly drawn. Again Arabella tells a grating truth in saying of Sue, "she's took in a queer religious way, just as I was in my affliction at losing Cartlett…" (VI , iVol. p. 282). The cumulative effect of these and many other such passages is a drastic reduction, in the reader's eyes, of the distinction between the two women. At first glance they seem remarkably dissimilar, but we come at last to see them as sisters under the skin. Hardy's masterstroke in this regard is having Arabella and Sue trade places at the end. Early in the novel we find Jude with Arabella in Marygreen, where he is hindered from going to Christminster and to Sue, who lives there and is associated with the place. At the close of the novel we find Jude with Arabella in Christminster, where he is hindered from going to Marygreen and to Sue, who now lives there. 6 Having the two women exchange the places with which they are first associated blurs the distinctions on which Jude's quest depends. We are led to feel that, whatever Jude may think or do, any change in situation—from place to place, companion to companion—makes no real difference at all.

In sum, Jude's itinerary is an important part of a gruelling demonstration that situation does not matter; wherever he happens to be, "Jude stands alone and in the open.…"7 The broadest, most telling irony of the book is that physical sense Jude does achieve his goal: born in Marygreen, he dies in Christminster; his tortuous path does lead to the city of his desires. But the bitter irony is that Christminster proves merely another clod or stone upon the expanse of earth. Jude might just as well have saved himself the trouble and stayed where he began.

To be sure, easy acceptance of his surroundings would diminish Jude's stature. We respect him for the dogged pursuit of his visionary ideals. But because he cannot begin to approach the ideal he pursues, he remains in effect a creature in a tormenting snare. The tale told by Jude's course is one of entrapment in circumstance. His protracted, errant path through life betokens neither progress nor even fresh adventure, as in a more typical narrative, but the sometimes repetitive, sometimes erratic, always futile writhings of an animal in a springe—a recurrent image in the novel. Unlike the pig he kills, Jude bleeds all too slowly. His long, contorted path through life and the imagery of entrapment it represents are admirably suited to Hardy's high argument; the exquisite misfit between the external world and the individual mind, and the painful meaninglessness of human existence.

We must now make what sense we can of the fact that the path of Jude winds through a novel that is nevertheless an extensive "recherche de la symétrie." How can we reconcile the erratic course of the protagonist with the dance-like disposition of the four leading characters and with the ornate architectural symmetries of the novel as a whole? We can only speculate on Hardy's deepest intentions. We can, however, recognize a similar pattern in other works by Hardy. Moreover, we can note a common effect produced by all such works and tentatively infer a purpose behind that effect.

Everyone knows that after writing Jude, Hardy quit novels to write poems instead. In one respect, though, he did not change his course, for the poems tend to reproduce in miniature the aesthetic pattern of Jude. By and large, the poems, too, are one shapely presentation after another of things gone awry. In the incidents related in the poems—example after example of "life's little ironies"—we repeatedly find the random or unexpected subsumed by a larger order. "The Convergence of the Twain" (1912) aptly illustrates the process:

      And as the smart ship grew
      In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

     Alien they seemed to be:
     No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,
       Or sign that they were bent
     By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event 8

The "path" of the iceberg seems determined by physical laws; that of the Titanic, by the allied aspirations of its builders and passengers. Disparate in almost every way, the two enormous objects seem quite "alien," worlds apart. From this perspective their collision appears a freakish, meaningless disaster, an absurd, inexplicable disruption of natural and human order. But Hardy presents it instead as supremely orderly—as the climax of an elaborate cosmic practical joke. "The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything" choreographs the seemingly independent courses of the two objects into a shocking union.

The speaker of the poem clearly takes grim pleasure in this mock marriage arranged by the Immanent Will. The speaker justifies the prank on the grounds that it is a suitable punishment for human pride. What makes the moralizing ring false is the speaker's (and, through him, the Immanent Will's) relishing the scheme. Life's disasters seem due far less to human pride than to the Immanent Will's penchant for contriving. The poem suggests that Hardy preferred an orderly world, even one governed by gloating sadism, to an absurd one, subject to meaningless, random calamities.

Hardy's very metrics turn apparent chaos into larger harmonies. His preoccupation with meter is evident and often noted. He experiments with stanzaic form especially, seldom using a scheme for more than one poem. In a typical poem of his, a line will vary greatly from other lines in the stanza in its number of feet, yet the lines do always obey a rhyme scheme, and later stanzas do faithfully repeat the peculiar pattern of the initial stanza. What at first seems random and even chaotic is finally incorporated into a larger, rigid pattern. In "The Convergence of the Twain," for example, we find two rhyming three-stress lines followed by an "irregular" line of six stresses; the incipient pattern of trimetric couplets is disrupted. It is replaced, however, by a new pattern, which serves as metric analogue to the actual convergence: two lines go their separate ways so to speak, until in the third line they are unexpectedly mated. The triple rhyme blesses the union of the whole. An d as stanza follows stanza, we meet with an unbroken series of converging twains. In this way, too, Hardy schematizes the irregular.

I have glanced at the poems to establish that Jude the Obscure is not unique among Hardy's works for framing chaotic randomness within an intricate order. The aesthetic disposition is apparently a habit of mind, not a local stratagem. With respect to this disposition, Jude differs from the poems in at least two ways. The first is, of course, the sheer extent to which the two aspects are developed. Jude would be remarkable simply for its "subtil entrelacs de correspondances," traced by Lagarde, or for the protagonist's lengthy, tangled path, traced above. How much more remarkable it is, therefore, that Hardy painstakingly worked both these extensive linear configurations into the same novel. His doing so is especially intriguing because the two are contradictory in purport, one set of lines describing a messy, meaningless world, the other a harmonious one. Why Hardy would dwell thus on a contradiction may be implied in the second difference between novel and poems: in Jude the disruptive element is far more prominent than it is in the poems. The poems, their tidy schémas visible for all to see, are finally not so disturbed or disturbing as Jude, whose structural symmetries, once noted, can seem merely an elaborate game, quite beside the point of the tale told by Jude's path of pain and confusion. Mitigate's resistance to Lagarde's essay is evidence that the symmetries of the novel can seem irrelevant to it.

The two linear configurations are demonstrable aspects of Jude; the significance of their relationship is open to interpretation and conjecture. To me the conjunction of the two patterns suggests the following possibility. The path of Jude drew Hardy to the brink of universal shapelessness—to nihilism. Courageous enough to mark the path and its purport thoroughly and clearly, Hardy remained profoundly unwilling to follow his protagonist to its end. The artist in Hardy manifested this unwillingness in the elaborate symmetries that Lagarde details. When the path of Jude nevertheless overwhelmed Hardy's attempts to resist its implications, Hardy turned to poetry, the most conspicuously orderly of genres. There the conflict between absurd chaos and design could be resumed on grounds more favorable to the latter element. Hardy proceeded to write poem after poem revealing both the continuance of the conflict within him and the preference for an orderly universe, even a malicious one, over one without underlying shape or purpose.

1Fernand Lagarde, "A propos de la construction de Jude the Obscure," Caliban, III (Jan 1966), 185-214.

2Michael Millgate, "Thomas Hardy," in Victorian Fiction: A Second Guide to Research, ed by George H. Ford (NY: Modern Language Association of America, 1978), p. 329.

3Ward Hellstrom, "Hardy's Use of Setting and Jude the Obscure," Victorian Newsletter, No. 25 (Spring 1964), 11; Ian Gregor, The Great Web: The Form of Hardy's Major Fiction (Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Littlefield, 1974), p. 207.

4"Most commentators have assumed that Jude was born in Mellstock. They do so on the basis of Drusilla Fawley's remark, p. 12 (I, ii), that Jude "come from Mellstock, down in South Wessex, about a year ago… where his father was living.…" But they overlook I, xi, where Drusilla says that, when Jude was a baby, his parents left each other permanently near the Brown House barn, on the outskirts of Mary green: "Your mother soon afterwards died—she drowned herself, in short, and your father went away with you to South Wessex, and never came here any more" (p. 58).

Quotations are taken from Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, ed by Norman Page (NY : Norton, 1978). The many editions of the novel lead me to refer to part and chapter as well. All subsequent references are given in parentheses in my text.

5See Jean R. Brooks, Thomas Hardy: The Poetic Structure (Ithaca, NY : Cornell UP, 1971), p. 268: "The return to certain places connected with significant action is a well-tried narrative technique, which Hardy does not disdain to use in his most modern novel to mark the ironies of human progress." Here Brooks underestimates Hardy's originality. Hardy uses an old technique to new effect: Jude's returns measure no progress at all, except, perhaps, a painful, slow awakening to grim realities—if that be progress.

6Although he does not interpret it as I do, the reversal of place is pointed out by Bert G. Hornback, The Metaphor of Chance: Vision and Technique in the Works of Thomas Hardy (Athens, Ohio: Ohio State UP, 1971), p. 137.

7J. Hillis Miller, Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard UP, 1970), p. 3.

8The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy, ed by James Gibson (NY: Macmillan, 1978), pp. 306-7.

Alexander Fischler, (essay date 1981)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6922

SOURCE: "A n Affinity for Birds: Kindness in Hardy's Jude the Obscure," in Studies in the Novel, Vol. XII I No. 3, 1981, pp. 250-65.

[In the following essay, Fischler comments on the bird motif in Jude the Obscure and its relation to the theme and structure of the novel.]

Though the manuscript evidence concerning the first pages of Jude the Obscure is still open to differing interpretations, those who have considered it agree on two points: (1) that the opening of the novel as we have it is not part of Hardy's original draft; and (2) that Hardy composed it, obviously with great care, after deciding that his heroine, Sue, should not be Jude's prime attraction to Christminster. The "deadly war" (p. 23) [all page references are to the New Wessex edition of Jude the Obscure, 1977] that Hardy set out to present, according to his Preface, required that Jude follow alternately the call of the spirit and the call of the flesh. Clearly, it was more appropriate to make the call to a place like Christminster spiritual. In the new opening, as a result, it is the schoolmaster, Phillotson, who invites Jude to visit him in the Heavenly Jerusalem, and it is his figure, not Sue's, that appears to Jude in the halo which glows over the city on the horizon (pp. 42-43). Yet, although he is possibly the best that out-of-the-way Marygreen has to offer, Phillotson is an uninspiring representative of spirit. He commands the affection of only one pupil, Jude, not one of the "regular day scholars, who came unromantically close to the schoolmaster's life …" (p. 29). He appears pathetic, in fact, standing by the "cumbersome" piano, a witness to his readily waning "enthusiasm," telling the boy about his "scheme or dream … to be a university graduate, and then to be ordained," a dream that might become reality at Christminster, "headquarters, so to speak," or near it (p. 29). It is obviously a key initial absurdity that the boy's own schemes and dreams should have crystallized on this figure and been nurtured by such stuff as his farewell address: "I shan't forget you, Jude," he said, smiling, as the cart moved off. "Be a good boy, remember; and be kind to animals and birds, and read all you can. An d if ever you come to Christminster remember you hunt me out for old acquaintance' sake" (p. 29).

In the rook episode which follows and in its aftermath, Hardy illustrates the risk involved in kindness to birds; he also points out that the boy was predisposed to kindness by oversensitivity and "born to ache a good deal" for it (p. 36). The mentor's high-minded advice at the beginning of his career is like the milestone on which Jude inscribes his goal, "THITHER," in that it inspires him for a while, then turns into an ironic commentary on his endeavors, on the vanity of trying to improve or merely to "be good." When Jude reaches Christminster, Phillotson loses "at one stroke the halo which had surrounded" him as an incarnation of spirit; the mentor lives in humble quarters on the edge of town; he does not remember his pupil "in the least," and he is understandably reluctant to speak of his former ambitions (pp. 121-22).

Hardy asserted that the clash of spirit and flesh was the key to Jude the Obscure, but he neglected to add that in order to bring up to date the traditional conflict he had distorted its traditional form: he had seldom given spirit the nobler part; he had made the issue uncertain throughout; and he had even allowed the opponents to switch sides in mid-clash. Just as he chose for his first representative of spirit a rather dispirited type, he let one of the two representatives of flesh turn out to be an epicene "sprite." He was playing. Despite or perhaps precisely because of his intense personal involvement in the story, Hardy allowed himself unprecedented detachment in tone and levity in treatment. His original title for the novel, The Simpletons, implied an ironic perspective on the protagonists; after the first serial installment this was modified to Hearts Insurgent, which sounded a more positive note. The third and final title, Jude the Obscure, for the restored manuscript in book form, suggested no attitude whatever; yet the tone remained set from the start. After building a reputation for "good men" (the stock of Gabriel Oak and Giles Winterbourne) and then trying their virtue in Tess, "a pure woman," Hardy was offering the modern Job, a man who naively follows conventional advice or traditional wisdom, attempting to "be good." He was of course no biblical Job. In Hardy's universe, there is neither a devil to try nor a god to authorize the trial and, eventually, vindicate suffering and offer compensators; here, defeat is attributable mostly to character, that is, individual weakness or flaw, and, to a lesser extent, to such forces as an inimical social environment, inflexible conventions or laws, inexplicable family curses, and an arbitrary fate. It is not really the way in which defeat comes about that is new in Jude, but the manner in which it is expressed: happenstance and "life's little ironies" are overwhelmed by words, by disputes, reflections, broodings, by painfully extended attempts to explain and to justify. The novel itself would succumb were it not for brilliant characterization, meticulous structuring, and an apparently new and, no doubt, reckless way with words. "The letter killeth," says the epigraph (omitting that "the spirit giveth life"). Indeed, it has been suggested that in Jude Hardy is well on his way to abandoning prose and shifting to an exclusively poetic use of language. Name and word games, of course, go back to his earliest literary efforts; but the persistence evident here suggests a new manner if not a new purpose that is readily illustrated by the mentor's farewell words in the opening scene, words which set Jude on his hopeless quest and, eventually, allow the reader to trace a lifetime of adversity back to an inherent (and possibly inherited) weakness—kindness to birds.

Hardy's lifelong concern for animals in general and birds in particular is well documented. His biographers usually trace his own extreme sensitivity to an episode recalled in Later Years, a winter walk during which his father "idly" felled with a stone a half-frozen field fare; "and the child Thomas picked it up and it was as light as a feather, all skin and bone, practically starved. He said he had never forgotten how the body of the field-fare felt in his hand: the memory had always haunted him" (LY, p. 263). "The most persistent symbolism in Hardy is connected with birds," says F. B. Pinion [in A Hardy Companion]. Birds, indeed, abound in the novels and stories, as well as in the poetry, symbolizing most frequently what Pinion has called "the Frost's decree," the harshness of life and the vulnerability of living creatures. But in Hardy, birds are also the scarcely noticed witnesses of human activity, offering comment by word or presence; sometimes they provide a traditional, symbolic extension for the characters; at other times, they allow very personal metaphoric or metonymie descriptions to be set against the traditional background. Hardy knows his birds well and chooses among them carefully; in Jude alone, which is not his birdiest novel, references are made to the rook, sparrow, nighthawk, robin, raven, cock, pigeon, ringdove, and screech owl. In a materialistic world where protagonists are distinguished by their sensitivity to animals, birds offer the suggestion, deliberately left vague, of another dimension and of a broader scale to gauge human endeavors.

During the twenty-five years which spanned his career as a novelist, Hardy had thoroughly individualized the traditional bird-woman motif. His first heroine, Cytherea Gray, in Desperate Remedies (1871), was fairly conventionally singled out for birdlike gracefulness in her initial presentation and was said to possess a sense of perfect balance (tragically absent in her architect father!); the melodramatic plot then turned her, just as conventionally, into a "terrified, … panting and fluttering … little bird …" (DR, XII , 5, p. 252). Subsequent heroines, from Fancy Day to Fanny Robin, Ethelberta, Elizabeth-Jane, Suke Damson, Tess, and the three Avices, are more and more specifically associated with birds. Yet even in these associations, Hardy never goes far beyond the conventional. In Jude the Obscure, with Sue, the device becomes a technique of characterization, used deliberately, consistently and in conjunction with key themes; the traditional bird suggestions of gracefulness and pathos are used little and then, often, mockingly. Tess had been consistently associated with birds, but without detracting from her chief role as incarnation of womanhood; as pure woman, she had to be thoroughly grounded, even when Angel Clare set her among the gods in the peculiar role of Artemis-Demeter (Tess, III , xx, p. 115). Sue, on the other hand, is not only called a bird, but a mass of detail concerning her appearance and comportment suggests she is a bird in the specific as well as the general and colloquial sense; her idiosyncrasies almost invariably elicit pejorative reflections about women.

All evidence suggests that the decade which culminates in the publication of Jude the Obscure, 1885-1895, was a time when Hardy for personal as well as professional reasons was much concerned with women. (In this decade he also completed The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Woodlanders, Wessex Tales, A Group of Noble Dames, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Life's Little Ironies, and The Well-Beloved in its original version.) His biographers agree that, partly because of domestic problems, he was driven more and more during these years to enjoy the notoriety of a daring novelist among the fashionable ladies. He attracted admirers and readily assumed with them the literary counselor role. Notable among them were Rosamund (Ball) Tomson, who inscribed to him her poem collection The Bird Bride in 1889, and Florence Henniker, frequently considered one of the models for Sue, with whom Hardy began a long friendship in 1893. During the composition of Jude, entries from his notebooks and comments in the "biography" he prepared record not only his personal musings about women's inability "to manage an honest man" (LY, p. 22), but indications that he thought and acted like an authority on feminine matters. He participated in sophisticated debates with "beautiful women" on marriage laws (LY, p. 23). He reflected on the difference between coquetting and flirting (LY, p. 24), the effects of natural selection on women (LY, p. 25), and the mores of country servants in London (LY, p. 30). He went to the music halls and noted subsequently that the girls "owe their attractions to art" (EL, p. 296), or that "They should be penned and fattened for a month to round out their beauty" (LY, p. 14). Writing about a conversation on hypnotism, concerning the possibility "of willing, for example, certain types of women by speech to do as you desire," he commented that, "I f true, it seems to open up unpleasant possibilities" (LY, p. 34). His chief biographer, Robert Gittings, understandably finds this sexual blossoming of a man in his fifties intriguing.

It is of course impossible to indicate at which point personal preoccupation with women combined with Hardy's realization of the potential for verbal play yielded the bird motif in Jude. The suggestions were readily available. The woman-bird-bride association, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, goes at least as far back as the fourteenth century; the first instance cites dates from about 1300, and refers to Delilah, "that birde [var. bride, bryde, bruyd] was biddande bald." Connotations were not necessarily pejorative for a long time; by the end of the century, Chaucer still uses "bird" merely to designate a maid. Hardy himself played on bird-bride as early as 1866, in the poem "Postponement," in which, according to J. O. Bailey, he probably represents himself in the role of the lover who loses his bird-bride for lack of money:

"Ah, had I been like some I see,
Born to an evergreen nesting-tree,
None had eyed and twitted me,
  Cheerily mating!"

During the same year, in the uncollected "To a Bride-groom," he refers to the bride as a "fine-feathered jay."

From the start, Hardy's heroines first and flit, particularly on the point of betrothal, but until we meet Sue Bridehead, we have little to mark the evolution of a specific type which might be called the bird-bride. A specific source, could have been Rosamund Tomson's title ballad, "The Bird-Bride," which Gittings connects with Tess's "vision of the weird Arctic birds." It is based on a common folk motif. Tomson's bird-bride is a grey gull who, having assumed human shape, is abducted by an Eskimo hunter; she responds to his love and, eventually, bears him three children. Except for an occasional impulsive response to the call of the wind, she accepts exile. When, however, he breaks his word to her and, driven by hunger, slays four gulls, she turns bird again and flies off, taking the children along. It is quite likely that, while devising Sue Bridehead's character, giving her the oft-noted affinity with Shelley's blithe spirits, Hardy remembered also Rosamund Tomson's exiled bird-bride, and that he eventually decided to make this heroine into a bird, dubiously exiled and dubiously blithe.

Between "Postponement" (1866) and Jude (1895), Hardy is evidently groping for a particular elusive and coquettish type of heroine and reaching beyond conventional bird associations to suggest it. Just before turning to Sue, he had offered in The Well-Beloved (1894) the three Avices, whose bird name, as Michael Millgate pointed out, also "may have been a punning allusion to The Bird-Bride. …" Yet, by comparison these too were superficial character studies. "Sue is a type of woman," Hardy writes to Gosse, "which has always had an attraction for me, but the difficulty of drawing the type has kept me from attempting it till now" (LY, p. 42). In the concluding lines of Under the Greenwood Tree (1872), Fancy Day, having at last decided to marry Dick Dewey, is shown reflecting on the "secret" she will never tell him, while the nightingale overhead calls, "come hither, come hither, come hither." Fancy's secret is actually fairly innocent, and her nightingale merely evokes Arden and the fragility of human bliss. Twenty-one years later, however, coyness has yielded to pathological reticence in Hardy, and birds no longer invite men to the heart of Wessex for a carefree life. In April 1893, while working on Jude, Hardy notes that "a clever thrush and a stupid nightingale sing very much alike" (LY, p. 16). This introduces the tale of "Nat C—'s good-for-nothing grandson [who] 'turned ranter'—i.e. street-preacher" but was easily made to revert to type by "a girl he used to carry on with …" (LY, p. 16). A parallel in Jude, is Arabella's brief flirtation with the Chapel, ended when she flings away the tracts to be herself again (p. 335). We recall that her first achievement on the old course is to instruct the schoolmaster, Phillotson, about the ways of women and make him yearn for Sue's return, so that she herself might lure Jude once more. Hardy, who had chosen to associate Arabella with pigs, could not identify her as a bird also; yet she nonetheless assumed the role of the nightingale, in the colloquial sense of whore, far from stupid, calling "come hither" in a world where pastoral no longer offers an escape.

By 1893, pretty associations of maids and birds having long lost their place in his fiction, Hardy returns to them with a vengeance, creating Sue Bridehead and building, largely on what she says and does, a case against the ways of birds with men. Whatever she might owe to live models, to a certain "H . A." in the London of "Postponement" days, to the Sparks sisters, notably Tryphena in the Weymouth of 1870, or to Florence Henniker in the London of 1893, Hardy saw in her a chance to draw a type to which the name bird-bride might indeed apply and with which his earlier heroines had relatively innocent affinities. Sue remains forever a bride, as has been pointed out, and she is a bird from the moment we first see her flitting through Christminster till we last hear her "tears resounding through the house like a screech-owl" (p. 384) on the eve of her remarriage to Phillotson, near the end of the novel.

Hardy's design was to make the book "all contrasts … in its original conception" (LY, p. 42). Sue was to be opposed to the substantial Arabella, and, indeed, as bird, she would seem almost fleshless: "light and slight"; "There was nothing statuesque in her; all was nervous motion. She was mobile, living …" (p. 109); a "pretty liquid-eyed, light-footed young woman" (p. 113) whom Jude was at first content to worship from afar. On close observation, however, most of what seemed ethereal turns out to be based upon exceptional emotionality. "The voice, though positive and silvery, [was] tremulous" (p. 120). "She was so vibrant that everything she did seemed to have its source in feeling. An exciting thought would make her walk ahead so fast that he could hardly keep up with her; and her sensitiveness on some points was such that it might have been misread as vanity" (p. 122). Sue, in fact, tends to live on the verge of hysterics and to keep on an elevated plane by dramatizing the commonplace (her dramatic talent as a child in recitation of "The Raven" is one of the things noted about her: "She'd bring up the nasty carrion bird that clear … that you could see un a'most before your eyes" [p. 131]). But whether hysterical or merely fussy in nature, Sue's characteristic behavior pattern suggests birds: after flitting about erratically, she plunges headlong on a course, generally associated with freedom in her mind, then, timorous or exhausted, she seeks protection nearby. Hardy establishes this pattern most clearly in conjunction with her escape from the Melchester training school (duplicated later in Shaston): having flown out of the window, forded the river, and "rustle[d]" up Jude's dark stairs, Sue begs piteously for a place by his fire (p. 164). She appears "a slim and fragile being … pathetic in her defenselessness … (p. 164); as she warms up, however, she talks challengingly of herself and her life with the London undergraduate and offers her views on sex and religion. She becomes characteristically defensive. Jude notes the fact that many of her arguments are shallow, supported by an ever-ready supply of tears and tragic modulations of her voice; she has a tendency to "make such a personal matter of everything!" (p. 172). As usual, he allows himself to be dominated by feelings of tenderness toward her, but when his "faulty and tiresome little Sue" resolves they are "going to be very nice with each other" and looks up trustfully, her voice "trying to nestle in his breast," Jude "looked away, for that epicene tenderness of hers was too harrowing" (p. 173).

As Sue Bridehead becomes bride, her birdlike attributes assert themselves even more pronouncedly. Her flightiness in the events leading to her marriage with Phillotson is defined as "perverseness": Jude must not only give her away, but satisfy her momentary whim and serve as surrogate groom. When he meets her again, after a night with Arabella, she seems by contrast his "good angel," "so ethereal a creature that her spirit could be seen trembling through her limbs …" (p. 207). In fact, Sue is downcast, but she will not confess to unhappiness, even when Jude confronts her with it at their aunt's funeral: "I can see you through your feathers, my poor little bird!" (p. 231). She admits her marriage was a mistake only after the rabbit episode, blaming her "cock-sureness" in the midst of ignorance (p. 236). They part on a peck, "a scarcely perceptible little kiss upon the top of his head," impulsively offered although deemed improper. For Jude, this is a turning point: "his kiss of that aerial being had seemed the purest moment of his faultful life," proof that he is ill-suited for a religious vocation (p. 237). Characteristically, he burns his theology books and veers on a new course. No less characteristically, the kiss makes Sue retreat or, rather, flutter about: she reviews the incident "with tears in her eyes" (p. 239), then, applying what Hardy calls her "extraordinary" logic to it, she takes the blame on herself, readies punishment for Jude, and, very contrite, offers her husband a partial confession by way of atonement (p. 240). The meeting with Jude, nonetheless, let her face up to her situation. By midnight, she has deserted the conjugal chamber and "made a little nest for herself in the very cramped quarters" of a closet under the stairway which she refuses to vacate (p. 241). The next morning, looking at the spider webs over the "little nest where she had lain," Phillotson realizes how great her aversion to him must be "when it is stronger than her fear of spiders!" (p. 242). He first offers her separate quarters but, eventually, agrees to let her go after she once more takes the avian way out, leaping out of the window when he mistakenly comes to her room (p. 247). Their last meal together leaves a permanent image "imprinted upon his vision; that look of her as she glided into the parlour to tea; a slim flexible figure; a face, strained from its roundness, and marked by the pallors of restless days and nights …" (p. 254).

Hardy repeatedly underlines Sue's pathological aversion to her husband and offers it as grounds for her flight out of the window in Shaston. Sue herself, however, attributes it to fright caused by a bad dream, to being awakened suddenly in a large house whose doors will not lock.… She sublimates this very rapidly. By the time she stands in The George, having learned it is the hotel where Jude recently spent the night with Arabella, she claims to have been betrayed and repeats: "I jumped out of the window!" (p. 264); her flight asserted commitment to higher values, whereas he merely yielded to base passions.

One finds only a slight departure from the bird analogy when Hardy presents a "ghostly" Sue, flitting in like a moth (p. 269), to the bedside of the ailing Phillotson and fussing about him "with a childlike, repentant kindness, as if she could not do too much for him" (pp. 270-71); on leaving, "she put her hand in his—or rather allowed it to flit through his; for she was significantly light in touch" (p. 271). The bird analogy returns dominant, however, when Arabella's reappearance on the scene determines Sue to share Jude's bed. '"The little bird is caught at last!' she said, a sadness showing in her smile. 'No—only nested,' he assured her" (p. 287). Nesting, for Sue, merely implies settling down, as opposed to marriage which would mean reentering the cage. Against Arabella's advice, she talks Jude out of marriage, and, as they walk away from the parish-clerk's office, she recites to him the end of Thomas Campbell's "Song":

Can you keep the bee from ranging,
Or the ring-dove's neck from changing?
No! Nor fettered love [from dying
In the knot there's no untying]                                               (p. 291).

(The last line, which Hardy used as a recurrent theme throughout his works, is left implied in Jude.)

Talk of marriage and a permanent bond invariably elicits a frightened, birdlike response from Sue. Thus, before leaving one more time to marry Jude at the Superintendent Registrar's Office, her "nervousness intensified": '"Jude, I want you to kiss me, as a lover, incorporeally,' she said, tremulously nestling up to him, with damp lashes. 'It won't be ever like this any more will it!'" (p. 302). But even when free of stress, at idyllic moments like their visit to the Great Wessex Agricultural Show, she is a bird: "Sue, in her new summer clothes, flexible and light as a bird, her little thumb stuck up by the stem of her white cotton sunshade, went along as if she hardly touched ground, and as if a moderately strong puff of wind would float her over the hedge into the next field" (p. 311). Arabella, who observes her unseen, calls her, with matronly disdain, "a slim fidgetty little thing … (p. 313); and Hardy underlines the contrast: whereas Sue fidgets and flits, Arabella and Cartlett "saunter" (pp. 310, 315).

Even in her own mind, Sue associates herself with the trapped little bird. Characteristically, she keeps a pair of pigeons for pets, and when they are sold at the auction to a butcher, for "a nice pie," she frees them, then regrets her act: "It was so foolish of me! O why should Nature's law be mutual butchery!" Jude, who early in his career had similarly questioned the natural scheme over the rooks, and learned it was to no avail, now knows he can only try to compensate the butcher (p. 327). Little Father Time, however, takes careful note of the "law," and when he later hears from Sue confirmation of his own suspicion that "It would be better to be out o' the world than in it" (p. 352), he acts on the information. While he is hanging the younger children, then himself, his father, who had failed to nest his brood the previous night and who must meet with Sue in separate quarters, is addressing her as kindly as ever: "Have breakfast with me now you are here, my bird.… There will be plenty of time to get back and prepare the children's meal before they wake" (p. 354).

When Sue overcomes the initial shock of her children's death and substitutes unquestionable dogma for her "enlightened" views, she is not as inconsistent as Jude claims. To the contrary, by temperament, she had all along been better suited for Victorian constraints than for rebellion against them; she had clung to Mil l with almost religious fervor, and a great deal of fetishism had already attended her rituals to Venus and Apollo in defiance of the "pale Galilean" (p. 115). Despite her occasional flight for freedom, she had been all along a timorous type of bird, savoring the retreat at least as much as the adventure and ever-ready to assume a contrite and pathetic stance to gain sympathy. Her ultimate choice of the safety of a confining marriage, that is, of the cage which she had still then sought to escape, is not surprising, and it is probably not altogether condemnable in Hardy's view; one recalls his note on April 25, 1893, during the composition of Jude, wondering why Fear should not be idealized, "which is a higher consciousness, and based on a deeper insight" than courage (LY, p. 17). She is actually very lucid in the process of retreat and, like Jude, she is apt to generalize from her own predicament to the condition of women as a whole. He contrasts her "old logic" with her present "extraordinary blindness" and wonders: "Is it peculiar to you, or is it common to woman? Is a woman a thinking unit at all, or a fraction always wanting its integer?" (p. 371). Sue, however, argues that she has merely come to "see the light at last" (p. 371), and generalizes from her own frigid reticence to the relative position of the sexes: "A n average woman is in this superior to an average man—that she never instigates, only responds. We ought to have lived in mental communion, and no more" (p. 372). Yet she admits she knew all along that assuming a submissive posture is in itself an exercise of powers.

"At first I did not love you, Jude; that I own. When I first knew you I merely wanted you to love me. I did not exactly flirt with you; but that inborn craving which undermines some women's morals almost more than unbridled passion—the craving to attract and captivate, regardless of the injury it may do the man—was in me; and when I found I had caught you, I was frightened. And then—I don't know how it was—I couldn't bear to let you go—possibly to Arabella again—and so I got to love you, Jude. But you see, however fondly it ended, it began in the selfish and cruel wish to make your heart ache for me without letting mine ache for you" (p. 373).

Instead of justifying her behavior in terms of personal preference or, as she had increasingly tended to do, in terms of her "wickedness," Sue now attributes it to women in general. Again, she is not inconsistent, and she does not differ much from Jude in recognizing overwhelming forces in nature and society and unbreakable laws that govern intercourse among men and women; she is only more ready than ever to accept and to justify them. Oddly enough, but very much in keeping with her repentant stance, she now presents herself not as the freedom-loving little bird whom Jude and others would catch and confine, but as the one who herself had an inborn "craving to attract and captivate" and who, though frightened, could not stop preying or let the prey go once he was caught.

As indicated, Sue's career as bird goes on until the end of the novel. Even as she is crying "like a screech-owl" on the eve of her remarriage to Phillotson, we hear, Gillingham, nearby, reminding his friend that he had always objected to "opening the cage-door and letting the bird go in such an obviously suicidal way" (p. 385). Then following her last flutter before Jude in the Marygreen church, Sue comes to her husband's chamber bringing her body as ultimate offering, in order to reverse, as she says, her flight out of the window at Shaston (p. 415).

Hardy claimed to have written a novel about the conflict between flesh and spirit; yet the thought that he was exposing the awesome and often nefarious powers of women must have crossed his mind, as evidenced by the epigram for the first part of the book:

"Yea, many there be that have run out of their wits for women, and become servants for their sakes. Many also have perished, have erred, and sinned, for women.… O ye men, how can it be but women should be strong, seeing they do thus?"—ESDRAS

Every one of the epigrams Hardy set at the beginning of the sections prior to publication in book form was carefully chosen. This particular one he abstracted from Esdras 4:26-32, which is the account of a contest among Darius's bodyguards to identify the greatest power in the land. The first guard argues for wine, the second for the King; the winner is the third, Zerubbabel, who argues that women have the most awesome strength, overwhelmed only by Truth.

The wiles of women, however, and their abuse of their power over men are not only the subject of the novel's first part: they are discussed all along, just as advice on how to deal with women is offered throughout. One is sometimes tempted to view Jude as Hardy's contribution to the bourgeois side in the querelle des femmes, an illustration of the ways of maids with men, bearing an undeniably misogynous bias. It is as though at some rudimentary level he had sought to balance out the sufferings of Tess, his "pure woman," at the hands of villainous men, by offering the sufferings of his good man and "simpleton" at the hands of bad women.

Though obviously no simple attitude emerges, the perspective offered in Jude is not flattering, and the rather pejorative association of women with birds is precisely what it seems to suggest. Women are flighty, deceptive, self-centered; they exploit mercilessly the passions which they arouse in men; and they are guided solely by their narrow self-interest. As indicated already, Hardy's heroines had been coquettes from the first: even the most innocent, like Tess and Marty South, had their moments of vanity. Very early, with Bathsheba in Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), women's games with men revealed their lethal potential. Hardy's women had feigned helplessness to achieve their ends long before Sue, and they had arrayed seductive devices long before Arabella (one needs only recall Mrs . Charmond, who enhances her charms with false locks in Woodlanders). Sue and Arabella, however, become incarnations of women's power over men. Sue, the epicene, is the promise followed only by frustration; Arabella responds, but knows only her own interest. Sue adopts evasion as a life style; Arabella makes seduction into a crude profession. The coquette turns cocotte. In Woodlanders, Suke Damson (a nighthawk) still makes a pretence of confused identities and intended escape; but Arabella, with her cochin's egg, makes none whatever. Hardy presents her as the modern Delilah who sublimates neither her appetite nor her self-interest: Phillotson becomes a pawn in her hands, and, seated next to her, the obscure Jude can only ironically be likened to sunlike Samson. Jude as a victim of his kindness to women elicits sympathy; but he is characterized by "weaknesses" of a kind that topples no Philistine temples.

Had it been published a century earlier, Hardy's novel might have been entitled Jude or the Rewards of Kindness. It is fashionable to read into it innovation and to demonstrate how Hardy was ahead of his time. But it is just as easy, and probably more accurate, to note that his last novel was very traditional, not only because it used an Everyman for protagonist and his progress for story, but because it developed episodically around a simplistic argument: kindness does not pay. Jude is pronounced fatally weak from the start because he cannot hurt anything, because he has kindness to excess. To be sure, kindness is not his only weakness of character, but it is chief, and the others are generally made to seem related. Jude is unable to overcome it for reasons which Hardy suggests are temperamental and hereditary. Indeed, even after losing nearly all in his disastrous marriage to Arabella, and after renouncing Sue and giving her away to a man she cannot possibly love, Jude wonders about the order of things but does not doubt his own actions: "Is it," he said, "that the women are to blame; or is it the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springes to noose and hold back those who want to progress?" (p. 238). Though seemingly aware now of his vulnerability before women, he remains unwilling and unable to turn his back on their plight: he takes in the escaping Sue, and, a while later, he rushes to help Arabella, because "she's a woman … an erring, careless, unreflecting fellow-creature" (pp. 284-85). For his troubles, he earns a fairly contemptuous appreciation from the latter: "Never such a tender fool as Jude is if a woman seems in trouble and coaxes him a bit! Just as he used to be about birds and things" (p. 289). He confirms this very soon by relieving her of the burden of Little Father Time. Eventually, he even accepts Sue's fastidiousness in everything relating to marriage and sex; and though it makes him wonder about women's intellectual capacity, he accepts her retreat into religion and her return to Phillotson, agreeing that "The woman mostly gets the worst of it in the long run" (p. 373). Then, when Arabella stands beneath his window asking to be taken in, out of the rain, and saved from prostitution or the workhouse, Jude consents, as he will consent to marry her again, most ironically, to save her "honor." Even drunk, he rants about kindness and duty to birds: "I' d marry the W of Babylon rather than do anything dishonourable!… I have never behaved dishonourably to a woman or to any living thing. I am not a man who wants to save himself at the expense of the weaker among us!" (pp. 401-2). On his deathbed we still hear him making excuses for women in general and for Sue in particular: "Strange difference of sex, that time and circumstance, which enlarge the views of most men, narrow the views of women almost invariably" (p. 419). The excuses, of course, must serve him as well: "the time was not ripe for us!" (p. 419). Ironically, while he consoles himself and delights Mrs. Edlin with musings on the ways of birds, Arabella pours Vilbert his own "distillation of the juices of doves' hearts," telling herself in the process: "Well! Weak women must provide for a rainy day" (p. 421).

Hardy sets Arabella's views and most of her actions in direct opposition with those of Jude. He even allows her to elevate practical crassness to the level of doctrine, and to preach it to a very humble and attentive student, Phillotson. It turns out that Jude's former mentor, who had practiced kindness with Sue and then defended his acts so vehemently in Shaston that he was dismissed from his post and forced back to the Marygreen schoolhouse from where he had started, has not fatally committed himself to being good. Even though he still argues he had done "only what was right, and just, and moral" (pp. 336-37), he is in fact ready to learn from Arabella, especially after she tells him he had "dirtfied his] own nest" (p. 337). "There's nothing like bondage and a stone deaf taskmaster for taming … women," she tells him, adding that in imposing bondage he would even have had divine law on his side. Phillotson must admit that, indeed, "Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can't get out of it if we would!" (p. 338). He still claims ignorance of womankind on parting, but, when the opportunity arises, he shows that Arabella's teaching was not wasted on him: he has learned to seek out his interests above his convictions and, hence, to "make use" of Sue's new "views," even though they are not his (p. 378). He will "let crude loving-kindness take care of itself (p. 379) and be wary of women since they "are so strange in their influence, that they tempt you to misplaced kindness" (p. 386). Indeed, his friend Gillingham, who had all along advised against "opening the cage-door," now wonders whether "the reactionary spirit induced by the world's sneers and his own physical wishes would make Phillotson more orthodoxly cruel to [Sue] than he had erstwhile been informally and perversely kind" (p. 386).

Kindness and cruelty, which on a simplistic level are consistently opposed in the novel, are also shown to be ill-defined and easily reversible in weak men like Phillotson. In Hardy's view of evolution, likewise, the thrust to altruism is forever threatened by reversion to egotism. What is remarkable in Jude the Obscure is that, despite a very rudimentary philosophy and psychology for background, and despite the intrusion of petty biases growing out of personal experience, Hardy was able to write a novel in which the reader's impulse to classify and to judge, which is encouraged by the presentation, is frustrated at every turn by the obvious complexity of the issues and the depth of the characters. The device of pairing that Hardy acknowledged is, in fact, largely effective because it makes for comparisons and contrasts which are so facile that they must seem inadequate. As has often been pointed out, the contrast between Arabella and Sue, Jude and Arabella, Jude and Phillotson, or any other pair in the novel, is undermined by close resemblance between them. Similarly, the thematic pair of kindness and cruelty would seem to be parallel with the pair of spirit and flesh; yet spirit, throughout, proves unkind, and cruelty of flesh is made hard to condemn; always, "what was good for God's birds was bad for God's gardener …" (p. 36).

The bird motif examined here belongs to the whole array of devices used by Hardy to schematize his plot. They simplify only on the surface. The reader is confirmed in what he anticipates from the ambiguous designation of bird as it is applied to Sue; and yet he finds himself uncomfortable with the conventionally misogynous views suggested. Sue and Arabella appear to share a common ground as birds, and even as brides, but they obviously differ in their main personality traits; and Jude's kindness to them is misplaced only in a very narrow sense, that is, to the extent that we can identify kindness with naiveté and hence condemn it. On the whole, in the interaction between humans and birds, conventional associations seem to hold, but they often do so ironically, and, as a rule, what they suggest is too complex to formulate. The child, Jude, who robs nests but then lies awake until he can return, also feels fatefully akin to birds. The rook episode demonstrates that this kinship means vulnerability. Indeed, birds will eventually allow themselves to be caught by the adult Jude, but they will trap him in the process. A cochin hen's egg, "hatching" in Arabella's bosom, confirms his seduction and a feigned pregnancy clinches his marriage. The distinction between "caught" and "nested" is tenuous here. Sue yields to Jude only before the threat of Arabella. But even Vilbert, a professional bird catcher devoid of kindness, allows himself to be caught by Arabella, using for excuse the efficacy of his own dove philtre (p. 315). Like the Aeschylean world of the Agamemnon, which is never far back in Hardy's mind, the world of Jude the Obscure is inhabited by men and women, who, although they are vaguely aware of being caught in the net of fate, plot their way through life either by setting traps for others or by figuring out ways for getting out of the trap in which they find themselves. Taking kindness to birds for a theme, Hardy may well have tried to offer the fabulist's view to mitigate this spectacle.

Carol Edwards and Duane Edwards (essay date 1981)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2944

SOURCE: "Jude the Obscure: A Psychoanalytic Study", in University of Hartford: Studies in Literature, Vol. 13, No. 1, 1981, pp. 78-90.

[In the following essay, Edwards and Edwards interpret the unconscious motivations of Jude, arguing that he "fails ultimately because he is too rational and too controlled."]

When Thomas Hardy wrote Jude the Obscure, he hoped that the novel would be "cathartic," but it isn't. Despite the fact that Jude becomes increasingly rational and, in some important ways, comes to know himself, the ending offers no consolation, no purgation. Instead, it fizzles out before Jude can discover answers to the questions which baffle him. So the elevation of feeling which accompanies Oedipus's discovery of the awful truth is replaced, in Jude the Obscure, with depression.

Attempts to explain Jude's string of failures and, consequently, the depressing ending, generally focus on Jude's passion or on what Hardy himself called "the opposing environment." Both are overwhelming and destructive, many critics maintain; both practically guarantee that Jude will fail. But in reality Jude escapes from his environment repeatedly; he leaves Marygreen, leaves Christminster, leaves Melchester, leaves Shaston, and leaves Aldbrickham. And he is by no means the victim of his passion. In fact, the very opposite is true. Jude fails ultimately because he is too rational and too controlled.

Of course the opposing environment is important. Victorian morality, rigid divorce laws, Jude's poverty, family background, and rules governing entrance to Christminster all contribute something to Jude's unhappiness. And Jude does have several outbursts which seem to be the expression of emotion. He gets drunk, fornicates, and tries to commit suicide. But drinking is Jude's defense against his real feelings; fornication with Arabella is drive discharge only: it is not accompanied by tenderness or any other personal feeling; and even the attempted suicide is carried out with virtually no affect—that is, with a lack of the emotional response appropriate to the situation. In fact, Jude does little more than muse over the fact that he tried to take his own life.

Of course Jude has other outbursts. For example, he is fervent when he addresses the crowd on Remembrance Day (392-94) and angry when he recites the Nicene Creed in a bar (142-45) [page numbers refer to the An niversary edition of Jude the Obscure, 1920]. But such outbursts should not be confused with those expressions of emotion which are curative or at least therapeutic. As Oedipus demonstrates, anger and suffering can purge when they are the emotional working through of repressed thoughts and impulses. But Jude's outbursts are not authentic: they have virtually nothing to do with what Jude consciously believes prompts them. Instead, they are the result of an accumulation of memories and produce what is called, in psychoanalytic terms, "flooding in the ideational field." As such they are defense mechanisms rather than healthy expressions of feeling. Consequently, these outbursts leave Jude frustrated and depressed, but they do not subvert reason. In fact, they leave Jude free to exercise reason again and again, often to his disadvantage.

Although Jude reasons well and even assesses his position in life with extreme accuracy a number of times, he suffers a great deal, remains confused and depressed, experiences defeat frequently, and dies at an early age. Nevertheless, Hardy's readers persist in assuming that reason always works to an individual's advantage and passion to his disadvantage in the Wessex novels. Consistent with this, F. B. Pinion says [in Thomas Hardy: Art and Thought, 1977]: "Only when a person is not swayed by emotions or prejudices, when he is open to reason, is he capable of exercising freedom of choice." But Jude the Obscure illustrates that reason, like passion, can distort the truth and, furthermore, that an idea (or ideal) untainted by affect can be a prejudice. The novel also illustrates that an individual cannot make the choices that are right for him unless he is influenced by his mind and his emotions simultaneously, unless he is able to express not only his ideas (motives) but also the feelings that should accompany these ideas.

Since Jude the Obscure is a novel that Hardy began during the 80s, but published five years after Tess of the d'Vrbervilles, it is easy to understand why Hardy's readers generally assume that Jude is destroyed by passion. After all, Tess succumbs to "reveries" repeatedly. In doing so, she ceases to use reason or exert her will, she is ruled by passion, and subsequently suffers. But Jude is not Tess. He is, in fact, as ideal as she is passionate. For this reason he sees Sue as "almost an ideality" (114) and has no difficulty rationalizing his relationship with her. He calls her "a kindly star, an elevating power, a companion in Anglican worship, a tender friend" (105). He is the victim of reason, of his ability to deal rationally with what is essentially a matter of passion.

There can be no doubt that Jude is attracted to Sue physically. He himself knows that his interest in her is "unmistakably of a sexual kind" (114). But this does not mean that Jude is overwhelmed by lust or even that his feeling for Sue is strong and healthy. In fact, Jude believes that his passion is "unauthorized" and requires a "cure" (114). He also describes his developing interest in Sue as "immoral" (114). As a result, he checks his impulses. For long periods of time he abstains entirely from sex. His interest in Sue continues to be physical, but his control is so strict and his conscience so severe that he does not act on his instincts. Even during those periods when they do make love, Jude continues to desire Sue not because he is so passionate but because she with-holds herself even during love-making and, as a result, never satisfies him.

Why, then, does Jude tolerate Sue? To begin with, she is an intelligent, attractive, and unique person. At the same time she is very much like Jude. Detecting this, Phillotson says: '"They seem to be one person split in two!'" (276). An d later the narrator observes that their "complete mutual understanding, in which every glance and movement was as effectual as speech for conveying intelligence between them, made them almost the two parts of a single whole" (352). But both the narrator and Phillotson fail to observe that Jude does not distinguish mentally between the two halves, between Sue and himself. In fact, Sue's wishes become his. At one point he tells her that they will marry whenever she chooses (331) and, later, says: '"Still, anything that pleases you will please me'" (343). In brief, Jude does not distinguish clearly between himself and the object of his love. He must, therefore, tolerate her indifference and cruelty since to reject her is to reject a portion of himself.

Jude's failure to distinguish sharply between himself and Sue suggests that his love for her is essentially narcissistic. This is reinforced in the novel in a number of ways. To begin with, Jude loves a cousin rather than someone who is in no way like him. Secondly, even when he barely knows her, he dreads being separated from her: "A cold sweat overspread Jude at the news that she was going away" (116). Fearful of losing a part of himself, he experiences anxiety. Finally, like the typical narcissist, he relies heavily on vision, sustains a belief in its power, and seeks to control his environment by means of sight.

Jude's reliance on sight is especially obvious in his relationship with Sue. Initially he prefers only to look at her, "to gain a further view of her" (106). In fact, he is "glad" that he can look at her without being detected, so he decides that "To see her, and to be himself unseen and unknown, was enough for him at present" (106). Of course he confronts her eventually, but he continues to watch her from a distance at times, from a window for example (247-48). Furthermore, even after his relationship with her has developed considerably, "his ardent affection for her" burns, significantly, "in his eyes" (284).

Why does Jude rely so heavily on seeing? The answer to this question is complicated. To begin with, Jude is ambivalent about sex. He wants sexual intercourse because his abstinence creates a strong need; however, because sex makes him feel disgusted, guilty, and ashamed, he also does not want it. He adjusts to this ambivalence by selecting Sue, a sexless woman he regards as "bodiless" (313), "almost a divinity" (174), and "a sort of fay, or sprite—not a woman" (426). But his natural desire to have sex asserts itself despite Sue's lack of physicality. As a result, Jude needs a substitute for sex. As the following passage illustrates, this substitute is seeing:

Jude left in the afternoon, hopelessly unhappy. But he had seen her, and sat with her. Such intercourse as that would have to content him for the remainder of his life. The lesson of renunciation it was proper that he, as a parish priest, should learn (190).

Acting in character, Jude is ready, perhaps even eager, to be celibate and to accept looking at Sue as the only "intercourse" he will have for the rest of his life.

Jude's reliance on sight is stressed often in the novel. He reads a great deal, strains his eyes, sees Arabella initially with his "intellectual eye" (46), and climbs a tower to gaze at Christminster, the city of his dreams. Furthermore, as a result of gazing at various objects, he derives what is called, in psychoanalytic terms, "libidinous gratification." Thus even before he sees Sue, he sees Christminster and reacts in the following way:

He was getting so romantically attached to Christminster that, like a young lover alluding to his mistress, he felt bashful at mentioning its name again (22).

His response to Christminster is similar to his response to Sue. Not surprisingly, then, Jude sees a halo above Christminster and above Sue's photograph when he looks at them. Both the city and the woman are idealized—even spiritualized—by young Jude. But Sue is a female nevertheless and, as an old man tells Jude, '"there's wenches in the streets [of Christminster] o'nights'" (23). So Jude will have to work hard to accomplish what he accomplished during the early stages of his affair with Arabella when he kept "his impassioned doings a secret almost from himself (54).

He tries and he succeeds. Using idealization and rationalization, he is able to tolerate anticipated "instinctual experience." In fact, he is able to control all feelings to the extent that control itself becomes his problem. Eventually he is unable to express feelings which are appropriate to a given situation or person. He cannot resent Arabella (223, 473). He wants to "annihilate" his rival Phillotson but, the narrator says, "his action did not respond for a moment to his animal instinct" (196). In brief, Jude is eventually so rational, so controlled, that he responds without affect. Governed exclusively by reason, he decides logically and, it seems, inevitably, to let himself die. In doing so, he does what at one level he wanted to do all the while. As D. H. Lawrence observed, "That was his obsession. That was his craving: to have nothing to do with his own life."

And yet, in one sense, Jude, like Oedipus, approaches the truth about himself more and more closely as the novel progresses. In fact, Hardy's narrator emphasizes that in a number of ways. He cites Jude's rally or recovery after each setback and, more important, records Jude's "mental estimates" of himself and his situation in life. In fact, the novel is centered on a series of "estimates" which are more accurate, more nearly founded on fact and the eventual revealed truth, man are Oedipus's appraisals of his own condition. For example, at the end of Part Fifth, Jude acknowledges that he will never enter Christminster but admits, too, that the university remains "the centre of the universe" to him because of his early dream (386). Here and elsewhere he courageously accepts the awful truth about himself.

But Jude's responses differ from Oedipus's in ways that explain why Jude declines and Oedipus rises to heroic stature. To begin with, Oedipus confronts Creon, Teiresias, and the shepherd. As a result, he, like a patient being psychoanalyzed, learns to acknowledge and to express his emotions with an intensity he could not experience at the beginning of the play. In contrast, Jude makes each "mental estimate of his progress so far" either to himself or to a crowd and is not challenged. Not surprisingly, he speaks without affect, deflects his real feelings with rhetoric, and makes mental leaps from an unrecovered past into an unrealized future. In doing so, he escapes from the present and, consequently, from the need to acknowledge or act on his real feelings. Relying on facts, he does not interpret.

Since Jude does not interpret, he fails to recover his repressed feelings. He becomes more and more conscious of himself and his surroundings but fails to develop emotionally. As Lawrence said [in Phoenix, 1936], Jude "dragged his body after his consciousness. But change is theoretically possible all the while. So at given moments in the novel it appears that Jude could, but won't, free himself from what plagues him; however, in retrospect it seems that Jude was fated all the while to suffer and to die.

Significantly, Jude feels he is destined to fail and to be unhappy. An d no wonder. After all, his Aunt Drusilla tells him repeatedly that he (like Oedipus) is part of a doomed family, and people such as Farmer Troutham convince him that he is worthless. So Jude learns to anticipate failure and is even "piqued" into action (33) and "illuminated" by it (80). Consistent with this, he aims for success only in the distant future. For example, he prepares for Christminster by going through the long process of studying Greek and Latin and later establishes 30 as the proper age for becoming a clergyman. So the possibility of success does nothing except enervate him in the present. Furthermore, he cannot receive stimulation from outside sources since he does not distinguish between himself and the external world. The world is a projection of his own mind. In fact, when he is only eleven, the landscape is already an emblem of his mind and the birds seem, "like himself, to be living in a world which did not want them" (11). He even identifies with trees that are cut down and earthworms that are stepped on (13). In brief, Jude projects his own pessimistic fatalism onto the physical world. Thus he is trapped from within and without. As a result, that change which is theoretically possible becomes, in actuality, impossible.

Jude's relationship with his parents helps to explain why he is so hopelessly trapped. To begin with, his mother abandoned him when he was a baby and shortly afterwards committed suicide. As a result, Jude does not learn to relate tenderness and sensuality. That's why he responds without affection to sensual Arabella and without passion to spiritual Sue.

Jude's relationship with his father is more difficult to explain. Jude lived with him for a while in South Wessex and can recall that his father did not speak of his mother "till his dying day." But virtually nothing else is known about Mr. Fawley. Nevertheless, it's clear that Jude needs a male to emulate. This need is reflected in his imitation of Phillotson and in his desire to follow in the footsteps of an uncle he has never met (37).

Significantly, Jude does not attempt to emulate his father. He simply does not want to compete with him. (This is consistent with his unconscious desire to fail or at least to delay success.) But he does feel rivalry. Speaking to Sue at Melchester, he reveals his conflict. Like his father, he wants to be a parent, but he does not want to be involved in the act of procreation. He tells Sue that he would "gladly" live with her "as a fellow-lodger and friend, even on the most distant terms" (211), but there would be children nevertheless. Behaving characteristically, Jude "projected his mind into the future, and saw her with children more or less in her own likeness around her" (212). Rationalizing, he decides that such children would be a "continuation of her identity," but he reiterates that he would like a child that is "hers solely." Then the narrator says: "And then he again uneasily saw, as he had latterly seen with more and more frequency, the scorn of Nature for man's finer emotions, and her lack of interest in his aspirations" (212).

Clearly Jude is again rationalizing. He views his reluctance to have sex with Sue as one of "man's finer emotions." Furthermore, searching for the cause of his failure, he blames Nature which, like fate or bad luck in general, is a substitute for the rivalrous father in the male child's mind.

But of course Jude is unconscious of all this as, perhaps, Hardy himself was. Then, too, because Jude merely fantasizes, he cannot recover repressed feeling. After all, the person who fantasizes is responding purely intellectually; he is thinking without becoming involved bodily; he is using intellectualizing as a defense mechanism—as the means of fleeing from reality. And, all the while, he reinforces repression.

So Jude makes accurate mental estimates of his progress in life, makes shrewd comments about the human condition in general, and rationalizes in a consistent, coherent manner. But he does not express the emotion that is appropriate to his ideal love for Sue. He does not because he cannot: he is the victim of too much thought, too much reason, too much conscious control. This, not passion, is his affliction.

William R. Goetz (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9635

SOURCE: "The Felicity and Infelicity of Marriage in Jude the Obscure," in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 38, No. 2, 1983, pp. 189-213.

[In the following essay, Goetz explores elements of Jude the Obscure that form a critique of marriage.]

Matrimony have growed to be that serious in these days that one really do feel afeard to move in it at all. In my time we took it more careless; and I don't know that we was any the worse for it!

—the Widow Edlin in Jude the Obscure

When Jude the Obscure was published in 1895, it was interpreted in many quarters as Hardy's contribution to the growing contemporary debate on the "marriage question." The prominence of the public debate, as well as Hardy's candid and even sensational treatment of marriage and sex in his novel, tended to draw attention to this aspect of the work rather than to the other theme that Hardy apparently had in mind when he first conceived Jude, the educational one. In a letter of 10 November 1895 to his friend Edmund Gosse, Hardy expressed surprise at the way the novel was being received: "It is curious that some of the papers should look upon the novel as a manifesto on 'the marriage question' (although of course, it involves it)." Hardy's suggestion here that Jude is not about marriage as a social theme in the way the reviewers understood, yet does "involve" marriage, is amplified in his 1912 "Postscript" to the novel, which requires lengthier quotation:

The marriage laws being used in great part as the tragic machinery of the tale, and its general drift on the domestic side tending to show that, in Diderot's words, the civil law should be only the enunciation of the law of nature (a statement that requires some qualification, by the way), I have been charged since 1895 with a large responsibility in this country for the present "shop-soiled" condition of the marriage theme (as a learned writer characterized it the other day). I do not know. My opinion at that time, if I remember rightly, was what it is now, that a marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either of the parties—being then essentially and morally no marriage—and it seemed a good foundation for the fable of a tragedy. (Norton Jude, pp. 6-7)

By calling the marriage laws his "machinery," Hardy suggests, as he did in the letter to Gosse, that the institution of marriage is important to the novel but only as a means, not as an end; the end is "tragedy" itself. The statement does admit, though, that the novel's theme has to do with marriage laws, and specifically that the novel seeks to call into question the institution of marriage on the grounds of natural morality. Hardy's opinion that a marriage based on "cruelty" is "essentially and morally no marriage" implies that the novel refers to two different notions of marriage. Civil marriage sanctioned by society may find itself at variance with a more natural form of marriage, one that does not depend on social conventions to validate it. This implicit distinction between two conceptions of marriage is based on the explicit distinction between "civil law" and the "law of nature." Ideally, the relation between these two laws is not so much one of opposition as of "enunciation," wherein the human code of law articulates or speaks the law of nature, which remains dumb. We must not, however, overlook Hardy's parenthetical comment that this model of enunciation, attributed here to Diderot, is in need of "some qualification"—a qualification that Hardy does not supply but which the novel itself, as I shall argue, will supply for him. The Postscript, in any case, promptly forgets the need for "qualification" and proceeds to an attractively straightforward conclusion concerning the novel's theme. If civil marriage deviates from the law of nature by becoming cruel, it "should be dissolvable," presumably through divorce or annulment. The novel would demonstrate the perversion of a marriage that strays from the laws of nature into cruelty and yet cannot be corrected through divorce. Paradoxically, it would be the very lack of authority, or the groundlessness, of such a marriage that would provide the "foundation" for Hardy's own tragic work.

But this is, of course, far from an accurate description of what happens in Jude, and Hardy is certainly justified in arguing that his novel is no manifesto of this kind. What is striking in the novel is precisely the rapidity with which both Jude's and Sue's marriages are terminated at the beginning of Part v (though, as we shall see, one of these divorces is based on a mistake). This availability of divorce sets Jude off from Hardy's earlier treatment of the same problem in The Woodlanders (1887), where Grace's inability to obtain a divorce from Fitzpiers turns a potentially comic ending into a much more somber one. In Jude, Hardy goes one step farther by allowing divorce to occur, but then shows that it offers no lasting solution, so that the novel can conclude only after both protagonists have reentered marriages with their original partners in a sort of grotesque parody of the conventionally happy ending of the earlier English novel. Instead of chronicling a reassuring move from a corrupt civil state back to a natural one, then, the novel insists on the instability of both these states, and on the seemingly necessary return to a condition of marriage whose spiritual bankruptcy and cruelty have already been conclusively exposed.

Thus the opposition between marriage and divorce, in which divorce is seen as the antidote to a cruel marriage, already breaks down, and the relation between the two states becomes much more problematic. The whole novel, Hardy wrote to Gosse, was to be constructed on "contrasts," the foremost of which the author defined in his original preface as "a deadly war waged between flesh and spirit" (Norton Jude, p. 5). These contrasts, though, as we shall see, are not so much relations of mutual exclusion, when one term is to be preferred to the other, as they are double binds, when the inadequacy of one term gives way only to the inadequacy of the other. Such will be the structure of Hardy's "tragedy." Marriage finds its place in this tragedy not only as a social theme but as an institution whose form lends itself to the shape of the novel Hardy is trying to write.

To see how the structure works, and specifically to see how marriage functions, let us return to the basic opposition between "civil law" and "law of nature." Throughout the novel Jude and Sue will dwell in a constant state of tension between these two terms, debating the significance and the viability of both from the standpoint they occupy at the moment. Their continual dialogue on these questions is itself a reflection of the fact that the civil law may be nothing but an "enunciation" of the law of nature. The civil law is represented primarily in the form of a language, and as such it both sets itself off from but also (ideally) connects itself to the law of nature, which it articulates. What does it mean for human law, and especially the marriage laws, to be conceived as a language? In this novel it means at least two distinct things.

First, it means that the law is literally a kind of language that names its objects—"literally," as when we speak of "the letter of the law." The law here is associated with denomination and literalism. Most importantly, it becomes the "letter [that] killeth," the letter from II Corinthians 3:6 that Hardy chose as epigraph for his novel. Interestingly, the second half of this quotation—"the spirit [that] giveth life"—is omitted by Hardy both when it appears as epigraph and when Jude quotes it again toward the close of the novel (VI , 8). Hardy's refusal to quote the redemptive half of Paul's formula may well prove significant, but if for the moment we take the epigraph to be pointing to the familiar opposition between letter and spirit, then we have a new version of an opposition which is almost identical to that between "flesh" and "spirit" and which also seems to link up to that between the state of civil society and the state of nature. In this scheme the positive value is ascribed to the spirit and to the state of nature, while the letter of the law becomes the emblem of what is wrong with institutionalized society.

Acting as a letter, the law names its objects: persons and forms of behavior. But the law also functions linguistically in a second way: it not only names but dictates, prescribes, or constitutes its objects. As is well known, legal language lends itself readily to a speech act theory of language, because it is so frequently performative, rather than constative, in its function. Legal language—or again, for our purposes, the language of the marriage contract in particular—is so clearly performative that it furnishes the very first example of a speech act in J. L. Austin's How To Do Things With Words, the work that founded speech act theory:


(E. a) "I do (sc. take this woman to be my lawful wedded wife)"—as uttered in the course of the marriage ceremony.

According to Austin's initial definitions, a performative utterance, for which the marriage oath furnishes the paradigm, is a kind of language that does not point to a state of affairs (as a "constative" utterance does) but creates or constitutes the state of affairs through the act of the utterance itself. Consequently, performatives cannot be judged to be true or false (since they do not correspond to any reality outside of themselves) but can only be judged "felicitous" or "infelicitous," depending upon whether they are appropriate or not to bring about the event they claim to perform. Their success or "felicity" will depend upon their fulfillment of a certain set of conventions that are both necessary and sufficient for the performance of the speech act in question.

Insofar as marriage furnishes the "machinery" for Jude the Obscure, the novel becomes an exploration of the marriage contract considered both as "letter" and as speech act. These two aspects of marriage, and especially the latter one, constitute the basis for Hardy's critique of marriage as an institution. Indeed, the unhappiness that all the main characters encounter in their marriages is to some extent analyzed as a consequence of the various "infelicities," in Austin's special sense, to which die act of marriage can succumb. Certain episodes in the novel can practically be read as textbook examples of "infelicity" in performative acts. Such is the mock marriage that Sue and Jude perform just hours before her real wedding to Phillotson (III, 7). Placing her arm in his for the first time, "almost as if she loved him," Sue insists on walking up the church nave to the altar railing and back down, "precisely like a couple just married." The act is infelicitous, of course, because of the absence of both an officiating minister and a marriage oath spoken by the two parties. Jude finds Sue's rash mimicking of the marriage act irresponsible, and says to himself, "She does not realize what marriage means!" Sue's toying with the wedding ceremony is, among other things, an instance of her ability to hurt the feelings of Jude, who finds her behavior here "merciless." Another example of an irresponsible tampering with the convention of marriage is given by Arabella when she consents to marriage with the man in Australia even though she is already married to Jude. This entire subplot, which includes Arabella's divorce from Jude and her remarriage, now within the proper forms, to the man she met in Australia, exemplifies a speech act that "misfires" (a subcategory of "infelicity" for Austin) and is then rectified by a return to the required conventions.

But Hardy is interested not only in showing such casual floutings of the marriage laws, which in themselves may seem isolated and accidental occurrences dependent upon individual willful acts. Instead of simply showing how the act of marriage can be infelicious, his real goal is to show that even when it is apparently felicitous—that is, when the recognized conventions governing the act of marriage have been properly invoked and performed—marriage is doomed to failure, because it promises to deliver something it cannot. This he demonstrates through the two main marriages in the novel. Although it is in Parts II I and IV , with Sue's marriage to Phillotson, that the marriage question is brought to a head, the case against marriage as a misguided convention is already fully articulated in Part I, apropos of Jude's particularly infelicitous (in the common sense) marriage with Arabella. What is noteworthy about their wedding is the way in which Hardy's narrator undercuts the meaning of the act at the very moment it is being solemnized:

And so, standing before the aforesaid officiator, the two swore that at every other time of their lives till death took them, they would assuredly believe, feel, and desire precisely as they had believed, felt, and desired during the few preceding weeks. What was as remarkable as the undertaking itself was the fact that nobody seemed at all surprised at what they swore. (1, 9)

The narrator treats the act of marriage essentially as the exchange of an oath or a promise (an important category of performatives in speech act theory). The most obvious kind of infelicity to which a promise can fall victim is of course insincerity, something J. L. Austin identifies as one of the possible "abuses" of a performative.

The narrator of Jude the Obscure does not, however, accuse either Jude or Arabella of insincerity or bad faith (even though bad faith has been involved in Arabella's entrapment of Jude in marriage on the false grounds of her alleged pregnancy), because this would again point only to an intentional, personal abuse of the convention. Rather, the narrator's comment strongly implies that the convention of the marriage oath is intrinsically infelicitous because of the nature of promises and the nature of human emotions. As one critic has written, the novel is here illustrating "the inappropriateness and the superficiality of conventional language." A few chapters later, a reflection attributed to Jude confirms the earlier narrative comment: "Their lives were ruined, he thought; ruined by the fundamental error of their matrimonial union: that of having based a permanent contract on a temporary feeling which had no necessary connection with affinities that alone render a lifelong comradeship tolerable" (I, II). Marriage fails not because of suspect intentions in the participants but because of an "error" contained in the convention itself. The convention suffers, in fact, from two distinct confusions: the confusion of the temporary with the "life-long" (a momentary oath supposedly binding one for life), and that of a "feeling" with an "affinity"; that is, a purely physical or sexual attraction is confused with the "spiritual" union that marriage should ideally represent. The two confusions are of course aligned in that sex is implicitly said to be a necessarily temporary feeling while spiritual "affinities" are lasting. There are problems here, not the least of which is that sex, which is here criticized as offering an inadequate basis for marriage, forms (as we shall see) an integral part of the definition or "letter" of marriage. But this particular problem will prove more of a difficulty for Sut than for Jude and Arabella. We have just seen that the latter's marriage is doomed to failure even as it begins, a failure not primarily attributable to the personal characters of the partners involved (though Arabella's duplicity undoubtedly adds to the sense of the inevitable wreck) but to a defect inherent in the convention of the marriage oath.

Sue's response to her marriage will both confirm and amplify the critique already made of Jude's marriage. In her fiercely unconventional, even antinomian, spirit, Sue attacks marriage as an institution and as a "letter," a dead letter to her, but one which nonetheless has the power to impose a new name on her:

"the social moulds civilization fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns. I am called Mrs. Richard Phillotson, living a calm wedded life with my counterpart of that name. But I am not really Mrs. Richard Phillotson, but a woman tossed about, all alone, with aberrant passions, and unaccountable antipathies.… (IV, I)

Sue's thinking is based on a radical opposition between social forms and a private self whose ineffable, unique quality must forever remain "unaccountable" in the terms of those social conventions (an opposition more drastic than Hardy's distinction between the "laws of nature" and "civil law"). The marriage law necessarily generalizes something that is in essence particular, and makes contractual a feeling that should be voluntary. Later, when Sue is arguing against the idea of a marriage between herself and Jude, she hints that her lack of feeling for Phillotson was actually the result of her contractual bond with him: "Don't you dread the attitude that insensibly arises out of legal obligation? Don't you think it is destructive to a passion whose essence is its gratuitousness?" (V, 3). Sue's critique of marriage is an even stronger one, then, than that made by the narrator on the occasion of Jude's marriage to Arabella. The narrator had argued only that the marriage oath is inconsistent with the ephemeral nature of human desires, while Sue claims that the oath, or the contract it establishes, actually destroys those desires. This would be the ultimate degree of infelicity for any performative, that through its very commission it should perform the exact opposite of what its "letter," or literal formula, claims to achieve.

Of course, as many critics of the novel have judged, Sue's theoretical arguments against marriage can be read in large part as rationalizations for what she finds to be the truly objectionable aspect of marriage, the sexual one. This does not mean that those arguments, in the context of the novel, are invalid, but it does mean that for Sue marriage is not only a verbal convention but is above all the occasion for the sexual act. It is Sue's ignorance of sex before her marriage to which Jude may be referring when he thinks to himself, "She does not realize what marriage means!" (Ill, 7). Later, after Sue's marriage to Phillotson has taken place, and has presumably been consummated, she admits to Jude: "Jude, before I married him I had never thought out fully what marriage meant, even though I knew" (IV, 2). The full "meaning" of marriage, then, is still more complicated than its status as a verbal act has indicated. Beyond constituting a legal state, marriage refers to an act of physical union, without which, as its "consummation," it is null and void. If the "spirit" of marriage seems to be contained in its verbal contract, its "letter," and arguably its true referent, is found in the sexual act. This is the letter that almost "killeth" Sue.

What Sue, with her sharp eye for conventions and their absurdity, had failed to see was the paradox that the conventionally defined act of marriage can be validated only through the physical, "raw" or noninstitutional act of sex. In Part VI , when little Jude asks her why babies come into the world, she will reply that it is "a law of nature" (VI , 2). The paradox is that the most natural of all acts should be inscribed within a verbal contract, made to subserve this contract and given a new meaning in reference to it. In other words, there is here a crossing of concepts that had previously seemed to belong to the distinct categories of the civil and the natural. Sue's disgust at this crossing is reflected in her language when she contemplates a new marriage to Jude: "I think I should begin to be afraid of you, Jude, the moment you had contracted to cherish me under a Government stamp, and I was licensed to be loved on the premises by you—Ugh, how horrible and sordid!" (V, I).

Sue may be offended by the logic of the marriage contract, but she is also capable of using the logic of conventions to her own ends, exploiting and undermining its terminology through an appeal to a more "natural" law. This is the way she frames her argument when she is trying to persuade Phillotson to allow her to live apart from him: "For a man and woman to live on intimate terms when one feels as I do is adultery, in any circumstances, however legal" (IV, 3). Sue's own crossing of categories here, in the oxymoronic notion of a "legal adultery," rests upon her interjection of a natural morality into the discussion of a contractual relation. Seen through the eyes of nature, Sue and Phillotson's marriage is adulterous—as if nature recognized marriage, and therefore adultery, at all. For Sue to call her own marriage adulterous represents a more radical attack on the institution of marriage than her engaging in an act of adultery could ever represent because it implies that adultery can happen not just outside of marriage but inside it as well.

Similarly, the solution Sue offers to Phillotson would, arguably, undermine marriage even more than a formal divorce. By proposing to live apart from him while remaining nominally his wife, Sue is proposing to preserve the appearance of their legal, contractual relationship while ceasing to fulfill its letter. Far from being dictated by a concern for appearances, though, Sue's suggestion is actually prompted by her total indifference to convention: the continued legal relationship with her husband would mean nothing to her as long as she were rid of the torment of physical intimacy. Her lack of respect for the marriage contract becomes even more apparent when she suggests that they terminate their marriage through a new verbal contract, this one sanctioned not by positive law but by natural morality: "Why can't we agree to free each other? We made the compact, and surely we can cancel it—not legally, of course; but we can morally, especially as no new interests, in the shape of children, have arisen to be looked after" (IV, 3). Sue is willing, as usual, to resort to conventional behavior when it suits her purposes, but what she appeals to now is a merely personal promise that cannot have the force of a legally recognized divorce. What she is proposing, then, is to undermine her marriage by a new speech act which is, however, not strictly symmetrical with the oath that created the marriage in the first place.

Of course, Sue's plan for this particular kind of separation from her husband—a separation that would leave her marriage intact as a legal contract and yet strangely void for lack of consummation—will work only temporarily, and soon we shall have to consider how the divorce Phillotson obtains from her alters her situation. But the arguments of Sue I have just cited, with their subtle undermining of the institution of marriage through a strange, mixed recourse to both natural and conventional forms of behavior, represent a distinct climax in the plot of the novel. The climactic sense comes in part from the way that Sue's reasoning so closely echoes Hardy's reasoning in his Postscript of 1912, namely "that a marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either of the parties—being then essentially and morally no marriage." Hardy's statement seems to support the action of his heroine at this critical juncture of the novel, and when Phillotson too, rather less expectedly, gives consent to it, the novel enters into a new phase.

This new phase would seem to be grounded in the principle that has permitted the judgment that a cruel marriage is "morally no marriage." It seems to presuppose the ideal of a relationship which is not sanctioned by the law and which can be sustained without cruelty to either partner. Such a relationship would be based on a natural affinity between two people who have no need even to "enunciate" their natural desire for each other through the language of the civil law. The relationship that this novel suggests might fulfill such an ideal is, of course, that between Jude and Sue. It is largely (though not exclusively) in reference to their relationship that the novel invokes a Romantic vocabulary of natural correspondences, elective affinities, and "magnetism" (II, 3). The narrative is establishing these links between Jude and Sue even while Sue's acquaintance and later marriage with Phillotson are driving her inexorably away from a union with Jude; it is in part Sue's already established attraction to Jude (along with her revulsion from her husband) that will rapidly make her marriage unviable. Al l of this would make it seem that Sue's marriage need only "dissolve" to enable her to rush into Jude's arms and find happiness. But this kind of clear-cut alternative is precisely what this novel is working against. Instead, even while the narrative has been instilling the idea that Sue and Jude are meant for each other, it has been complicating that idea by putting into question the notion of natural affinities altogether.

By one of those touches, ironic and fitting at the same time, of which the novel is full, it is Phillotson who supplies some of the strongest statements of the natural bond that exists between Sue and Jude. To his friend Gillingham he says: "I have been struck with these two facts; the extraordinary sympathy, or similarity, between the pair. He is her cousin, which perhaps accounts for some of it. They seem to be one person split in two!" (IV, 4). As he goes on to describe their extraordinary affinity, or sympathy, Phillotson adds to this Platonic myth the Shelleyan one of Laon and Cythna, the lovers from The Revolt of Islam—an allusion that links this passage to Hardy's Well-Beloved, which borrows its epigraph from the same poem. In both novels Plato's mythic explanation for the attraction between two people is supplemented by a characteristically Romantic hint of incest in the relations between two cousins. The otherwise prosaic Phillotson turns out to be a surprisingly Romantic reader of human relations.

But this Romantic interpretation has already been put into question before the disappointed husband enunciates it. It already informs the language the narrator uses to describe the first glimpses that Jude catches of Sue after his arrival at Christminster. On the first of these occasions Jude enters the shop where she is working and watches her silently until he hears her speak, whereupon "he recognized in the accents certain qualities of his own voice; softened and sweetened, but his own." This faintly incestuous affinity is based on the most spiritual and interior of all qualities, the living voice. But, as the text immediately asks, "What was she doing?" Working with a zinc scroll, Sue "was designing or illuminating, in characters of Church text, the single word ALLELUIA " (II, 2). Sue's work involves the letter, the written text, in its most material quality—its materiality underscored in Hardy's text by the word's being spelled out in Gothic lettering. The soft tones of Sue's voice are already opposed by the resistant physicality of the religious "letter," an emblem of the letter which, in the form of the religiously sanctioned marriage law, will later be Sue's enemy.

What remains as implicit commentary in this first scene, inscribed tacitly in the environment in which Sue is found, becomes explicit during Jude's next encounter with her. This meeting takes place in church, and this time the spiritual vehicle supposedly expressing the affinity between the two is again the voice, now supported by music. The chanting of a psalm for organ and choir, heard by the two cousins in the audience, is interpreted as the expression of a harmonic link between them. Al though they are not seated together and Sue is not even aware of Jude's presence, he imagines her "ensphered by the same harmonies as those which floated into his ears; and the thought was a delight to him." The shared music encourages Jude to think that Sue "had, no doubt, much in common with him," and his fantasy culminates in a state of "ecstasy." Cutting this ecstasy short, however, the narrator immediately remarks: "Though he was loth to suspect it, some people might have said to him that the atmosphere blew as distinctly from Cyprus as from Galilee" (II, 3). "Some people," of course, might be wrong; yet the effect of this remark is to undercut Jude's own belief in the idealism (and religious purity) of his attraction to Sue and to replace it by a more carnal desire. This opposition between a genuine, ideal affinity and a merely sexual one is the same opposition the narrator had already used for his critique of Jude's marriage with Arabella, and it is therefore a particularly ominous presage of the future relations between Jude and Sue.

This erroneous grounding of a natural affinity between persons in a shared experience of church music has a curious parallel later in the novel. Shortly after Sue's marriage to Phillotson in Part II I ("At Melchester"), Jude hears a newly composed hymn by a Wessex musician and is greatly impressed by its beauty. Jude promptly attributes the qualities of the music to its composer: "What a man of sympathies he must be!… 'He of all men would understand my difficulties,' said the impulsive Jude. If there were any person in the world to choose as a confidant, this composer would be the one, for he must have suffered, and throbbed, and yearned" (III , 10). Like Proust's Swann after hearing for the first time the sonata of Vinteuil, Jude resolves to meet the composer. But when he does—spending an entire Sunday journeying by rail to a small village and back—he is greatly disappointed. Far from exhibiting the same spiritual qualities as his music, the composer turns out to be petty and materialistic, interested only in the financial returns of his art, and thinking of changing from composing into the wine business. This disillusioning encounter, which Jude narrates to Sue when they meet again at the start of Part IV , has no further consequences for the main plot of the novel; it is a completely extrinsic episode. Its inclusion in the novel can be explained only by its reinforcement of the theme of wrong or deceptive affinities that had already been illustrated by Jude and Sue.

It is under the shadow of such hints as these that Sue deserts Phillotson and embarks on her free, unauthorized relationship with Jude (IV, 5). This is one reason why their new relations begin on an inauspicious note. Another reason concerns the way in which Sue and Jude both finally extricate themselves from their first marriages. When Sue begins to live with Jude, both are still married, so that their cohabitation gives the appearance of adultery. Yet Jude the Obscure is not a novel of adultery: no adulterous act ever occurs between the hero and heroine. If Sue refuses at first to have carnal relations with Jude, however, her refusal can hardly be ascribed to a respect for the convention of marriage. We have already seen that she was perfectly willing to undermine that convention from within by refusing to have sex with Phillotson, even while living with him as his wife. Beyond the reason of her lack of physical passion, she may decline to have sex with Jude also because, as an act of adultery, that act would confirm the legal claims of marriage in the way that any transgression confirms the existence of the law it transgresses against. Adultery is the "other" of marriage in the sense that it is the other side of the same coin. Disillusioned as she now is with marriage, Sue is seeking, whether consciously or unconsciously, a way out of what she sees as the false alternative between legal and illegal acts of sex. A radical putting into question of marriage will no longer acknowledge the relevance of the opposition between acts that occur "within" marriage and acts that occur "outside" of it.

There is yet another twist to Sue's undermining of the institution of marriage. Although she is unwilling to commit an act of adultery, she is willing to practice a deception and give the appearance of engaging in adultery. It is this appearance, as she must know, that will move Phillotson to seek and obtain a divorce from her. Their divorce is announced in the novel at the same time as Jude's divorce from Arabella (V, 1). In each case the wronged husband has successfully sued for divorce on me grounds of his wife's infidelity. Arabella's adultery has been real, but Sue's is only feigned. When her divorce is announced, she expresses to Jude her doubts as to its validity, since it has been obtained under "false pretences":

"Well—if the truth about us had been known, the decree wouldn't have been pronounced. It is only, is it, because we have made no defence, and have led them into a false supposition? Therefore is my freedom lawful, however proper it may be?" (V, 1).

Jude is thrust into the position of the interpreter of the law, and he responds with what is no doubt the correct interpretation, especially from the point of view of speech act theory: "One thing is certain, that however the decree may be brought about, a marriage is dissolved when it is dissolved" (V, 1). Phillotson's divorce from Sue is "felicitous" because it has been pronounced by the court that has the institutional power to bring it about. A mere inconsistent fact like Sue's innocence, especially since it has been concealed from general knowledge, cannot get in the way of the workings of justice. In any case Sue finds it in her interest now to let the divorce proceed. Yet her question does raise a disturbing point about the validity of the divorce. In a sense Sue has undermined the convention of divorce through her feigning of adultery just as much as she undermined the convention of marriage by merely pretending to live in physical union with her husband. Though her divorce is valid in the eyes of the public, Sue knows that it is based on a misapplication of the letter of the law.

Consequently there is much ambiguity in her question as to whether her newly won freedom is "lawful." Most simply, she is asking whether divorced people return to the state of freedom they knew before marriage: "Are we—you and I—just as free now as if we had never married at all?" (V, 1). But clearly the freedom of being divorced is not the same as the freedom of never having been married, if only because the freedom one has now is "lawful." The free relation into which Sue is about to enter with Jude, supposedly based on a natural affinity, should exist prior to, or outside of, the law altogether. Instead, Sue's question implies—whatever the response to it may be—that their relationship is already inscribed within the law. (And it was obviously part of Hardy's tragic design that the two should not even meet until Jude was already bound in marriage to Arabella.) Moreover, because of the irregularity in Sue's divorce, mere is the implication that her relationship with Jude, far from being pristine, is based on a misunderstanding, a legal error. This new phase of the novel, then, which according to a more reassuring scheme would have signaled the vindication of Hardy's view on the dissolubility of marriage, begins on a distinctly false note—a note that will only get more strident as Sue and Jude persist in trying to make a life for themselves.

It does not take the narrative long to establish that divorce offers no solution to Jude's and Sue's problems. The freedom supposedly won through divorce does not emancipate them but only increases the awkwardness of their situation. Jude, indeed, takes it for granted that they should now regularize their relationship by marrying each other. His argument in favor of a new marriage, however, is scarcely persuasive: "People go on marrying because they can't resist natural forces, although many of them may know perfectly well that they are possibly buying a month's pleasure with a life's discomfort" (V, 1). He has obviously absorbed the lesson that Hardy already sought to drive home at the time of Jude's wedding with Arabella. The appeal to the "natural forces" of sexual desire is not calculated to convince Sue, who, as we have seen, is particularly repelled by the image of a sexual activity enforced by a code of law. The argument that Sue presently hears from Arabella—that she should marry because to be a wife is a social and economic convenience—has just as little appeal for the unconventional Sue.

There follow the agonizing chapters in which Sue and Jude persuade themselves to be married and go so far as to publish banns and even go to the registrar's office on the morning appointed for their wedding, only to be scared away by the sight of another, obviously ill-suited couple (V, 3, 4). After this they arrive at a compromise, which is to let others believe that they are married even while really remaining free of "the sordid conditions of a business contract":

The result was that shortly after the attempt at the registrar's the pair went off—to London it was believed—for several days, hiring somebody to look to the boy. When they came back they let it be understood indirectly, and with total indifference and weariness of mien, that they were legally married at last. Sue, who had previously been called Mrs. Bridehead, now openly adopted the name of Mrs. Fawley. (V, 6)

Once again, Sue is subtly subverting the institution of marriage. Earlier she had lived with Phillotson as man and wife but had refused him the sexual intimacy that would consummate the letter of their contract; now she lives with Jude, granting him the sexual relationship (after she is driven to do so by jealousy of his relations with Arabella) and claiming to be his wife but declining the contractual oath that would really make her such. By "adopting" his name, Sue mimics that very consequence of the marriage contract that she resented in her marriage to Phillotson. Yet this adoption of the name is "infelicitous" in the absence of the marriage ceremony; her calling herself Mrs . Fawley is not the same as the law's calling her by that name. As she later admits to the landlady in Christminster: "though in [Sue's] own sense of the words she was a married woman, in the landlady's sense she was not" (VI , 1). What Jude and Sue consider they have done is to enter into a "natural" marriage, just as binding on them as a civil one would be but with less potential for cruelty. Yet it is significant that this natural union must immediately mask itself by adopting the forms of civil marriage.

The problem for Jude and Sue is precisely how to find a way to retreat, to recover a state of existence that is outside of, or prior to, the civil law of society. The latter stages of Jude the Obscure show that their attempt to do so inevitably fails, for two reasons: first, because their continuing ties to society make it impossible for them to escape society's laws, and second, because even an escape back to a putative state of nature would only reveal that nature too already articulates itself in terms of "laws," laws that offer only a false alternative to those of society.

It has often been observed that Jude, the last of Hardy's novels, portrays a world that is more social and less natural than the world of any of the earlier novels. Jude's profession is strictly an urban one, unlike the agricultural occupations prominent in most of the novels through Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Not only are Sue and Jude obliged to continue living in towns but his work brings him forcibly up against the very incarnation of social law. The episode Hardy chooses to illustrate this confrontation occurs in Aldbrickham, when Jude receives the commission to repair the lettering of the Ten Commandments in a small church. When Sue begins to assist him in the work of relettering the biblical phrases, this scene becomes the exact counterpart of that early scene when Jude first saw Sue in the act of illuminating the word "ALLELUIA." Sue herself notes the irony in their new employment: "that we two, of all people, with our queer history, should happen to be here painting the Ten Commandments" (V, 6). The two of them are working to restore the very "letter" of the law that neither of them now believes in, and which seems at least to admonish their own conduct in the form of the seventh Commandment.

Their full relationship to this letter, however, is suggested only by means of the story that the churchwarden tells (within their hearing) to some women who have entered the church and have begun to gossip about Sue and Jude. This gossip prompts the warden to narrate his anecdote, almost a legend, concerning a similar restoration of the text of the Ten Commandments in a nearby church about one hundred years earlier. This task, too, had been assigned to workers who were unfit because they drank on the job. After drinking themselves into a stupor, they woke up to find a thunderstorm raging and a "dark figure," an image of the devil himself, completing their work for them. Only the next day did the workers learn that "a great scandal had been caused in the church that Sunday morning, for when the people came and service began, all saw that the Ten Commandments wez painted with the 'Nots' left out" (V, 6).

The anecdote suggests that Jude and Sue, like the devil, are capable of removing the negatives from the injunctions that stand at the source of the Judaeo-Christian religion. This suggestion has a certain plausibility, not only because Jude and Sue's immorality, at least in the eyes of the public, makes their work on the Ten Commandments subversive but also because they in fact are striving to live outside of all enunciated codes of law. For them, the Ten Commandments serve as a symbol of the social constraints under which they live. Sue will remark later to Jude: "There is something external to us which says, 'You shan't!' First it said, 'Yo u shan't learn!' Then it said, 'Yo u shan't labour!' Now it says, 'Yo u shan't love!'" (VI , 2). Sue images the social (and the religious) law as a voice issuing negative commands. This voice cannot be the simple "enunciation" of the law of nature, as Hardy's Postscript to the novel suggests it should be, because nature, like the Freudian unconscious, knows no negatives. The idea of Sue's and Jude's removing the "nots" as they reletter the Ten Commandments, then, points to their desire to rewrite the social and theological laws in order to make them conform better to the law of nature. Yet such an attempt, the novel is suggesting, would be doomed. For removing the negatives from the commands still leaves them as commands—positive commands now but no less arbitrary and peremptory.

Jude and Sue, of course, through most of the novel, continue to harbor hope for a way of life that lies outside of, and prior to, the "letter" of the social law that is persecuting them. Their regressive impulse to recapture a putative state of nature is felt, most obviously, in their association with and concern for wild animals: the birds that Jude is punished for trying to feed in the second chapter of the novel, the rabbit caught in a gin that he puts out of its misery (IV, 2), the pigeons that Sue sets free as she and Jude prepare to leave Aldbrickham (V, 6). These trapped and suffering animals become, in the protagonists' minds, emblems of their own victimization at the hands of society, as when Jude calls Sue "my poor little bird" (IV, 2) or when, just a few pages after the incident of the caught rabbit, he converts the trap into a metaphor for his own condition: "is it the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springes to noose and hold back those who want to progress?" (IV , 3).

Despite the appeal of this figurative equation between man's treatment of animals and society's treatment of the individual, Jude is guilty here of nostalgic self-deception. As was the case in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the protagonists in this novel also find themselves struggling against the cruelty not only of social laws but of the natural law as well. This cruelty is in fact already present in the nature or animal scenes that Jude offers. As early as Part I, in the scene in which Jude is supposed to be protecting the farmer's fields from the rooks, those fields are described as the site of a quite different natural or "lawless" activity:

Love-matches that had populated the adjoining hamlet had been made up there between reaping and carrying. Under the hedge which divided the field from a distant plantation girls had given themselves to lovers who would not turn their heads to look at them by the next harvest; and in that ancient corn-field many a man had made love-promises to a woman at whose voice he had trembled by the next seed-time after fulfilling them in the church adjoining. But this neither Jude nor the rooks around him considered (I, 2)

This indiscriminate lovemaking, in the scenarios the narrator proposes, can remain free and illegal or can lead to marriage; either way the result is usually cruel. Though Jude is oblivious to such cruelty at this early point, later episodes will educate both him and Sue into a tragic consciousness of man's and animal's inability to escape victimization. The rabbit caught in the gin cannot be freed by Jude but only put out of its misery quickly. Sue's later reflection on the pigeons she frees is, "O why should Nature's law be mutual butchery!" (V, 6). Shortly after this, Phillotson will remark to Arabella: "Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can't get out of it if we would!" (V, 8).

These ruminations on nature's law reach their climax, of course, in Sue's conversations with Little Father Time, conversations that lead directly to the latter's suicide, the catastrophe of Part V I . When Father Time, with characteristic lugubriousness, asks Sue why children are born, she replies, "because it is a law of nature." When she goes on to tell him she is pregnant once again, the boy responds, "How ever could you, mother, be so wicked and cruel as this, when you needn't have done it till we was better off, and father well!" This speech is Father Time's last in the novel. Two pages later, Jude tries to alleviate the guilt Sue feels for Father Time's murder of their children and his subsequent suicide by saying, "It was in his nature to do it" (VI , 2).

Having rejected marriage, Jude and Sue are thrown back upon the laws of nature. But these laws turn out to have a cruelty of their own. In fact, the cruelty resulting from the laws of nature resembles the cruelty brought about by laws of man: both kinds of law have a relentless universality, an indifference to the fate of the individual. When Sue attributes her pregnancy to the law of nature, she is not so much finding a positive explanation as she is evading an admission of her own sexuality. Jude had earlier cited the natural sexual drive as the primary reason why most people marry. It is as if the laws of nature can be used to motivate any kind of behavior, social or nonsocial. In their monolithic, universal quality, the laws of nature become arbitrary, cruel, and machinelike. We are reminded that Hardy in his postscript had called the marriage laws the "tragic machinery" of his tale. Nature's law, as the novel represents it, is no less a part of Hardy's machinery, and it is between these two machines that the tragic hero and heroine find themselves squeezed.

It is left to Sue to draw the most important consequences from the new situation which is brought about by Little Father Time's murder-suicide. The boy's act is a response to his reflection on the law of nature, and Sue's own response to that act will take the form of a reinterpretation of the laws of marriage. It is the conclusion of the novel from this point on that many readers have felt to be unbearable, both because of the overwhelming pessimism implied in the events of the denouement and because of the strain placed on our credulity by Hardy's apparent manipulation of the catastrophe, and also, perhaps, by Sue's swift psychological turnabout. It is hard to deny that Hardy is here manipulating the plot for his tragic effect—but, then, he has been manipulating it since the beginning. To deplore Sue's conduct here as being either perverse or inexplicable, which is the reaction of practically all the other characters in the novel, is to miss the centrality of that conduct to the novel's main theme. The importance of the ideas Sue begins to articulate after the death of her children is suggested by the fact that even Hardy's narrator seems to disapprove of them. Sue is becoming the spokesman for the tragic design of the novel itself, a design that is more profound than the opinions of the other characters, the narrator, or even the "author" Hardy, who spoke optimistically in his postscript about the "dissolubility" of marriage. Sue almost single-handedly accomplishes the tragic conclusion to the novel by denying the view that marriage is dissoluble.

Sue's new position is all the more remarkable because it hardly seems to be the inevitable or logical response to Little Jude's murders. Her sense of guilt for the children's deaths, if that is what it is, appears misplaced. Little Jude's famous suicide note, "Done because we are too menny," with its pun on "men," accuses the natural order of reproduction and the human condition itself. Sue, however, is unwilling to assign blame either to the human condition in general or to the explanation Jude proposes, that is, that the boy was the harbinger of a "coming universal wish not to live" (VI , 2). Rejecting historical and existential explanations, Sue seeks a legalistic one: she chooses to interpret the deaths as the punishment for the infraction of a religious law that is embodied in a social code, and she sees her own sole chance for atonement in a conscious "submission" to that code—indeed, in a ringing reaffirmation of it (VI , 3).

When Sue first announces her new views on the indissolubility of marriage, the ensuing argument between her and Jude seems to take the form of a blocked dialectic. Jude argues that their relationship is "Nature's own marriage," and Sue responds, "But not Heaven's" (VI , 3). The terms of the dichotomy, at least, are new. Whereas both the protagonists had earlier appealed to nature as a positive law in contrast to society's negative one, nature is now being contrasted, to its disadvantage, with religious law. Now that Sue recognizes the religious underpinning of the marriage ceremony, she sees the ceremonial act as having an absolute, inviolable "felicity" that makes it indissoluble. Their debate centers, once again, on the question of performative speech acts and their binding quality. Jude pleads: "We still love.… Therefore our marriage is not cancelled." Sue not only denies this but insists that her marriage to Phillotson has never been interrupted: it is the divorce act that for her now becomes "infelicitous," totally without authority. Hence, the new wedding with Phillotson is not strictly necessary, except in society's eyes: "[Phillotson] is going to marry me again. That is for form's sake, and to satisfy the world, which does not see things as they are. But of course I am his wife already. Nothing has changed that" (VI , 4). There is indeed something extreme and perverse about Sue's new adherence to the law of conventional acts. Formerly, she had undermined convention by going along with the outward forms of marriage even while refraining from the behavior that would give meaning to the ceremony; now she has become a formalist holier than the Pope, willing to perform a redundant, repetitive ritual only because society at large has reneged on its faith in the binding force of the original act.

Sue's actions from now on constitute a careful reversal of all her previous actions and ways of thinking, which, as she now believes, led to catastrophe. Her acts are not only a reversal but also a repetition—repetition being the necessary mode of the tragedy Hardy is composing. Sue now insists on an almost maniacal enactment of the letter of the law that she had previously flouted. And Jude says in protest: "Sue! we are acting by the letter; and 'the letter killeth!'" Jude's interpretation is just as correct as Sue's action is necessary. At first, perhaps she herself is not aware of how absolute is the process of repetition that she is instigating. After her second marriage to Phillotson, when Jude gets out of his sick bed to visit her, she is capable of equivocating to the extent of telling him it is "only a church marriage—an apparent marriage I mean.… a nominal marriage" (VI , 8). In fact, she has up to now refused sexual relations with Phillotson, thus undermining their second marriage just as she had their first. But right after this scene, and as a consequence of it, Sue forces herself to the most painful act of penance of all (painful for both her and the reader) as she enters Phillotson's bed (VI , 9). In the meantime, one final act of repetition has occurred, more ridiculous than sublime: Jude's remarriage to Arabella has provided a wrenching parody of Sue's new union with Phillotson.

The two weddings at the end of the novel do not, of course, reestablish the legitimacy of marriage as an institution. The arguments Hardy has made against marriage through his narrative voice and his plot continue to hold, and perhaps even gain in force. Yet Sue's stated reasons for returning to Phillotson suggest that the state of marriage is in a sense inevitable for all the characters, and that the alternative between marriage and a state of natural freedom is a false one. Sue's actions reveal that finally the social law is only an "enunciation" of the natural law—but what it also enunciates is the latter's cruelty. The stalemate, or indeed regression, that characterizes the last phase of the plot, and which is the source of the novel's tragedy, arises from the exposure of the false alternative between the dictates of a social and of a natural way of life.

What happens to the opposition between social and natural law by the end of Jude the Obscure can be compared to what happens to the opposition between performative and constative utterances by the end of Austin's How To Do Things With Words. At the outset, Austin treats constative utterances as the norm and performatives as a special case. Before the end of his short work, however, he has decided that constatives are only a special case of illocutionary speech acts, all of which are in a sense performative; as Stanley Fish puts it, "the class of exceptions thus swallows the normative class." In Jude the Obscure the natural law initially seems to be prior to the social law, which must be interpreted either as an "enunciation" or a deformation of it. By the end of the novel, these two laws are threatening to collapse into one, or rather they become two versions of a system of determinism that governs human fate. There is no real alternative to living in the domain of performative speech acts such as commands (the Ten Commandments) and promises (the marriage oath). The marriage laws become Hardy's "tragic machinery" for conveying man and woman's plight; the ultimately false options between marriage, adultery, and divorce represent the false options (which nonetheless continually entice Jude and Sue) between a life in society and a life in nature. There is no authentic possibility of a life outside of the law in Jude; even the animals in this novel are caged, confined, or regulated. The theoretical possibility of a natural way of living—the kind of life associated with the theory of the elective affinity binding Jude and Sue—has disappeared, along with the natural landscape of Wessex that played such a great role in Hardy's earlier novels but is no longer visible in Jude.

It is this dilemma that Hardy is indicating in the epigraph to his novel: "The letter killeth." It is significant that Hardy did not go on to quote the rest of the biblical phrase, "but the spirit giveth life." Jude is depicting a new world, one in which the opposition between the letter and the spirit no longer operates; it is the world of the letter alone. It is Sue who in the novel best recognizes this world for what it is, Sue who is first seen engraving the word "ALLELUJA," and who is last seen reentering the marriage bed of her lawful husband.

Ramón Saldívar (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6620

SOURCE: "Jude the Obscure: Reading and the Spirt of the Law", in ELH, Vol. 50, No. 3, 1983, pp. 607-623.

[In the following essay, Saldívar probes the nature of meaning and referentiality in relation to Hardy's novel, contending that "the narrative of Jude the Obscure, while telling the story of Jude's and Sue's unhappy marriages, also dispels the illusion of a readable truth."]

The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

—II Corinthians

Concern for the nature and response of an author's audience is, in some respects, one of the original tasks of literary criticism. Over the past decade, however, attempts to incorporate rhetorical, linguistic, and cognitive theories into literary criticism have led to the development of a hefty bibliography on the nature of the reader's role in the communication network of author, text, and reader. These reader-oriented studies stress, from their various perspectives, that the reader, as much as any character, contributes to the shaping of the novel's fictive world through his interpretive actions.

The value of this recent emphasis on the reader's role in fiction and of "reception history" in general could very well be tested by a text such as the author's "Postscript" to Jude the Obscure. There, the reading public is accused of "curing" the novelist of all desire to write prose fiction. In this case Hardy would seem to have us question the reader's role in the destruction of texts, for in no uncertain terms, it is the reader, in his incapacity to read, who is the problem. Since we cannot read his meaning properly, even when there has been no "mincing of words" in its enunciation, complains Hardy, he will spare himself and the reader by simply ceasing to write novels.

Yet readers often find this and Hardy's later comment that he expected Jude the Obscure to be read as "a moral work" (ix) somewhat disingenuous. We can hardly imagine, after the reception of Tess and after his attempt to cancel his contract with Harper & Brothers for Jude, that Hardy would not have anticipated the "shocked criticisms" (ix) that the publication of the novel evoked. In fact, when Hardy announces in the "Preface to the First Edition" that the novel will "deal unaffectedly with the fret and fever, derision and disaster, that may press in the wake of the strongest passion known to humanity" (viii), and then denies that "there is anything in the handling to which exception can be taken" (viii), he raises the very real possibility that the novel will be misread.

And it was misread. Angry reviewers and a solemn bishop saw in it, among other things, a cynical attack on the sacrament and institution of marriage. In a letter of November 1895 to Edmund Gosse, Hardy continued to express his concern for the proper reading of his novel by indicating that Jude was not merely "a manifesto on 'the marriage question' (although, of course, it involves it)," but was more the story of the tragic result of two marriages because of "a doom or curse of hereditary temperament peculiar to the family of the parties." The fact is, of course, as critics have convincingly argued, that the novel is concerned with the marriage laws in more than just a casual way. And Hardy himself points out that the plot of Jude is "geometrically constructed" around the marital realignments of the four principal characters. They repeatedly change their relationships through their alternately prospective and retrospective visions of one another and of the options society and nature allow them.

Poised between a desire for natural freedom and the need for a stabilizing social order, Hardy's characters try to act within their "geometrically constructed" system of marital and symbolic associations to accommodate their desires and needs. Hardy is clear about this. He tells us that Jude the Obscure dramatizes the sociological effect of the Victorian failure to reconcile the antithetical realms of culture and nature: "The marriage laws [are] used … to show that, in Diderot's words, the civil law should be only the enunciation of the law of nature" ("Postscript," x). But the difficulty of reading Jude properly may well stem from the fact that the novel is more than a realistic analysis of the historical condition of marriage in late Victorian England. I would like to suggest that the ambiguous status of the act of reading in the author's prefatory statements is only an indicator of a more radical investigation concerning reading and interpretation. By considering the interplay between "natural" and "civil" law, and by examining the nature of Hardy's "geometrically constructed" plot, we will be able to reflect on the possible relation of these issues to the apparent ease with which, according to Hardy, the novel can be misread. A reading of Jude that attempts to account for this cluster of formal and thematic elements can, I think, provide a new perspective on Hardy's conception of the realistic novel.

A first difficulty in understanding the novel is thematic and stems from the portrayal in the text itself of numerous cases of misreading. From the beginning, for instance, Jude sees in Christminster and its university the image of an attainable ideal world. His desire for this ideal vision involves a rejection of reality. For his own sporadically controlled, partially understood world, he substitutes the image of a unified, stable, and understandable one. Beguiled by his desire for order, the young Jude thus turns initially to language study both as a means of entering university life and as a possible course of stability. The narrator tells us:

Ever since his first ecstasy or vision of Christminster and its possibilities, Jude had meditated much and curiously on the probable sort of process that was involved in turning the expressions of one language into those of another. He concluded that a grammar of the required tongue would contain, primarily, a rule, prescription, or clue of the nature of a secret cipher which, once known, would enable him, by merely applying it, to change at will all words of his own speech into those of the foreign one.… Thus he assumed that the words of the required language were always to be found somewhere latent in the words of the given language by those who had the art to uncover them, such art being furnished by the books aforesaid.


Jude feels betrayed, consequently, when in his attempt to learn Latin he finds that "there was no law of transmutation, as in his innocence he had supposed" (31). Jude's desired "law of transmutation," the "secret cipher" to a system of translation, could exist only if a prior permanent code existed to allow a free substitution of signifiers for one autonomous signified. The metaphor of translation at this early point in the novel is doubly interesting. It both reveals Jude's desire for a serenely immobile text whose content might be transported without harm into the element of another language, and alludes to the relation Hardy establishes in the "Postscript" of 1912 between civil and natural law, making one the "enunciation" (x) of the other. These will continue to be decisive issues throughout the novel. At this point, Jude has no doubt that the voice of nature can, indeed, be read and translated, for when he "address[es] the breeze caressingly," it seems to respond: "Suddenly there came along this wind something towards him—a message … calling to him, 'We are happy here!'" (I.iii.22). By imposing single terms on the disparate variety of experience, we come to know and control our environment. Early on, however, Jude intuits that language is not a fixed system through which meaning can be "transmuted" from one system to another. Yet this is precisely the insight that Jude refuses to apply to his other readings of the world around him.

As he proceeds into the countryside, where the markings that hint at the limitations already imposed on his life stand to be deciphered, Jude's readings continue: "The only marks on the uniformity of the scene were a rick of last year's produce … and the path … by which he had come.… [To] every clod and stone there really attached associations enough and to spare—echoes of songs … of spoken words, and of sturdy deeds" (I.ii.10). History, echoing across the generations, seems to focus on Jude at the bottom of "this vast concave" field (I.ii.9), but he does not yet understand its voice. The substance of this discourse latent in the countryside is the essential dimension of the tradition into which he has been born. These "marks" and "associations" in the landscape of Wessex are "signs" inscribed by the force motivating all events, which Hardy was in The Dynasts to name the "Immanent Will." Thus, long before his birth, long before the story of his family has been inscribed, this tradition has already traced the pattern of behavior within which are ordered the possible changes and exchanges that will occur in Jude's short life. Each crucial event in Jude's life seems to invite the reader to interpret Jude's actions as an attempted reading of the role ascribed to him in some determining book of fate.

Initially, the young orphan Jude seems to see the schoolmaster, Phillotson, as an embodiment of his controlling "dreams" (I.iii.20), and as a symbolic substitute for the absent "real" father. Accordingly, when Phillotson leaves Marygreen, Jude replaces him with an ideal representation. Jude reads that ideal presence into the natural landscape of Wessex as Christminster, "that ecclesiastical romance in stone" (I.Vol.36):

Through the solid barrier of cold cretaceous upland to the northward he was always beholding a gorgeous city—the fancied place he likened to the new Jerusalem.… And the city acquired a tangibility, a permanence, a hold on his life, mainly from the one nucleus of fact that the man for whose knowledge and purposes he had so much reverence was actually living there.


In this ecstatic vision, Christminster, whose mark is "a halo or glow-fog" (I.iii.21), seems to send that "message" (I.iii.22) I mentioned earlier, but it is a message that must be translated from natural to human terms with all the inherent errors of language and its "figures" (I.iii.25). In a moment of revelation, George Eliot's narrator in Adam Bede comments that "Nature has her language, and she is not unveracious; but we don't know all the intricacies of her syntax just yet, and in a hasty reading we may happen to extract the very opposite of her real meaning." Now, as Jude attempts to learn the "syntax" of nature's "message," Christminster, through Phillotson, becomes the organizing center of his life: "It had been the yearning of his heart to find something to anchor on, to cling to—for some place which he could call admirable. Should he find that place in this city if he could get there?" (I.iii.24). The phrasing of his question in the rhetorical mode produces a grammatical structure that implies the existence of freedom of choice, when in fact, the pattern of choices has already been established for Jude by his own propensity for misreading. As he answers the questions posed in indirect discourse, beguiled by the transformation his mind has imposed on the scene through figurative language, Jude takes literally his own metaphors of the "new Jerusalem," "the city of light," and "the castle, manned by scholarship and religion" (I.iii.24-25).

Sue Bridehead is also presented in the metaphoric language that names Christminster. Jude has seen, for example, "the photograph of [her] pretty girlish face, in a broad hat, with radiating folds under the brim like the rays of a halo" (II.i.90). In fact, the metaphoric process by which Sue will later replace Christminster and Phillotson in Jude's dreams has been facilitated by the nature of Jude's language long before he is even conscious of Sue: earlier, he had become "so romantically attached to Christminster that, like a young lover alluding to his mistress, he felt bashful at mentioning its name" (I.iii.22). The transfer from Phillotson, to Christminster, and finally to Sue as metaphors of that sustaining vision is thus a simple, determined step. Jude's false reading of Sue at a chapel in Christminster as being "ensphered by the same harmonies as those which floated into his ears" leads him to conclude that he has "at last found anchorage for his thoughts" (Il.iii. 107). When Jude finally meets Sue, he approaches her cautiously and speaks to her as he has spoken of Christminster, "with the bashfulness of a lover" (II.iVol.117). At each step in the evolution of his story, his controlling dream is a fiction that he imposes on wayward circumstances.

From the beginning then, the object of desire is not "real" in any sense, but is a "phantasmal" (II.ii.97) creation of Jude's own mind, as are the "ghosts" that haunt Christminster. For Jude, however, the ghosts of his desires disappearing into the "obscure alleys" (II.i.92) of Christminster are as real as Arabella's "disappearance into space" (II.i.92). Constituting himself as a whole subject by an identification with another who repeatedly disappears, "A hungry soul in pursuit of a full soul" (III.x.233), Jude is accordingly threatened by the possibility of disappearing too: "Jude began to be impressed with the isolation of his own personality, as with a self-spectre … seeming thus almost his own ghost" (II.i.92). Phillotson, Christminster, Arabella, and most strikingly, Sue, thus become the figures of an ideal paradise, which is fundamentally inaccessible, insofar as it is one more metaphor in a structuring system of substitutions and exchanges of phantasmal dreams. The displacement of desire among the various characters points out the existence of a symbolic order, which creates the idea of autonomy when, in fact, the characters exist determined by their propensity for interpretive error.

As an exegetic scholar, "divining rather than beholding the spirit" of his texts (I.Vol.34), Jude can never resist the temptation to read deep meanings, the "assemblage of concurring and converging probabilities" of "truths," into a scene (II.i.95). Yet it is less "absolute certitude" (H.i.95) that lies hidden beneath the manifest content of human experience in the novel than it is a mystified, but nonetheless threatening, organization of that content. When Jude thereafter looks into Sue's "untranslatable eyes" (II.ii.104) and immediately begins to interpret her character, he is only repeating the established pattern of error. Despite the difference in the agency that produces it, Jude manifests again the desire for that earlier "law of transmutation." Here, Sue's eyes reveal a text to be translated; but, as with the Greek and Latin grammars, no master code exists to guarantee the authority of Jude's translation. The rules governing the metonymie transfer, the figure Latin rhetoric calls transmutio, belong to the same illusion of a metaphysics of presence in the word, and to the same hallucination of a language determined on the basis of a verbal representation. Just as language is constituted through repetition, so too does Jude's life acquire a narratable consistency. But the symbolic "inscription" of Jude's desires upon the surface of Wessex as he travels its roads from Christminster to Shaston, to Aldbrickham and back again, constitutes only the provisional creation of meaning through a process of deferment. As Jude's dreams are transmuted from Arabella to Christminster, and to Sue, the fantasy of stability creates an apparently meaningful and readable text. It is always only in retrospect, however, that Jude's perceptions of those illusions of totality and stability can be organized and lived as an aesthetically coherent meaning.

But it is more the inner tensions produced by the characters' shifting relations mat shape the action than haphazard or indifferent circumstance. And it is not entirely coincidental that the act of reading surfaces again to indicate these changes in connection with the constant letters that reaffirm the importance of writings, signs, inscription, and marks in the lives of these characters. Al together there are at least thirty-two letters indicated or implied in the novel, ranging from one-line suicide notes ("Done because we are too menny ") to full-sized "carefully considered epistle[s]" (VI.iVol.433), directly or indirectly narrated, delivered or not delivered. The numerous instances of inscriptions and carvings reinforce the importance of the "letter" in the text as the emblem for the force of illusion.

The first of these letters between Jude and Sue had simply called for their initial meeting, but it was "one of those documents which, simple and commonplace in themselves, are seen retrospectively to have been pregnant with impassioned consequences" (II.iVol.115-16). By the time Sue is engaged to Phillotson, Jude is receiving sudden "passionate" letters (III.i.153) from her that seem to close the psychic distance between them in a way that they can never quite imitate in person. "'It is very odd—'" Jude says at one point, '"That you are often not so nice in your real presence as you are in your letters!'" "'Does it really seem so to you?'" asks Sue, who then replies, '"Well, that's strange; but I feel just the same about you, Jude'" ( A letter is a medium that effectively separates the writer from the effects of the message, while the message received is often one created by the reader himself. Even in their coldest tones, Sue's letters, while banishing Jude, nevertheless constantly summon him to her by the very fact that they establish a link of communication between them. Similarly, Phillotson's letter relinquishing Sue paradoxically begins reestablishing his hold on her; for the "shadowy third" (IVol.Vol.288), like the substantial couple, is always primarily constituted by this act of communication.

Moreover, when Sue writes a letter, she simultaneously removes and retains her absence and distance. This simultaneity of absence and presence is primarily an outcome of written discourse and is indicative of Jude's more general mystification concerning the existence of a stabilizing meaning. Sue is an eminently desirable woman, but she also becomes a sign in Jude's mind for an absent source of meaning. Accordingly, the act of writing becomes a bolster for the illusion of presence and wholeness within a discourse that appears innocent and transparent. Sue's letter can never replace her, but, conversely, her "real presence" is never identical with the original self promised in the letter. The written word does not allow access to the thing in itself, but always creates a copy, a simulacrum of it that sometimes moves the reader of the word more strongly than can the actual presence of the represented thing. Thus, the curious result is that the graphic sign, rather than the actual presence, of the desired becomes the cause of emotive energy. For Jude, the desire for this originary "anchoring point" becomes an indispensable illusion situated in the syntax of a dream without origin.

The intersubjective complex that structures the novel Jude the Obscure offers us some version of the following schema:

  1. dreams that fail—Jude, Phillotson, Sue;
  2. marriages that fail—Jude and Arabella; Sue and Phillotson; Jude and Sue; Arabella and Cartlett; both sets of parents; the legendary ancestor (mentioned in Vol.iVol.340);
  3. returns to original failures—Jude and Arabella at Christminster; Sue and Phillotson at Mary green.

We began, remember, with Jude and Arabella at Marygreen, and with Sue and Phillotson at Christminster. The intervening movements in the plot that lead to the present renewal of the characters' former relations thus trace the pattern that characterizes the narrative structure. It is a chiasmus, the cross-shaped substitution of properties: the original couples are reunited, but in reverse locales. Hardy had referred to this structure more obliquely as the "geometric construction" behind his novel. Elsewhere he calls it the "quadrille" that puts in motion the opposing qualities of the four main characters. But it turns out that the very process of "construction" that the characters' actions enact is really one more reversal of earlier misguided "constructions." Would it not follow then that this new turn should restore the characters to their "proper" places? That is, if Jude and Sue have been improperly associated at Christminster, might we not recover a measure of truth by simply restoring her to Phillotson at Marygreen? Since this structure of reversal is not only at work on the thematic level of the story, within the marital relationships among the characters, but also animates the greater structure of the narrative, the plot itself, the deconstruction of its pattern has significant implications for the novel's concept of a readable, constructive, integrating process in general.

Jude's idea of a synthetic "anchoring point" of semantic stability originates as the effect of a prior requirement, namely, the requirement that the elements of that synthesis can themselves be permanently fixed in relation to stable qualities. Failing to integrate the ideal and the real with Sue, Jude is no more likely to do so with Arabella. Sue's situation with Phillotson and Jude is even more complex, for the two are versions of the same in different registers. Further reversals, consequently, promise only continued instability. And, I would say, it makes little difference in this novel whether one calls the trope governing the structure of the narrative metaphor, metonymy, chiasmus, or simply a "geometric construction," for from the first, the characters' roles have been inscribed in the determining contextual system defined by the marriage laws.

In the Victorian novel marriage is preeminently the foundation of social stability. As a quasi-contractual agreement, it sets up the participants as a center for other integrating relationships. These relationships are not simply necessary for society; they constitute it. And that larger social and historical life, the world of symbolic relationships, forms in dialectical turn the structure that orders individual behavior in Hardy's novels. In a moment of pure poetic insight Sue comments on the nature of those relations:

I have been thinking … that the social moulds civilization fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns. I am called Mrs. Richard Phillotson, living a calm wedded life with my counterpart of that name. But I am not really Mrs. Richard Phillotson, but a woman tossed about, all alone, with aberrant passions, and unaccountable antipathies.


With remarkable clarity Sue recognizes that the social woman is a representation, transposed and supplemented by desire, of her real self. But the relation between her natural and social selves is like the relation between "real star-patterns" and traditional interpretations of the "conventional" constellation shapes, like that between a referent and its linguistic sign—that is, aesthetic and hence arbitrary. The concept of the self is the product of an aberrant substitution of rhetorical properties. Sue here clearly understands that this rhetorical operation is at best a metaphorical, interpretive act—one that is necessarily open to a variety of figurai misreadings.

We have seen that the law that regulates marriage ties in this novel superimposes the kingdom of culture on that of nature. Following its dictates, Jude artificially imposes a vision of organic totality (figured at different times by Phillotson, Christminster, Sue, etc.) onto nature and accords it a moral and epistemological privilege. In contrast, the narrator's ironic comments show Jude's substitutions and realignments within the marriage system and within the pattern of metaphors for his vision of an "anchoring point" to be purely formal, analogous only by contingency, and hence without privilege. When the value of those associations is questioned, when the notion of Sue as the representation of Jude's dreams is made problematic, the possibility of a simple relation between signified and signifier is also questioned.

That formerly unquestioned assumption is the original moment of illusion that the narrative demystifies. The narrator reveals to us that Jude's and Sue's notion of a privileged system of law is an hypothesis, or a fictional construct (a doxa), that makes the orderly conduct of human affairs possible. It is not a "true" and irrefutable axiom based on knowledge (an episteme). Their tendency, as revealed by the metaphorical rhetoric of their desires, is always to abide by the lawful order of "natural" logic and unity: '"It is,'" Sue says at one point, '"none of the natural tragedies of love that's love's usual tragedy in civilized life, but a tragedy artificially manufactured for people who in natural state would find relief in parting!'" (IVol.ii.258). But if the order of "natural" law is itself a hypothetical construct rather than a "natural" occurrence in the world, then there is no necessary reason to suppose that it can, in fact, provide "relief." And it is Sue once again, who, after the tragic deaths of their children, perceives that possibility when she says to Jude:

"We said … that we would make a virtue of joy. I said it was Nature's intention, Nature's law and raison d'être that we should be joyful in what instincts she afforded us—instincts which civilization had taken upon itself to thwart.… And now Fate has given us this stab in the back for being such fools as to take Nature at her word!"


Jude, who likes to think of himself "as an order-loving man" of an "unbiased nature" (IVol.ii.252), can only stand by helplessly as he hears Sue destroy the basis of their "natural" marriage.

Hardy's novel situates itself explicitly within the context of the marriage laws that establish Victorian society. It portrays, as Hardy tells us, the attempted translation of the law of nature into civil terms. The characters, however, cannot legitimately perform this translation without confusing the names of two such divergent semantic fields as those covered by "natural law" and "civil law." Confusion arises because the terms designate contextual properties, patterns of integration and disintegration, and not absolute concepts. In Hardy's Wessex, the "law of nature" designates a state of relational integration that precedes in degree the stage of "civil law" since civil law only "enunciates" what is already present in nature to be read. The undoing of a system of relations codified in "civil law" will always reveal, consequently, a more fragmented stage that can be called "natural." This prior stage does not possess moral or epistemological priority over the system that is being undone. But Jude always does assign it priority.

Remembering that "his first aspiration—towards academical proficiency—had been checked by a woman, and that his second aspiration—toward apostleship—had also been checked by a woman," Jude asks himself ungallantly '"I s it… that the women are to blame; or is it the artificial system of things, under which the normal sex-impulses are turned into devilish domestic gins and springs to noose and hold back those who want to progress?'" (IVol.iii.261). The weight of the second clause of the question makes it simply rhetorical: the women are of course not to blame. Although the "natural" pattern that Jude and Sue attempt to substitute for the accepted "civil" one is itself one system of relations among outers, they see it as the sole and true order of things and not as an artifice like civil structure. But once the fragmentation of the apparently stable structure of civil law is initiated, endless other versions of "natural law" might be engendered in a repeating pattern of regression.

The decisive term characterizing Jude's and Sue's relationship, "natural law," thus presents itself to be read as a chiastic pattern also. Natural law deconstructs civil law; but natural law is then itself open to the process of its own analysis. Far from denoting a stable point of homogeneity, where they might enact the mythic integration of their "one person split in two" (IVol.iVol.276), the "natural law" of Hardy's Wessex connotes the impossibility of integration and stability. Any of Hardy's texts that put such polarities as natural and civil law, desire and satisfaction, repetition and stability into play will have to set up the fiction of a synthetic process that will function both as the deconstructive instrument and as the outcome of that deconstruction. For Hardy, dualisms are never absolute. Deconstruction, however, is the process that both reveals the deluded basis of the desire for the synthesis of dualism, and also creates the elements necessary for a new and equally deluded desire for integration. Jude the Obscure thus both denies the validity of the metaphor that unites "natural" and "civil" law, and elaborates a new metaphor to fulfill the totalizing function of the original binary terms. This new metaphor of life as an organic and orderly process now allows the narrative to continue by providing a myth of a future moment when, as Phillotson's friend Gillingham says, Jude and Sue might make "their union legal … and all would be well, and decent, and in order" (VI.iVol.433). This mythic moment, however, never comes.

It is crucial, then, that the basic conflicts of the novel occur within the "give and take" of marriage, for it situates the issue directly in the referential contexts of ethics and legality. Civil law, in fact, can be conceived as the emblem of referentiality par excellence since its purpose is to codify the rules for proper social intercourse. But to abide by the law, we must be able to read its text; ignorance is after all, in English common law, no excuse. Attempting to read it, Jude concludes that "we are acting by the letter; and 'the letter killeth'!" (VI.viii.469). Jude thus interprets the Pauline dictum, "The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life," as an injunction against a literal reading of the codes governing ethical action. Yet his figurai reading leads to no spiritual truth either. On the contrary, Jude's illusions result from a figurative language taken literally, as with Sue he takes "Nature at her word." For Jude and Sue, then, there is no text present anywhere that is yet to be transmuted, yet to be translated from natural to civil terms. There is no natural truth written anywhere that might be read without being somehow altered in the process. The text of associations Jude fabricates around him is already woven of interpretations and differences in which the meaning of dreams and the desire for illusions are unnaturally coupled. Everything in Wessex "begins" with repetition, with secondary images of a meaning that was never present but whose signified presence is reconstituted by the supplementary and belated word of Jude's desires.

I am saying, of course, that the narrative of Jude the Obscure, while telling the story of Jude's and Sue's unhappy marriages, also dispels the illusion of a readable truth; that the novel gains its narrative consistency by the repeated undoing of the metaphor of life as organic unity. But the story that tells why figurative denomination is an illusion is itself readable and referential to the negative truth that Jude never perceives, and the story thus relapses into the very figure it deconstructs. The structure of the narrative as chiasmus, the cross-shaped substitution of properties, also tells, therefore, another story in the form of allegory about the divergence between the literal and figurai dimensions of language. That the text reverts to doing what it has claimed to be impossible is not a sign of Hardy's weakness as a novelist, for the error is not with the text, nor with the reader who attempts to understand it. Rather, I would say that with Jude we find that language itself, to the extent that it attempts to be truthful, necessarily misleads us about its own ability to take us outside its own structures in search of meaning.

The myth of a stabilizing natural or civil law, then, is actually the representation of our will to make society seem a unified and understandable organism. But Hardy's novel persists in showing society's laws as open to subversion by the actions of the individuals who make up society. In everyday life, there is an ever possible discontinuity between the word of the law, its spirit, and the practice, the letter, of the law. And the necessary failure of the law to enforce its monologic interpretations of the infinite variety of human behavior can lead to the subversion of the entire relational system. This explains why Jude, by his actions, constantly and unintentionally subverts the Word that he figures in Sue and in his dreams of a university career.

In applying the accepted social law to themselves, Jude and Sue constitute a version of the law, but in applying the general law to their particular situation, they instantaneously alter it. Rather than serving as a source of universal order from which social relations might be stabilized and unified within a social totality, the accepted social law exhibits its inability to constrain the heterogeneity of social relations. The law, then, is always shown to be grammatically structured, since it always engenders only a contingent, contextual meaning. Jude's revolutionary attempt to establish a ground for authentic meaning thus produces an anarchy of mutally exclusive readings of the one piece of language, "The letter killeth." This discontinuity between the "letter" and the "spirit" of the law, between a literal and a figurai reading of its sign, is what constitutes Hardy's break with referentiality. Although the law indicates that "The letter killeth," Jude finds it impossible to decide what is the letter and what the spirit of the law. In each reading, whether within a "natural" or a "civil" system, the law is transposed, altered, and led to produce the conditions for its own undoing. Like Sue's ambiguous letters, the law is consequently only a promise (which cannot be kept) of a future stability and is never adequate to deal with the instability of the present moment.

The repetitions in the novel put at stake not only the relation between Jude's present actions and his family's history, but also the very readability of the initial text of that history. Everywhere about him, history calls out to be read, but Jude consistently fails to do so properly. Because he cannot read it, his actions are never simply a representation of that past, but are an interpretation that has gone awry. Since the novel is itself a kind of history, it too is open to all the errors of interpretation of which it speaks. Hardy's "Postscript," which calls attention to the decisive issues of reading and interpretation, must thus be seen in retrospect as an ironic repetition of the situation dramatized in Jude concerning the impossibility of authoritative readings, for it accuses the reader of partaking in Jude's error. We cannot read the novel as Jude reads the motto of his life, that is, with the expectation of encountering an ideally sanctioned stable truth.

But how are we to read it then? If the notion of representation is to be at all meaningful, we must presuppose the stability of subjects with stable names who are to be represented, and a rapport between the sign and the referent in the language of the representation. Yet both conditions are absent from this text (notoriously so in the allegorical figure of little Father Time). We can, of course, discern similarities among the characters' various actions. An d as we read, attempting, in Hardy's words, "to give shape and coherence to this series of seemings" (viii), we too must rely on Jude's example in constructing an interpretive model. But we cannot accept his model of metaphoric synthesis as an absolute. Jude's model of metaphor (governing the patterns of idealization and substitution) is erroneous because it believes in its own referential meaning—it believes that the inwardly desired "anchoring point" can be concretely encountered in the external world as Phillotson, as Christminster, as Arabella, or as Sue. It assumes a world in which literal and figurai properties can be isolated, exchanged, and substituted. For the reader and the narrator, metaphoric synthesis persists within the interpretive act, but not as the ground of ultimate reconciliations. Jude himself, however, remains caught in the error of metaphor. But it is an error without which reading could not take place.

We thus find that Hardy's narrative puts the assurance of the truth of the referent into question. But in making this situation thematic, it does allow a meaning, the text, to exist. We are not dealing simply with an absence of meaning, for if we were, then that very absence would itself constitute a referent. Instead, as an allegory of the breakdown of the referential system, Jude the Obscure continues to refer, to its own chiastic operations. This new referentiality is one bounded strictly by the margins of textuality. In our courses on the nineteenth-century novel we find it convenient to use Jude as a "transitional" text; it is either the last of the Victorians or the first of the Moderns. Morton Zabel has written, [in Thomas Hardy, edited by Albert Guerard], for instance, that Hardy was "a realist developing toward allegory … who brought the nineteenth century novel out of its slavery to fact." This seems to me fine, as far as it goes. But I would add that this allegorical pattern manifests itself in Jude primarily through the subversive power of the dialogic word, which refuses to be reduced to the single "anchoring point" of a transcendent and determining Will, Immanent or otherwise.

As Hardy came to see early on, the function of realistic fiction was to show that "nothing is as it appears." It is no wonder, then, that Hardy's last novel was misread. The suggestive and poetic force of Jude arises less from its positive attempt to represent appearance than from its rejection of any vision pretending to convey the totality and complexity of life. Accordingly, in Jude Hardy repudiates the notion that fiction can ever be Truth, that it can ever "reproduc[e] in its entirely the phantasmagoria of experience with infinite and atomic truth, without shadow, relevancy, or subordination." He dramatizes, instead, the recognition that in narrative "Nothing but the illusion of truth can permanently please, and when the old illusions begin to be penetrated, a more natural magic has to be supplied." To be realistic, the text must proceed as if its representing systems correspond to those in the world; it must create a new illusion of reference to replace the old of representation.

But this transmutation of illusions modifies the original considerably. Like Sue's "real presence," perpetually deviating from the ideal figure of Jude's dreams, the letter of the text, "translat[ing] the qualities that are already there" in the world, contains after all only the inadequate ciphers of the spirit of meaning, not the "thing" itself. The deconstruction of the metaphorical model of substitution and translation (operating in Jude's various desires for Christminster, Sue, natural law, etc.) is performed by the rhetorical structure of chiasmus, whose own figurai logic both asserts and denies referential authority. From the reader's point of view, the results of each of the figurai movements can then be termed "meanings," but only by forgetting that the resulting sociological, ethical, legal, or thematic categories are undone by the very process that creates them.

It may well be, therefore, that Hardy's final novel does not "mean"; but it does signify to a redoubtable degree. It signifies the laws of language over which neither Hardy nor his readers can exercise complete control. To read those laws is to undermine their intent. This is why Hardy, like Jude who adds to the textual allegory of Wessex and generates its history while marking its closure, is bound to allegorical narratives: he creates the fiction of an ideal reader while he constructs a narrative about the illusion of privileged readings. On this level of rhetorical self-consciousness, prose fiction is on the verge of becoming poetry.

Sherilyn Abdoo (essay date 1984)

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SOURCE: "Hardy's Jude: The Pursuit of the Ideal as Tragedy," in The Existential Coordinates of the Human Condition: Poetic-Epic-Tragic, D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1984, pp. 307-18.

[In the following essay, Abdoo maintains that Jude the Obscure is a tragic novel in the classical tradition.]

All tragedy is grotesque. (Thomas Hardy, Life, August 13, 1898)


Virginia Woolf's tribute to Thomas Hardy was written shortly after his death on January 11, 1928. In it she said: "if we are to place Hardy among his fellows, we must call him the greatest tragic writer among English novelists." She goes on to assert that although it is "the most painful" and "pessimistic" of his novels, Jude the Obscure "is not tragic." Hardy, himself, in the 1895 Preface to the First Edition of the novel referred to Jude as "simply an endeavor to give shape and coherence to a series of seemings, or personal impressions … not of the first moment." Superseding, however, is his later statement, which under the stimulus of the early critical attacks on Jude, identifies the novel's central interest for him:

the greater part of the story—that which presented the shattered ideals of the two chief characters, and had been more especially, and indeed most exclusively, the part of interest to myself—practically ignored by the adverse press.

The purpose of this paper is exegesis, a critical analysis of Thomas Hardy's last and greatest novel. My aim is a comprehensive interpretation of the novel, a look into its heart—to the origins—of Hardy's view of the human situation: the inevitable defeat of the human spirit by a powerful force which allows no redemption, whether in this life or elsewhere.

In Jude, Hardy recapitulates and interweaves the major themes of his prior novels: idealization of the beloved; man's alienation from himself and isolation from others; God as unknowable; that man's fate—puppet-like—is controlled by a capricious hand; that life, particularly marriage, is a trap from which death is the only escape; the self-proclaimed believers are among the most impious members of the human community, wherein modern religion is itself an hypocrisy; the injustice of a social order favoring a privileged class—while, others, the working classes most especially, must strictly adhere to conventional propriety in order to retain even an aura of respectability; the juxtaposition of the ordinary with the grotesque; Pride, the dominant human character trait of Hardy's protagonists, as major contributor to their tragic ends; and finally, the immense living presence of Nature as She provides both a backdrop to and a reflection of, the unredemptive human tragedy, which is simply, being alive.

The primary issues this paper addresses and tries to resolve are the following: (1) whether Jude the Obscure is, in fact, a tragic novel; (2) the ways that the novel's tragedy is supported by Hardy's antecedent prose writings and extant biographical materials, including Florence Emily Hardy's Life of Thomas Hardy (which we now know he wrote himself), and the recently published Personal Notebooks and Letters; (3) how Hardy's preoccupation with the heroic man and the idealistic feminine became objects of his intellectual pursuit; (4) the degree to which Thomas Hardy, as poet/novelist, pursued the elusive, ideal woman of his dreams (much to the distress of his two wives) in his novels and poetry—and, in so doing, he became his own hero; (5) the alliance in Hardy's novels between Evil and the grotesque; (6) the metaphor for Life itself in Hardy's novels is the Greek "web," the inexorable pattern that binds his characters to their doom; and finally (7) "tragedoia," the "goat-song"—as the primary factor in the origin of tragic genre—is, at its most primitive, raw, excruciating, halfmad sense, the mimetic impulse that Hardy's dramas were created to express.

This paper's position is based on the premise that with Jude Hardy had ultimately fulfilled his purpose as a novelist; he had given full expression to his understanding of the tragic in the human condition; and that his abandonment of novel-writing for poetry, therefore, was an artistic necessity. As A. Alvarez comments: "After Jude the Obscure there was no other direction in which he could go."

Many have tried since Aristotle's Poetics to explain what the tragic experience is. At best, we can expect only to receive a second- or third-hand description. However, what we can hope to gain in understanding through art, is a moment's glimpse—an approximation—of individual suffering which may help us bear our own loneliness and fear.

To begin at the beginning necessitates a return to the Greek origins of tragedy, in this case primarily to the understanding of Hardy's sources as he was an avid, life-long student of Greek tragedy. But first let's consider some of his own thoughts on tragedy and identify those aspects of his earlier novels which are particularly relevant to Jude's tragedy. His early note (November, 1885) that: "tragedy exhibits a state of things in the life of an individual which unavoidably causes some natural aim or desire of his to end in a catastrophe when carried out" (Life, p. 176), became, just three years before Jude (October, 1892) more specific: "The best tragedy—highest tragedy in short—is that of the WORTHY encompassed by the INEVITABLE" (Life, p. 251).

Jude's tragedy is bound to his two failures: (1) failure to achieve admittance to Balliol College, Christminster, and the education he desires, and (2) failure to achieve complete possession of Sue Bridehead, the woman he successively idealizes, loves, pursues, loses, regains, lives with, has children by and finally loses again, forever. Throughout the course of the novel Jude is psychially sustained by his concurrent struggles to achieve education and to win Sue's love. His efforts with these involvements provide both the impetus and the reasons for his continuing to live. Jude's ineligibility for a university education, when he is finally rejected, is due not to his lack of scholarly ability, but to his low social status; he is, after-all, a laborer, a restorer of churches. And while he finally loses Sue altogether because of her overwhelming guilt after the hangings of their children, Jude never derived full satisfaction from their sexual life together. Sue was incapable of completely giving herself to him. To do so would have made her totally dependent on Jude for her identity, a state of being that her already too fragile self-image could not tolerate. In short, Sue Bridehead is terrified of losing her self-identity in Jude—of becoming a non-existent personality.

Jude's frustration remains unabated while he has hope of realizing his goals and he doggedly struggles to achieve them. But when his idealizations are denied him Jude's will to live evaporates and he dies. Obtaining a university education and possessing Sue Bridehead are identified here as idealizations in the Platonic sense. For Jude education represents knowledge, the ultimate achievement that will open the door to worldly success; possessing Sue is the possession of something especially fine, a quality above his rough experience. To claim Sue for his own is for Júde equivalent to touching the ethereal or other-worldly—similar in fact to experiencing a transcendent religious experience. In Sue's case, her lack of sexual desire and her inability to love Jude completely creates a barrier beween them. Jude is forced to live out his Platonic idealization of the feminine, while Sue's denial keeps "his passion as hot at the end as at the beginning, and helps to break his heart" (Life, p. 272). On the other hand, Jude's struggles to educate himself in preparation for the university are, in the face of his desperate situation, only keeping alive his hope for a better time. Had it been more than a dream, would he have waited so long to find out the truth? Was it not then the struggle against adversity, the struggle towards education, towards possession of the most beautiful, wonderful woman he knew that keeps Jude alive?

Hardy's original idea for Jude's story was as follows: "A short story of a young man—'who could not go to Oxford'—His struggles and ultimate failure. Suicide" (Life, pp. 207-8). And in a letter to an unidentified friend after its publication, Hardy comments on the novel's reviews and tries, retrospectively, to clarify his original thesis:

It is curious that some of the papers should look upon the novel as a manifesto on "the marriage question" (although, of course, it involves it), seeing that it is concerned first with the labours of a poor student to get a University degree, and secondly with the tragic issues of two bad marriages, owing in the main to a doom or curse of hereditary temperament peculiar to the family of the parties. (Life, p. 271)

Now that we are closer to Hardy's purpose, let's consider the actual sequence of events. The boy Jude lives with his maiden aunt and is inspired by his teacher, Phillotson, to advance himself by studying so that he will eventually be accepted to the university at Christminster. Suffering the rough indifference of his aunt, Jude grows up to become a stone mason—all the while teaching himself Latin and Greek and looking towards a brighter future, a time when he would be in Christminster—the "heavenly Jerusalem" (JO, p. 18). [all page references are to the Wessex editions of Hardy's novels]. Along the way he becomes temporarily distracted by his awakened sexuality and marries Arabella Donn. But she soon tires of Jude and leaves him. When he finally does reach Christminster it is to meet his cousin, Sue Bridehead, the woman he fell in love with when he saw her photo at his aunt's house. But he also again meets Phillotson, his old teacher, and introduces him to Sue. Sue becomes attracted to Phillotson when he offers her a job as pupil teacher if she will attend a teacher's college to become qualified. Instead Sue runs away from the college and shortly there-after Phillotson marries her, nonetheless. The marriage is an altogether excruciating event for Jude who is forced, by virtue of the fact that he is Sue's only living relative besides Aunt Drusilla who is against marriage, to give her away at the ceremony. Sue goes off with Phillotson, but their marriage is never consummated. Meanwhile Aunt Drusilla dies, Jude meets Arabella again and in his despair has a brief affair with her, becomes inspired by religious music and begins ecclesiastical studies. Sue, having met Jude at Aunt Drusilla's funeral and knowing she cannot stay with Phillotson, who is getting impatient with her excuses, declares her love for Jude and runs away to live with him. At this point Jude abandons his religious studies. Eventually Jude and Arabella divorce as do Sue and Phillotson; Phillotson's teaching career is, meanwhile, ruined by the results of his disastrous liaison with Sue. But it is Sue's fear that Arabella will win Jude back that compells her to agree to marry Jude for convention's sake. Circumstances arise, however, which cause postponement until they abandon the idea. At this time Jude learns of the existence of his child by Arabella—Little Jude, nicknamed "Little Father Time … because [he] looked so aged" (JO, p. 221). The child arrives to live with Sue and Jude and three years pass. Sue by this time has succumbed to Jude's physical desire, has borne him two children and is pregnant with a third. When Little Father Time learns of Sue's pregnancy he is horrified with what seems to him her irresponsible fecundity. He chides her remorselessly and in a fit of despair hangs the two infants and himself. Sue's remorse and guilt drives her away from Jude and back to Phillotson who she has convinced herself is her only true husband. Arabella now a widow, seduces the ill, distraught Jude and tricks him into marrying her for the second time. Jude's last unsuccessful attempt to get Sue back is preceded and followed by a suicidal walk in the freezing rain. He dies reciting Job while Sue lives in self-punishment, submitting to Phillotson's lust.

The connective thread running between Jude, Sue and his educational pursuits is Phillotson. Jude's initial desire for university education is stimulated by Phillotson's early interest in him as his boyhood teacher and friend. Ironically, it is the same Phillotson—the only male figure who takes an interest in him—that frustrates the boy Jude by promising but not immediately sending the Latin text-books, who marries the woman he loves and then after Jude has won Sue back and they have produced several children, takes her away from him again. Thus, Phillotson is the menacing, powerful father figure who must prevent the threatening son from replacing him. It is Phillotson's inner weakness, though, that keeps him, like Sue and Jude, isolated and dependent on others for his own sense of personal identity. Phillotson's role (whether or not consciously known to Hardy) is that of the castrating father in competition with the son. Similarly, Sue's relationship with Phillotson is an Oedipal one; for her he also at first becomes a father figure by virtue of his age (he is forty-five when they marry, "old enough to be the girl's father" [JO, p. 86]). Her instinctive revulsion for his physical person is a self-protecting act against incest.

The novel's structure is largely constructed around the tensions of the couplings and separations that take place among the participants of two sets of love triangles: Jude-Sue-Phillotson, and Arabella-Jude-Sue. But this pattern is an already familiar one to Hardy; he used it in virtually all his prior novels. In fact, we can state that in Hardy's case the love triangle is a compulsive, repetitive literary device. But this device is more than a convenient structure. It is the portrayal of Hardy's own inner neurotic state, whether or not he ever realized it. The similarities between Hardy and Jude, despite his disclaimer that "no book he had ever written contained less of his own life" (Life, p. 274), must be considered before the central problem can be revealed and resolved.

To move on to this paper's central premise that Jude the Obscure is a tragic novel, we must recognize that Jude is also St. Jude, martyr and patron saint of hopeless causes; his goal is Christminster, "the home of lost causes" (JO, p. 66). Jude is the sacrificial scapegoat of both the pagan and Christian ethos. The novel's progression travels historically from the pagan sacrifice to the Christian sacrifice, but in neither case is redemption achieved. The first sacrifice comes with the discontent and break-up of Jude's first marriage to Arabella. It is the death of erotic love that is so vividly portrayed in the pig-killing scene. Arabella, after-all, threw the pig's pizzle that first captured Jude's attention. So it is the agonized death of the dumb creature, so clearly representing their earthy, natural coupling, that appropriately joins Jude's fate to the pig's: "the white snow, stained with the blood of his fellow-mortal" (JO, p. 55). And later, when he and Sue discover their two children hanging on garment hooks and "little Jude … in a similar manner" (JO, p. 265), Jude cries out in recognition: "O my comrade, our perfect union—our two-in-oneness—is now stained with blood" (JO, p. 267)! The children's deaths are virtual sacrifices; the three little bodies a crude emulation of the crucifixion and the result is Sue's final desertion of Jude for Phillotson in an attempt she says, to "mortify the flesh—the terrible flesh—the curse of Adam" (JO, p. 272)! The pagan sacrifice of the pig marks the death of Jude's marital relation to Arabella and the physical expression of his nature; the Christian sacrifice of the children marks the death of Jude's relation to Sue and the spiritual/redemptive hope that he lives for. He dies finally neither pagan nor Christian, but identifying totally with the suffering Job:

Let the day perish wherein I was born, the night in which it was said, there is a man child conceived.… Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? … For now should I have lain still and been quiet. I should have slept: then had I been at rest!

… Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul? {JO, p. 320)

Hardy's juxtaposition of the pagan, Christian and Old Testament sources as only briefly noted here, reveals his ambivalence about religion. The issue at hand is basically to identify those elements of Greek tragedy beginning with Aristotle's definition in the Poetics that Jude incorporates, and to show that despite the later consequences of Christianity vis-à-vis Darwin's Origin of Species, Jude the Obscure is nonetheless a tragedy following in the classical tradition.

From Plato who identified the tragedian as "an imitator, whose product is at least three removes from nature … and the truth," we can consider first Aristotle's initial statement towards a definition of tragedy:

Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action not of narratives; through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions.

Jude's tragedy, then, arising from Hardy's imagination, is an imitation twice removed from the experiences of his personal life and three times removed from the experiences of friends, relatives and strangers as related to him second- or third-hand, and common hearsay embellished and altered to fit the situation. The dramatic agents of the tragedy are principally Jude Fawley and Sue Bridehead. Their actions reveal the arrangement of incidents—in short, the plot. The novel's action is certainly "serious, complete and of a certain magnitude," if by "serious" we mean that it deals with issues or events that can alter the course of a life, result in poverty, physical disability, or death, "complete" because it relates a single story or statement with a beginning, middle and end, and "of a certain magnitude" because of the powerful emotional effects it has on the reader—due to reversal (or turn of the plot) and recognition by the hero/protagonist of his true situation and the consequences thereof. In Jude, the elements of surprise triggering the plot's reversal are several. First of all Arabella tricks Jude into marrying her with a false claim of pregnancy; second, Sue Bridehead's sudden decision to marry Phillotson when she discovers that Jude is already married; third, the appearance of Little Father Time; and fourth, the grotesque hangings of Jude's and Sue's children. Jude's recognitions dealing with his erotic nature are two; in each case he sees the human failings of the two women in his life and realizes that they do not measure up to his original idea of them. In Arabella's case: "He knew well, too well, in the secret center of his brain, that Arabella was not worth a great deal as a specimen of womankind." But, in an effort to repress the true state of his feelings he "kept up a fictitious belief in her. His idea of her was the thing of most consequence, not Arabella herself, he sometimes said laconically" {JO, p. 48). And later, Jude accuses Sue in a moment of revelation: "Sue sometimes … I think you are incapable of real love" {JO, p. 192). He recants almost immediately though, accepting in place of the passion and warmth that he craves, the Sue he imagines her to be: "you spirit, you disembodied creature, you dear, sweet, tantalizing phantom—hardly flesh at all; so that when I put my arms round you I almost expect them to pass through you as through air!" {JO, p. 195).

Just as important is Jude's recognition of the value of his work as a stone-cutter in light of his ambition for obtaining a university education:

For a moment there fell on Jude a true illumination; that here in the stone yard was a centre of effort as worthy as that dignified by the name of scholarly study within the noblest of the colleges. But he lost it under stress of his old idea. {JO, p. 69)

To continue, Hardy identified the tragic hero as one who was the "WORTHY encompassed by the INEVITABLE" {Life, p. 251)—one whose misfortunes and suffering inspired in the reader not only feelings of fear and pity, but by association to one's own situation, results in a therapeutic purgation of the emotions. We may question why our feelings of fear and pity are aroused? We feel fear because of the closeness of the protagonists' situation to our own and pity because of the undeserved misfortunes that plague a decent man. Purgation is a temporary cleansing of our emotions through weeping and lamentation. It is precisely because of this temporary relief to our emotional tensions that the entire process of purgation must be repeated again and again. Hence, the significance of repetitious or cyclical ritual sacrifice. It is the spectacle of watching someone else suffer, the sadistic satisfaction (sometimes amounting to lust) we feel in knowing that it is not us doing the suffering, and the exhilaration of having survived yet another test of time that we enjoy. Again, a public display of grief allows the spectator to empathize with the slain or suffering hero and expiates the guilt he feels. The realization that death is so close to the living experience intimately joins us to the pathos of the victim's plight. It is the survival of the fittest that counts, or perhaps more accurately, the struggle between the will-to-live undermined by the sub-conscious death-wish. Here again, the idea of a sinless hero is an important distinction; for, while a despicable, worthless hero would inspire neither feelings of fear or pity, nor can we share our most profound experiences with a perfect man/god who has the power to control his own destiny. Rather, he must be like us, a human man with feelings and flaws.

Hardy's concept of nature and man's place in the universe obviously deviated from the traditional acceptance of a Christian God who offered redemption from sin in an afterlife beginning only with death. Darwin's Origin of Species appeared when Hardy was a young man; its impact when he read it was immediate and so affected his beliefs that when Darwin died Hardy attended his funeral. Though his family was long a church-going one, Hardy nevertheless found it difficult to continue believing in a Christian God who could allow good people so much earthly suffering. Of God's existence he says: "I have been looking for God 50 years, and I think that if he had existed I should have discovered him" (Life, p. 224).

In addition, his early and continued study of Greek literature introduced him to an alternate view of the universe and man's relation to its nature. His search for a cosmological order led him, an avowed agnostic, to devise a plausible answer to the question of what force, if not God, determined the natural order of things?

His search carried him through the writing of fifteen novels, two volumes of poetry and one volume of short stories (Wessex Tales) before he could offer the explanation he finally gives in The Dynasts. In The Dynasts Hardy creates the Immanent Will or the Prime Cause as the force in nature which determines the course of events. Humanity for Hardy was an immense creature, "a monster whose body had four million eyes and eight million heads" (Life, p. 136). It is a "collective personality" (Life, p. 416), "one great network or tissue which quivers in every part when one point is shaken, like a spider's web if touched" (Life, p. 177). And man, compelled by his own nature, marches his path blindly until he is woven so tightly into his fate as the threads of a carpet, that he becomes trapped like the fly in a spider's web. No amount of struggling will undo or dislodge him from the pattern that the Immanent Will has created by pulling the strings of the men/puppets to weave the tapestry of its universe.

The structure, then, of Hardy's universe, this giant tapestry of humanity and nature, allows no deviation. Once Jude has chosen his path, he is compelled to follow it to the end of his life, which he does. It is no accident that Hardy had a cobweb phobia. He would search the corners of his house every night before retiring so that he wouldn't sleep in the vicinity of them. The importance of the web image in Greek tragedy is the symbol of entanglement; it is what binds Agamemnon to his fate—it is the carpet that Clytemnestra uses to capture and disable him with. In trying to understand the workings of a universe in which the Christian God's existence was for him unknowable, Hardy borrowed from Aeschylus a metaphor, the web or net, which he then translated into a whole fabric of nature into which each man weaves his own destiny.

To return at last to the original mimetic impulse that Hardy was trying to express in his tragedies, we must consider "tragedoia," the Greek word for tragedy, meaning "goat-song." As we know the goat was used as a sacrificial animal in primitive ritual to represent the slain god Dionysus and helped promote the theory that the cult of Dionysus lamenting over its ritual slaying of its dead god was the root of tragic drama. Here I am concerned with the 'song' aspect of "goat-song," the threnody, the lamentation, the agonized inhuman scream of Oedipus when he puts his eyes out. In Jude the Obscure there are at least two instances when Hardy connects Jude's suffering to this primitive expression of tragic song, the vocal expression of pain and grief.

The first example is found in the well-known pig-killing scene early in the novel. As Arabella ties the pig down in preparation, its "repeated cries of rage … changed.… It was … now … the cry of despair; longdrawn, slow and hopeless." After Jude stabs the pig in its neck, "The dying animal's cry assumed its third and final tone, the shriek of agony" (JO, p. 54). An d secondly, after Jude's marriage to Arabella failed and he is then discouraged from applying to the university, his mental suffering caused by these two failures is compared to the agony of Virgil's Laocoön when he is squeezed to death by serpents in punishment for violating the sacred wood:

And twice about his gasping throat they fold.
The priest thus doubly chok'd, their crests divide,
And tow'ring o'er his head in triumph ride.
With both his hands he labors at the knots;
His holy fillets the blue venom blots;
His roaring fills the flitting air around.

The parallel passage in Jude is:

If he had been a woman he must have screamed under the nervous tension which he was now undergoing. But that relief being denied to his virility, he clenched his teeth in misery, burying lines about his mouth like those in the Laocoön, and corrugations between his brows. (JO, p. 152)

Jude the Obscure is a tragedy not because Hardy created it for the purpose of giving "shape and coherence to a series of seemings, or personal impressions … not of the first moment." It is a tragedy because he has offered a post-Darwinian cosmological structure in which humanity is a "collective conscious"; he offers an unChristian, unredemptive conclusion to his novel, in fact an ending totally without hope; he borrows the Greek/pagan metaphor of the web or net of entrapment to express his idea of the human situation; and finally, he gives us, through first the pig-scream and second the suffering Laocoön, an imitation only of Jude's agony. For these reasons I must disagree with Virginia Woolf's statement that Jude the Obscure "is not tragic," and declare that it is most definitely a tragedy, particular to and coincident with Hardy's own life experience.

Phillip Mallett (essay date 1989)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5858

SOURCE: "Sexual Ideology and the Narrative Form in Jude the Obscure" in English, Vol. X X X V I I I , Autumn, 1989, pp. 211-24.

[In the following essay, Mallett discusses the relation between the confines of language and those of gender ideology in Jude the Obscure; he observes that "through its interruptions, silences, and juxtapositions, the narrative form of the novel dramatises and echoes the predicament of its heroine."]

Critical discussion of Jude the Obscure has quite properly concentrated on Sue Bridehead. There have been two main points of departure: the first is Hardy's own account of her in 1912 (teasingly offered as the opinion of an 'experienced reviewer' from Germany) which sees her as the first delineation in fiction of 'a woman of the feminist movement' who represents 'the intellectualized, emancipated bundle of nerves that modern conditions were producing'. The second major departure-point is the pseudopsychological reading offered two years later by Lawrence in his Study of Thomas Hardy, which is in effect an attack on what he sees as Sue's denial of her true female nature ('that which was female in her she wanted to consume within the male force'). But in running these two lines of inquiry—Sue as in some way representative, Sue as a warped individual—critical accounts of the novel have seemed to echo the question, or accusation, with which Jude confronts her as she breaks down at the end of the novel: 'What I don't understand is your extraordinary blindness now to your old logic. Is it peculiar to you, or is it common to Woman?' John Goode has detected a sexist bias, or at least an element of confusion, in the kind of critical interrogation which follows Jude in demanding that Sue must be 'available to understanding'; as Goode points out [in Women Writing and Writing about Women, edited by Mary Jacobus, 1979], no such demand is made of Jude, or any other male character. Penny Boumelha goes further [in Thomas Hardy and Women: Sexual Ideology and Narrative Form, 1982], and accuses the narrator of acting in 'collusion' with Jude, with the result that Sue is made the instrument of his tragedy rather than the subject of her own. Boumelha goes on to argue, however, that because Sue is distanced from the reader by being seen first through Jude's eyes and then through Arabella's, what we are offered in the novel is 'openly a man's picture of a woman': Sue is 'resistant to appropriation by the male narrator.' But this is an awkward argument which involves the narrator (assumed to be male), Jude and Arabella working together to produce an image of Sue which is simultaneously disavowed within the novel (how?) as 'a man's picture of a woman'. An d 'appropriation' is surely tendentious: as if the attempt by a male novelist to imagine a female character were intrinsically improper. (It is, after all, Jude, and not Hardy, who speaks of capitalised 'Woman'.) But it is precisely here that Boumelha's description of Jude as a novel pressing against the limits of realism is so useful. The nineteenth century realist novel allows and indeed invites the reader to regard the text as a kind of unseen window, opening directly onto reality. Jude is not in these terms a realist novel: or, more exactly, it is not realist in the presentation of Sue. The narrative form of the novel is organised to show how Sue is taught to see herself first of all as a woman, second as Sue Bridehead/Phillotson/ Fawley, and finally again as a woman: it does this to reveal the operation of sexual ideology, not to claim that Hardy (or his narrator) has been able to transcend ideology. Jude the Obscure is, as Rosemarie Morgan has recently argued [in Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy, 1988], Hardy's most heterodox novel, but not simply because his sexual politics had become more radical by the 1890s. What distinguishes Jude from Hardy's earlier novels is that here the moral iconoclasm which had always characterised his work is no longer inhibited by fictional conventions at odds with his purpose.

Late in the novel (V,v) the narrator denies any obligation to express his 'personal' views on what had become known as 'the Marriage Question', but Hardy was well aware that he was entering this debate, as were the reviewers, whether broadly sympathetic like Edmund Gosse or, like Mrs Oliphant, vehemently hostile. It could hardly have been otherwise in a novel which follows the marriage, divorce, and remarriage of not one but two ill-matched couples, and which has at its centre the painful relationship of Jude and Sue, each registering with extreme sensitivity and as it were seismographically the shocks of the age. And , despite his disclaimers, the narrator's sympathies (like Hardy's own) are clearly with those who saw marriage in the late nineteenth century as an institution which needed to be questioned. In this novel, for example—as not in The Woodlanders (1887)—divorce is apparently easy to come by. Yet in each case it is the woman who seeks to end the marriage, but the man who has to instigate the divorce. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 provided for a husband to divorce his wife on the simple grounds of her adultery, whereas a woman was asked to prove adultery aggravated by desertion (for a period of two years), or by cruelty, incest, rape, bestiality or sodomy. It was, in effect an Act enabling men to divorce their wives. Consequently, Jude must divorce Arabella, and Phillotson divorce Sue, and the women must become the 'guilty' parties. Sue's divorce is the case of Phillotson versus Phillotson and Fawley; she is named as the property appropriated, and Jude as the man who has wrongfully taken her. By an irony characteristic of this novel, it was Jude, at the time Sue's nearest married relation, who originally 'gave her away' in marriage—'like a she-ass, or she-goat, or any other domestic animal', as Sue reflects indignantly (Ill.vii). An d while the narrator at times confesses uncertainty about Sue's feelings and motives, he never challenges her protests.

To take a second example from the same area of the novel. For reasons deliberately left unclear, Sue finds it a 'torture' to live on sexually responsive terms with Phillotson, and tells him so: 'For a man and woman to live on intimate terms when one feels as I do is adultery … however legal' (IV.iii). Here Sue (and Hardy) enter still more controversial areas of nineteenth century sexual politics. The Act of 1857 had been framed in terms of a man's need to ensure that his property would pass to an heir guaranteed to be his: hence the emphasis on the fidelity of the wife. But contemporary discussion about the Act had highlighted the male desire for the exclusive possession of women as a main element in the double standard—both as enacted in the divorce law, and as allowed by custom: that is, the rule of chastity for middle-class women, sexual license for middle-class men. The passing of the Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, and 1869), providing for the compulsory medical examination of suspected prostitutes in certain areas of the country, but not (of course) the examination of their male clients, and the defence of these Acts by the medical and military establishments, served to underline the way women's sexuality was being defined, in law, not as their own, but in terms of male demands upon it. Feminists such as Mona Caird (who was known to Hardy) began to speak of 'the twin system of marriage and prostitution', arguing that women were compelled on economic grounds to sell their sexuality, either unofficially and temporarily, in prostitution, or, where the man wanted to transmit either his name or his property, officially and more or less permanently within marriage. Here again it seems that Hardy's narrator adopts the radical position. There is no animus, no show of disgust, against Arabella when she begins to prepare for herself a possible match with the quack physician Vilbert; her sexuality is her best hope of security, and as she has already said, 'poor folks must live' (I,x). More significantly, however, Sue's need not to give herself to Phillotson, married though they are, is also treated sympathetically by the narrator. Sue has earlier assured Jude that 'no man short of a sensual savage' will molest a woman: 'Until she says by a look "Come on", he is always afraid to, and if you never say it, or look it, he never comes' (Ill.iv). But Sue has reckoned without marriage. Phillotson is hardly a sensual savage, but he tells her 'Yo u are committing a sin in not liking me' (IV.iii). His friend Gillingham takes a still harsher view: 'she ought to be smacked, and brought to her senses—that's what I think!' (IV,iv). Phillotson's initial refusal to accept such advice leads to his dismissal from his post, and his 'returning to zero, with all its humiliations' (V.viii). What the 'sensual savage' took by force the husband could claim by law as his 'right', and Sue's wish to avoid this 'torture' is allowed in die novel the full force of that word. It is for this reason, surely, that we are allowed to feel both that Sue's reluctance is more general than commonly recognised, and to attribute it either to some peculiarity in Phillotson (which her great-aunt intuits, and Sue admits but refuses to explain), or alternatively to an exceptional fastidiousness on Sue's part. Whatever the reason, Sue ought not to be compelled to undergo 'torture'; the reason itself is immaterial, and it is deliberately left unclear. Sue's final capitulation and return to Phillotson's bed, however legal, is felt as a violation: 'a fanatic prostitution', as Jude says (VI,iv).

What these instances illustrate is Hardy's (novelistic) ability to reconstruct what is written in the law, or identified in contemporary polemic, as part of the lived experience of his characters, and especially of course of Sue as moment by moment she endures, explores, seeks to evade, or to exploit, the ways in which she is made to inhabit her gender: to be aware of herself as first and last a 'woman'. 'Made to inhabit her gender' because Hardy does not present Sue as 'having' a 'woman's nature' which she then seeks to express—as if 'woman's nature' were an ahistorical 'given'. Rather, he shows how she constantly has to adapt to being seen by others, and indeed to see herself, in terms of the ideology of woman-hood. Here again Hardy is in the middle of the sexual-political battlefield. When John Stuart Mil l insisted in The Subjection of Women (1869) that 'what is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing', and so should not be made the basis for a theory of their social role as wives, mothers, and managers of house-holds, he was attacking those who too readily identified the 'natural' with the merely 'customary'—as for example slave-owners thought it natural that blacks should be enslaved—and not proposing his own account of women's 'nature'. With the Utilitarians' boundless faith in the efficacy of education to bring about change, Mil l did not regard women's nature as a given, one day finally to be disclosed and recognised. But those who opposed Mill from the high ground of late Victorian science took exactly this view. Menstruation, for example, was a fact of nature, and the principle of the conservation of energy was a law of nature. Dr Henry Maudsley explained what resulted from the conjunction of these two 'givens': if women expended their energies on higher education, they must expect to find their reproductive abilities stunted, if not destroyed—to become the mothers of 'a puny, enfeebled, and sickly race': 'When Nature spends in one direction, she must economise in another direction.' Nature, then, and not history, the 'given' of the female body, and not the putatively malleable structures of society, was the site of women's disabilities. They were the prisoners of their biology, and could not 'rebel … against the tyranny of their organisation'. The science, or quasi-science, which developed from Darwin's work on evolution and on sexual selection was quick to argue that women's natures were indeed just as they had been described, or prescribed, by the conservative theorists Mil l had sought to challenge. What was now called 'the nature of women' was natural, pace Mill , and not to be changed by human endeavour.

Jude the Obscure resists this position: specifically, it moves away from women's nature as given, and resites Sue in particular in history. We see her learning how she is seen, what is demanded of her, the ways in which she is to represent and articulate herself—embraced, as it were, in the ideology of 'woman'. To see how complete and entangling this embrace is, and better to understand Sue's struggles within it, it is necessary to stand back a little and consider die three leading themes of the novel. There is first the exploration of a woman's self-awareness in a patriarchal society—the Marriage Question, though it involves a good deal more than marriage alone. Second, there is the interest in Jude's attempts at self-education, and his failed academic hopes—the story of the young man who could not go to Oxford. Third, there is the account of the (diminishing) role of Christian belief in late Victorian society; Jude's desire to go to Oxford/ Christminster derives in part from its reputation as a place where clergymen are grown like radishes in a bed. Both Christminster education and Christminster religion are shown to be irrelevant to the real needs of Jude and Sue. Jude's learning, remarkable as it is, is also fragmented, his expression of it often stilted, his quotations at first innocently and later deliberately and perversely mis-applied. Orthodox Christian teaching is similarly discredited. Jude's 'dogmas' tell him that it is Sue's duty to overcome the 'pruderies' which prevent her from submitting to sexual intimacy with the man she has married, but 'experience and unbiased nature' contradict his theological judgment (IV.ii). Later in the novel, his own relationship with Sue, loving but illicit, leads to their persecution by other dogmatic believers, and dismissal from their work at Aldbrickham; as they await the inquest on their children the chapel organ plays 'Truly God is loving unto Israel', while two clergymen debate 'the eastward position' (VI,ii). Jude's academic books are spattered with pig-grease, and he burns his theological books; in both cases the reader's sympathy with his distress is modified by doubts about the value of what he is seeking.

All this is familiar. But it is important to recognise the interpenetration of these three themes, signalled in the way each draws on the same pool of vocabulary, opposing spirit and flesh, noble and gross, high and low. For example, the orthodox language of sexuality sees Arabella as 'low'; the narrator refers to her 'low and triumphant laugh of a careless woman,' and Sue describes her as a 'low-passioned woman'. But this is simultaneously the language of class; it's a matter for remark that Jude, who has kept himself 'up' with his academic ambitions, has now 'descended so low' as to walk with Arabella, and Sue goes on to describe her as 'too low, too coarse' for Jude's company (I.vii, V,ii). Jude has 'high' academic hopes: he wants to join the 'high thinkers' of the University, to enter the 'soul' of the Colleges instead of working outside on their 'carcases' ; simultaneously, and necessarily, he wants to 'rise' socially, and to earn his £5,000 a year. But this desire to 'rise', to become less 'rough' and more 'refined', all in class terms, leads back to the language of sexuality. That Sue seems sexually reticent and 'refined' appeals to 'all that's best and noblest' in Jude, and her 'freedom from everything that's gross' has 'elevated' him: the terms are of course social as well as moral (V,ii). When Sue tells Jude that she has always longed to 'ennoble some man to high aims' we can't separate out the acquisition of the higher knowledge, the access to a higher class, and the refusal of the 'low' vices of sexual desire and drunkenness to which Jude thinks himself subject, and which inhibit his belief in his ability to rise (Ill.iv). It is eventually Jude's doubts about his ability to subordinate the 'low' and 'fleshly' aspect of his nature to the 'high' and 'spiritual' side that persuade him to give up his ambition to enter the Church as a licentiate.

The dominant language of the book, then, though it is not one that is approved in the novel, privileges, or appears to privilege one set of terms over another: spirit, soul, noble, high, etc., over flesh, body, gross, low, etc.; and in the process suggests that whatever the ostensible topic of their discussions—religious belief, academic aims, sexual behaviour—Jude and Sue will have to encounter the same all-pervading dualism. Two points, I think, follow from this. First, it suggests the lines on which Hardy might have answered D. H. Lawrence's charge that he failed sufficiently to support his characters in their war against the age. Lawrence argues that in the tragic drama of Sophocles or Shakespeare the characters are pitted against 'the vast, uncomprehended and incomprehensible morality of nature or of life itself', and their defeat is inevitable. In the novels of Tolstoy and Hardy, however, it is merely 'the lesser human morality, the mechanical system' which is transgressed; accordingly, Sue and Jude (or Anna and Vronsky) ought to have won, to have come through: 'they were not at war with God, only with Society.' But this is to suppose that 'society' is one identifiable target, as it were 'out there', separate from the characters; what Hardy suggests is that the values of the society are not 'out there', distinct from the consciousness of Jude and Sue, but permeate their language and their being. This point is central to our understanding of the novel. However bracing Lawrence's energy in repudiating his society, we need to recognise that Hardy's vision of his characters' relation to society is entirely different: less romantic, but perhaps more persuasive. There is no rainbow vision, no world elsewhere, for Jude and Sue.

The second point is closely related. To show how all-encompassing and how damaging this dualism is, Hardy needed a double focus. Jude's may be the central consciousness of the novel, but Sue's is the central experience, and the two are mutally re-inforcing. They inhabit the same ideological world, and this helps to reveal the coercive power of the language they also inhabit. The natural comparison is with Hardy's own novel, The Return of the Native (1878), which also has a double focus. Here the two exceptional members of the community are Clym, filled with dreams of educating and improving his community, and Eustacia, who dreams of passionate love and sexual fulfilment. They are naturally drawn together, but to what purpose in the novel is unclear. Both are filled with Promethean fire and rebellion; both are defeated. But while Clym learns to take a grim satisfaction in the 'oppressive horizontality' of the heathland around him, Eustacia struggles to remain vertical until she is finally dragged down as if by 'a hand from beneath'. Clym, despite his early ambitions, becomes an agent of the force which destroys Eustacia; Eustacia, seeking her own fulfilment, helps bring Clym to his mood of grim acceptance. We are left uncertain: how are we invited to feel about rebellion and resignation, about acceptance and aspiration, when the two leading protagonists seem to belong each to a separate moral universe? In Jude Hardy avoids this confusion. Although the focus is in one case on class, and in the other on gender, Jude and Sue do share the same ideological world, the same language. Their every attempt to speak to each other exposes them to the same ideological forces, and exposes these forces to us as readers.

From here it is possible to see more clearly what it means to say that Sue is 'made to inhabit her gender', and how Hardy reveals sexual identity not as 'natural' or 'given' but as made or ideologically constructed. Early in the novel Jude as a boy dreams of an idealised Christminster, a 'city of light', a 'heavenly Jerusalem' (I.iii). The narrator quickly warns us that Jude's dreams 'were as gigantic as his surroundings were small'; the dream of Christminster takes its origin in the ugliness of the meanly utilitarian fields of Marygreen. And when Jude reaches Christminster, he ignores the palpable city before his eyes, and sees a visionary one still: 'when he passed objects out of harmony, … he allowed his eyes to slip over them' (II,i). The narrator is compassionate, but does not for a moment share Jude's obsessive love of the city; wiser than his hero, he forewarns us that Jude will eventually discover 'the deadly animosity' of all modern thought to what he holds dear in Christminster. Precisely this pattern of an idealising dream, and the narrator's refusal to share it, is used to introduce Sue. Even before they meet Jude is enough in love with her to kiss her photograph. When he sees her working in a shop selling religious articles, he thinks hers 'a sweet, saintly, Christian business', and imagines how she would be to him 'a kindly star, an elevating power' (italics added)—much as he had seen Christminster as his 'Alma Mater' and himself as her 'beloved son' (Il.ii). Already Jude has begun to insert Sue in this dominant idiom; and in order to reveal how arbitrary this is, the narrator allows us one of our very few glimpses of Sue outside the perceptions of the other characters. Here she is seen buying her plaster statuettes of Venus and Apollo, reading Gibbon on Julian the Apostate, and then turning to Swinburne's 'familiar poem' ('Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean'): far from the sweet and saintly girl of Jude's imaginings, she is so stirred by her adventure that after she has 'unrobed' her figures, and undressed herself, she lies 'tossing and staring' through the night (Il.iii). This palpable Sue, her clothes soiled by plaster from her statuettes, is not to be seen by Jude, any more than he sees the palpable Christminster. Just as his dream of the city was conceived against the ugliness of village life, so his dream of an ethereal Sue is conceived in opposition to the physicality of his marriage to Arabella. As she was a 'female animal', so Sue must be a female angel.

From the beginning of their relationship, then, Jude, 'sees' Sue in the dualistic, ideological terms noted earlier. But even as a child, we learn from Drusilla Fawley, Sue was taught to see herself in a gendered way. She would play happily on a slide among a group of boys, but her performance would be applauded; she would accuse the boys of being 'saucy'—i.e., of addressing her through an awareness of gender—and flee indoors; they would follow, and plead with her to return (II,vi). The pattern here is of advance; insertion into gender; retreat; discovery of the self as desired. To this we must add a sense of guilt: Sue, we are told, was often smacked for her 'impertinence' or immodesty—i.e., for failing to stay within the boundaries of her gender. This pattern is repeated with the three men in her adult life, beginning with the Christminster graduate with whom she tried to form a friendship as if they were two male friends or 'comrades'. He attempted to make her his mistress; she retreated; he responded with the claim that his desire for her was killing him. With both Phillotson and Jude Sue again looks for comradeship; is at once seen as a possible sexual partner; seeks to retreat, while still relishing the sense of being valued and approved; and eventually, trapped both by the guilt they produce in her, and by her own fear of losing their approval, allows herself to be caught in a sexual relationship. Denied the possibility of a gender-free comradeship, Sue must either leave the relationship, and forfeit friendship and approval, or surrender to a sexual role, guiltily, not freely, as the price to be paid for being approved. Refused what she asks for—a non-sexual love—she wishes at least to keep the sexual love she shares with Jude free from the constraints of a formal marriage. But as die novel makes clear, this affords her a merely token increase in freedom; she accepts the name 'Mrs Fawley', bears Jude's children, becomes economically dependent on Jude, and sees her fortunes fall with his.

Jude's revulsion from the low and physical Arabella, and his aspiration towards the high and spiritual Christminster, encourages him to see Sue as 'ethereal', 'refined', 'uncarnate': in short, as all but 'sexless'. Sue's desire to be approved, loved but not possessed, is inevitably reinforced by Jude's response. Here the contradictions within this dominant idiom begin to emerge. The narrator notes that Jude briefly has 'a true illumination': that the real centre of Christminster life is with the people who live and work in the town, and not within the Colleges (II,ii). Sue at times urges on him the same recognition. But this runs against the dominant high-low idiom. To embrace this 'low' life, which maintains the 'carcases' of the buildings, at the expense of the 'high' intellectual life of the spirit, would be to undermine Jude's project of self-improvement, and Sue's role as the ennobling and elevating presence in his life. So long as Jude privileges such words as 'elevated' and 'ethereal', bound up as they are with his class position and his academic dreams, he must structure Sue's sexuality in the same terms: 'grossness', sexually and socially, is the only alternative within the idiom. An d so long as Sue needs his approval, and sees that it depends on his valuation of her as elevated, she is necessarily inhibited from urging on him the value of the incarnate 'real life' of Christminster, as against the unreal and uncarnate life of his academic visions. 'Real life' in Christminster, as we see it in the novel, is never celebrated; it is either the occasion for, or the analogue to, Jude's vices of drunkenness or sexuality. With the sardonic humour so frequent in this work, Jude and Sue are seen as trapped between the 'high' world of the University dons of Christminster, and the 'low' world of Arabella, née Donn, of here, there and everywhere.

There is another way of describing the contradictions felt here in the language used by Jude and Sue. Sexual life is problematic for Sue, but not, it appears, for Arabella, who in the course of the novel marries two men twice each, one of these marriages being bigamous. For Arabella, sexual life means the satisfaction of her physical desires, or the exchange of her favours in return for economic security. This is sex without mystery. For Sue, however—in part because of the pressure from Jude—sex is made, not one experience, but the defining experience: the ultimate personal act. One sees these two views clashing when she discovers that Jude has again slept with Arabella: Jude dismisses the act as 'nothing', because it was without emotional meaning; Sue calls it 'gross' for the same reason (IV,v). Yet the act Jude describes as 'nothing' is also, when imagined as between himself and Sue, everything, and her denial of it all but unbearable. Sue, free from all that's gross, must participate in the act in order to keep Jude loyal to her, yet—if she is to retain his approval—she must be separate from it. On the one hand, as she realises with increasing distress, sexual love has been secularised, made subject to the law, to written contracts, and the involvement of courts, forms and registrars; on the other, it has been sacralised, made a mystery. It has become simultaneously the defining private act, and a matter for public legislation. Sue thus finds herself in an intolerable position: sexual love is 'nothing', and it is everything; it is 'gross', and it is the mark of an ultimate commitment; it belongs to a world that is high and elevated, and it is carried out to complete an official contract between two 'parties' of stated age, rank and condition.

This dominant language, at once coercive and contradictory, needs to be further related to the narrative form of the novel. In the Preface to the 1895 edition, Hardy described the novel as 'a series of seemings', and the question of 'their consistency or discordance' as 'not of the first importance'. This is to understate his position. In opposition to those who saw women's 'nature' as effectively fixed and immutable, Hardy chose to show how Sue's identity is constructed in language, and to trace the way in which that language is entangled with questions of social class, and sanctioned by the authority of the Church. He shows no desire to reconcile Sue's experience of contradiction by making her fully intelligible to us, while not so to herself. Instead, he leaves deliberate gaps in his narrative. Most notably, we only rarely see Sue away from Jude and Phillotson, the two men who most often ask her to be intelligible to them, or who seek to mould her into their own favoured idioms. Constantly the novel allows Jude and Phillotson to interrogate Sue; again and again they are refused entry into her mind. Jude speculates that his confessions about Arabella may have prompted Sue's engagement, but neither she nor the narrator confirms the suspicion. After her wedding to Phillotson she enters Jude's house for a moment, and Jude is convinced she is about to speak: but 'whatever she had meant to say remained unspoken' (Ill.vii). Sue argues that a person unhappy in marriage has a right to proclaim the fact 'even … upon the housetops', but she attributes her own misery to 'a reason I cannot disclose' (IV.ii). The apparent confidence of the narrator's account of her as 'quite unfitted by temperament and by instinct to fulfil the conditions of the matrimonial relation with Phillotson' is immediately qualified: 'possibly with scarce any man' (IV,iii). This is characteristic. 'Possibly', says the narrator, or 'perhaps', but rarely more: 'perhaps she knew that [Phillotson] was thinking of her thus' (II,v); 'that was just the one thing [Jude] would not be able to bear, as she probably knew' (Ill.i). The narrative can disclose the pressures operating on Sue, but does not allow us to suppose that she has some essential self, separate from these, but available to our understanding, as if we observed her from some neutral ground.

The sense that Sue is situated in language, and is not to be reached by some means other than language, and the fact that there is no 'objective' language in which to reach her, explains two other features of the text. It explains firstly what Mary Jacobus has described [in Essays in Criticism 25 (1975)] as the 'diagrammatic' plotting of the novel: the highly visible pattern of contrasts, repetitions and echoes, and their frequent grotesqueness. Hardy himself wrote to Gosse that 'the book is all contrasts … e.g. Sue and her heathen gods set against Jude's reading the Greek testament; Christminster academical, Christminster in the slums; Jude the saint, Jude the sinner; Sue the Pagan, Sue the saint; marriage, no marriage; &c, &c' . To these one might add: Sue as a heap outside Phillotson's window, Sue as a heap on the floor of St Silas' church; Arabella's two seductions of Jude; the clergyman's view that Sue has been 'saved as by fire' by her remarriage to Phillotson, Jude's sense that he is giving his body to be burned in re-marrying Arabella; and so on. These 'contrasts' should not be dismissed as examples of Hardy's supposed heavy-handedness. Their effect is to remind us of the fictionality of the novel; if one mark of the 'classic realist text' is that it tends to conceal its literary character, Jude the Obscure should perhaps be described as an anti-realist novel. Hardy eschews all claim to the sort of finality and authority associated with realist fiction (and, to a still greater extent, with Victorian 'scientific' accounts of women's nature); he explores the clash of languages around Sue, within which her identity is constructed, but does not pretend to offer a 'metalanguage' granting direct access to her being.

The paraphernalia of quotations and allusions that litter the pages of the novel may be understood in the same way: the narrator, the epigraphs, and the characters, all remind us of the fictionality of the work. Many of the allusions in the novel are distorted. In I,vi Jude imagines his future: 'Yes, Christminster shall be my Alma Mater, and I'll be her beloved son, in whom she shall be well pleased.' The reference here is to Matthew 3:17, and in the gospel a dove appears at this point; in the novel, a pig's-pizzle bangs against Jude's face, discrediting rather than confirming the words. After the death of their children, Sue quotes I Corinthians 4:9: 'We are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men!' (Vl.ii); Paul's words form part of his assertion of the imminence and supreme importance of divine judgment, but Sue's bitterness thrusts aside this context. The narrator too quotes inappropriately: for example, from William Barnes and Michael Drayton in IV,iv, as Phillotson makes his way in torment to see his friend Gillingham. The epigraphs interact uneasily with the sections of narrative they introduce. To take one example, that to Part Third ('At Melchester') is from Sappho: 'For there was no other girl, O Bridegroom, like her!' Sappho's poem is from a group of epithalamia and bridal songs, celebrating just that erotic joy which Sue does not find with her husband; the quotation is wrenched out of context, and made instead to anticipate the 'fastidiousness' by which Sue feels singled out. Numerous texts move through the pages of Jude the Obscure: the Bible, and the Nicene Creed; Horace, Ovid and Marcus Aurelius; Burns, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, Browning, Swinburne, Barnes, Longfellow, Poe; the 'spectres' who address Jude as he arrives in Christminster. The effect is to insist on the fictionality of the novel, to draw attention to its status as a construct. The language of the fiction, like the language of sexual identity, is being exposed as made, not given; the novel, that is to say, is not presented as a revelation, an uncovering of what is demonstrably 'there', but confesses itself the result of human action: imperfect therefore, and implicated in those forms of language in which Sue is seen to be entrapped. Through its interruptions, silences and juxtapositions, the narrative form of the novel dramatises and echoes the predicament of its heroine.

Jeffrey Berman (essay date 1990)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9142

SOURCE: "Infanticide and Object Loss in Jude the Obscure," in Narcissism and the Novel, New York University Press, 1990, pp. 176-98.

[In the following essay, Berman examines the bleak psychology of parents and children that appears in Jude the Obscure.]

Little Father Time's suicide in Jude the Obscure (1895) is the turning point of a novel demonstrating the cruelty that pervades nature and society. As if the boy's suicide is not terrible enough, Hardy has him hang his younger half-brother and half-sister, the three children suspended from closet hooks. Located near Father Time's body is a note with the victim's last words: "Done because we are too menny." The suicide letter reveals the boy's belief that his father, Jude Fawley, and stepmother, Sue Bridehead, would be better off without the children, who only add to the couple's woes in a Malthusian world. Jude sees his son's suicide as symbolic of an impending universal death wish, and he mournfully reassures Sue that she could not have averted the tragedy. "It was in his nature to do it. The doctor says there are such boys springing up amongst us—boys of a sort unknown in the last generation—the outcome of new views of life." These boys, adds Jude, see all the terrors of life before they are strong enough to resist them. "He says it is the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live. He's an advanced man, the doctor: but he can give no consolation to—" (406) [all page references are to the Macmillan edition of Jude the Obscure, 1971].

Curiously, although no subject is more important to society than the nurture of its children, the double murder and suicide in Jude the Obscure have elicited virtually no literary commentary—a scholarly neglect confirming Father Time's judgment that the world would be better off without the children. The dearth of criticism is more surprising in light of the fact that the violent deaths of the three children represent, in Ian Gregor's words [in The Great Web: The Form of Hardy's Major Fiction, 1974], the "most terrible scene in Hardy's fiction, indeed it might be reasonably argued in English fiction." Nearly all readers have agreed with Irving Howe's conclusion [in Thomas Hardy, 1967] that the suicide is aesthetically botched: "botched not in conception but in execution: it was a genuine insight to present the little boy as one of those who were losing the will to live, but a failure in tact to burden him with so much philosophical weight." Howe consigns this observation to a parenthesis, however, and Hardy's critics have condemned Father Time's suicide without investigating the underlying causes.

There are, admittedly, several objections that may be raised to a psychological interpretation of the double murder and suicide. Father Time is clearly an allegorical, not a realistic, character. Few literary children have appeared so relentlessly morbid and fatalistic, and his melodramatic entrance and exit strain credibility. To take seriously his fears and vulnerability may strike some readers as misplaced critical attention. Does it matter how Hardy disposes of the three shadowy children, two of whom are neither named nor described?

Despite these criticisms, Jude the Obscure remains one of the most psychologically rich novels in our language, as the published criticism confirms. However artistically contrived Father Time's ending may be, the fictional suicide reveals many of the characteristics of real-life suicides. More importantly, Father Time's actions fore-shadow the murderous impulses culminating in Sue's grim return to her former husband, Richard Phillotson, and Jude's own self-destruction. Father Time is not biologically related to Sue, but he is the true heir to the gloomy philosophy of his father and adoptive mother. Although Jude and Sue attribute Father Time's death to his "incurably sad nature," the suicide is the logical result of a series of narcissistic injuries involving defective parenting. This is a more disturbing interpretation of Father Time's suicide, since it implicates the parents in the children's deaths.

To be sure, from the beginning of the novel, Hardy seems to be indicting nature, specifically, the brutality of a scheme in which the living are condemned to a woeful existence. Nature itself appears to be a defective parent, allowing one species to survive, temporarily, at the expense of another. An early incident, young Jude's identification with a flock of rooks scavenging for food, evokes Hardy's pessimistic naturalism. "They seemed, like himself, to be living in a world which did not want them" (11). Instead of scaring away the birds to prevent them from devouring the produce destined for human consumption, as Farmer Troutham has paid him to do, Jude allows them to feed off the land. He is swiftly punished for the act. The narrator remarks upon the "flaw in the terrestrial scheme, by which what was good for God's birds was bad for God's gardener" (13). To be alive is to be victimized, the novel suggests, and the Tennysonian belief in nature "red in tooth and claw" pervades Wessex. Jude cannot walk across a pasture without thinking about the coupled earthworms waiting to be crushed on the damp ground. "Nature's logic was too horrid for him to care for. That mercy towards one set of creatures was cruelty towards another sickened his sense of harmony" (15).

Although the narrator ascribes these gloomy thoughts to Jude's "weakness of character," reflective of an unusually sensitive disposition, the other major figures in the story echo the awareness of injustice. Jude's dismay during the pig-killing scene with Arabella foreshadows Sue's horror at the thought of pigeons intended for Sunday dinner. "O why should Nature's law be mutual butchery!" she exclaims (371). Phillotson similarly observes to Arabella that "Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can't get out of it if we would!" (384). Jude the Obscure "fluctuates between two opposing views of 'nature,'" Robert B. Heilman notes, [in his Introduction to Jude the Obscure, Harper and Row, 1966], "between a romantic naturalism … and the pessimistic aftermath of scientific naturalism." Nature itself appears to be fundamentally defective, perpetuating suffering and death.

To demonstrate the unfortunate consequences of nature, Hardy introduces Little Father Time into the novel. He is the accidental product of the ill-fated marriage between Jude and Arabella. Born eight months after Arabella left England for Australia, the boy spends his early years with her. Arabella hands over die unwanted child to her parents, who in turn decide they no longer wish to be "encumbered" with him. Arabella then turns him over to Jude. Symptomatic of Father Time's past treatment is the fact that he was never christened, because, he explains, "if I died in damnation, 'twould save the expense of a Christian funeral" (337). His mother and grandparents name him "Little Father Time" because of his aged appearance. He is, the narrator states, "Age masquerading as Juvenility, and doing it so badly that his real self showed through crevices" (332). Sue observes that his face is like the tragic mask of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy. A younger and more extreme portrait of Jude, Father Time is obsessed with death and indignant over the inevitable termination of life. His response to flowers seems almost pathological, especially coming from a child. "I should like the flowers very very much, if I didn't keep on thinking they'd be all withered in a few days!" (358). By the same logic he might have concluded that the flowers' fragility compels us to admire their beauty and vitality. The lively exchange in Sons and Lovers on how to pick flowers is missing from Jude the Obscure. Unlike Jude, Father Time makes no effort to escape his surroundings or pursue a better life; for this reason he remains pathetic, not tragic, defeated too easily and quickly.

Jude agrees to accept his newly discovered son, telling Sue: "I don't like to leave the unfortunate little fellow to neglect. Just think of his life in a Lambeth pothouse, and all its evil influences, with a parent who doesn't want him, and has, indeed, hardly seen him, and a stepfather who doesn't know him" (330). Jude recognizes that a child's healthy development depends upon loving parents and a friendly environment. Sue intuitively empathizes with Father Time's situation, and she is moved to tears when he calls her "mother." But she is distressed by the physical resemblance between Arabella and Father Time, which causes Jude to exclaim: "Jealous little Sue!" (335). Ironically, Little Father Time shares his adoptive mother's gloomy temperament. A number of years pass, with Father Time bringing unexpected joy into his parents' lives. Even though Jude and Sue live together without marrying, consequently suffering social ostracism, they are portrayed as loving, conscientious parents. Jude's decision to move elsewhere for employment prompts Sue to reaffirm her allegiance to Father Time. "But whatever we do, wherever we go, you won't take him away from me, Jude dear? I could not let him go now! The cloud upon his young mind makes him so pathetic to me; I do hope to lift it some day!" (361). Jude reassures her that the family will remain intact.

The crucial scene preceding the children's deaths takes place in Part Sixth, ii, when Sue and Father Time are together in a cheerless room of a lodging house from which they have just been ordered to leave. Opposite the lodging house stands Sarcophagus College, whose outer walls "threw their four centuries of gloom, bigotry, and decay into the little room she occupied" (401). Despondent over the loss of lodgings and Jude's declining prospects for employment, Sue mirrors this gloom to Father Time. When he asks her if he can do anything to help the family, she replies: "No! All is trouble, adversity and suffering!" (402). As the dialogue continues, it becomes increasingly clear that Sue's despair exacerbates the boy's innately melancholy temperament:

"Father went away to give us children room, didn't he?"


"It would be better to be out o' the world than in it, wouldn't it?"

"It would almost, dear."

"Tis because of us children, too, isn't it, that you can't get a good lodging?"

"Well—people do object to children sometimes."

"Then if children make so much trouble, why do people have'em?"

"O—because it is a law of nature."

"But we don't ask to be born?"

"No indeed." (402)

Instead of heeding the child's cry for help, Sue validates Father Time's worst fears—namely, that he and the other two children are responsible for the family's desperate situation. Sue repeatedly misses the opportunity to allay his suspicion of being unwanted and unloved. In the next line Father Time expresses the fear of becoming a burden to his family, a fear intensified by die fact that Sue is not his biological mother and, therefore, under no obligation to care for him. "I oughtn't to have come to 'ee—that's the real truth! I troubled'em in Australia, and I trouble folk here. I wish I hadn't been born!"

Here is the perfect moment for Sue to reassure Father Time that he is indeed loved by his parents. If they didn't want him, she could have truthfully said, they never would have consented to adopt him. With luck and determination, she might have added, their lives will improve. However allegorical Father Time's role may be in the novel, during this scene he acts and talks like a scared child. The reader responds to him as if he is fully human, deserving of sympathy. Father Time needs simply to be reassured that the family's circumstances will improve in the future. Indeed, he expects only a reasonable reassurance, not a rosy promise of future happiness. He certainly does not need to hear that unwanted children are responsible for their parents' suffering. How does Sue respond to his wish never to have been born? "You couldn't help it, my dear."

Sue's empathie failure triggers Father Time's inner violence, and his statements become increasingly frantic. "I think that whenever children be born that are not wanted they should be killed directly, before their souls come to 'em, and not allowed to grow big and walk about!" (402). These unwanted children are Father Time and his two siblings. Father Time contemplates infanticide because Sue has already given up on him; she does nothing to diminish his despair because she shares it fully. The narrator similarly regards Father Time's pessimism as philosophically justified and, hence, beyond disagreement. "Sue did not reply" to the boy's accusations, the narrator tell us, since she was "doubtfully pondering how to treat this too reflective child" (402). Father Time is too reflective, but that is not the issue. His thinking remains morbid, obsessional, and frighteningly simplistic in its solution to suffering.

Mary Jacobus refers to Sue's "mistaken honesty" in telling Father Time that another child is on the way, but Sue's real mistake lies in her failure to understand her child's needs. She equates Father Time's pessimism with profundity, resolves silently to be "honest and candid" with him, as if he were a mature adult rather than a terrified child, and then informs him that she is pregnant again. The information predictably drives him into a frenzy. The dialogue closes with the distracted boy vowing that "if we children was gone there'd be no trouble at all!" Sue answers, "don't think that, dear" (403). Even when she tries to be reassuring, she succeeds only in confirming his fears. The next time she sees him, the three children are hanging from their necks. Devastated by the sight, Sue prematurely goes into labor and suffers a miscarriage.

Jude and Sue adopt Father Time to avoid exposing him to further parental neglect, yet, as the final dialogue between mother and son indicates, it would be hard to imagine a more chilling family environment for the child. Sue is not an abusive or overcontrolling mother, as Mrs . Joe and Miss Havisham are in Great Expectations, and she does not deliberately intend to harm Father Time. She is a depressed mother, not a sadistic one, and since she cannot help herself, readers may reasonably ask how she can be expected to help others, especially someone intent upon killing himself and his two siblings. An d yet, unlike Father Time, Sue is an adult, therefore, responsible for the consequences of her actions. However much we empathize with Sue, we cannot suspend our judgment of her.

Jude the Obscure implies that suicide runs in families, like a defective gene passed from one doomed generation to another, but a more plausible explanation for this family curse lies in environmental and interactional causes. Sue remains only partly aware of this. She reads Father Time's suicide letter and breaks down, convinced that their previous conversation has triggered his violence. Sue and Jude plausibly conjecture that upon waking from sleep, Father Time was unable to find his mother and, fearing abandonment, committed the double murder and suicide. Sue accepts responsibility for Father Time's actions, but her explanations mitigate her complicity in the boy's suicide. Perhaps she should have told him all the "facts of life" or none of them, as she says. Nevertheless, the disclosure of the pregnancy is less wounding to Father Time's self-esteem than her failure to convince him that he is wanted and loved.

By projecting her morbidity onto Father Time and confirming his infanticidal fantasies, Sue effectively places a noose around the child's neck. Father Time's inability to enjoy flowers because they will be withered in a few days has its counterpart in Sue's rationalization of the children's deaths. "It is best, perhaps, that they should be gone.—Yes—I see it is! Better that they should be plucked fresh than stay to wither away miserably!" (409). Jude remains supportive, agreeing that what has happened is probably for the best. "Some say that the elders should rejoice when their children die in infancy" (409). Jude does not rejoice at the children's deaths, but he remains unaware of how his statements here and elsewhere mirror the self-destructive philosophy that has victimized the Fawleys. Even the attending physician's interpretation of Father Time's suicide—"the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live"—contains a subtle rationalization. If nothing could have been done to prevent the three deaths, then no one is to blame for the tragedy.

Sue's empathie failure is striking. Her inconsistency of love and self-distraction overwhelm Father Time, as they later do Jude. The defective maternal mirroring represents Father Time's final narcissistic injury. By treating Father Time as an extension of herself, Sue acts out her own unresolved inner conflicts. Moreover, by reinforcing Father Time's suspicion that all children are monstrous, she repeats Victor Frankenstein's abandonment of the Creature. Sue is the opposite of the healthy mother Alice Miller writes about in Prisoners of Childhood: "I f a child is lucky enough to grow up with a mirroring mother, who allows herself to be cathected narcissistically, who is at the child's disposal—that is, a mother who allows herself to be 'made use of as a function of the child's narcissistic development, … then a healthy self-feeling can gradually develop in the growing child." The issue is no whether Sue is a perfect mother, but whether she is a good enough mother who can prepare her children for the vicissitudes of life.

In suggesting that Sue is implicated in her children's deaths, I raise several questions. How is her abandonment of Father Time related to other conflicts in her life? Why does she forsake Jude, the man she loves, for Phillotson, whom she does not love? How does she enact the roles of both Narcissus and Echo?

Sue's contradictions are dazzling. Intellectually liberated but emotionally repressed, she claims to reject the church's outmoded teachings but then embraces reactionary dogma. Refined and ethereal—Jude calls her a "phantasmal, bodiless, creature" with hardly any "animal passion" (312)—Sue arouses men mainly to reject them. Torn between the conflicting claims of body and mind, she sacrifices the integrity of both in a futile quest for self-absolution. The pattern of her behavior suggests defiance, guilt, self-punishment, and abject submission. "There was no limit to the strange and unnecessary penances which Sue would meekly undertake when in a contrite mood" (322). Early in the story she buys two plaster statuettes of Venus and Apollo, symbolic of her attraction to classical beauty and wisdom, respectively, but when the landlady asks her to identify the objects, she dissembles, claiming they are casts of St. Peter and Mary Magdalene. She cannot tell the truth to Jude, not even after the landlady has spitefully shattered the pagan objects.

To understand the origins of Sue's conflicts, we must examine her childhood, but unfortunately, Hardy passes over this period, as Albert J. Guerard points out [in Thomas Hardy: The Novels and Stories, 1949]. "The origin of Sue's epicene reticence lies somewhere in her childhood, of which Hardy tells us almost nothing; the origin of her moral masochism lies there also." Hardy gives us an important clue, though, about her history before introducing her into the story—a "friendly intimacy" with a Christminster undergraduate. Sue accepted his invitation to live with him in London, but when she arrived there and realized his intentions, she made a counterproposal—to live with him in a sexless union. Sue's relationship with the Christminster undergraduate remains ambiguous. Was she aware of the sexual implications of his invitation to live with him, and, if so, for what reasons did she decline a passionate romance? Several possibilities come to mind, including fear of pregnancy and threat of social ostracism. The friends shared a sitting room for fifteen months, until he was taken ill and forced to go abroad. Although the shadowy episode represents part of her struggle to emancipate herself from repressive social conventions, Sue blames herself for the undergraduate's death. It remains unclear whether she actually intended to hurt him. In narrating the student's account of their relationship, she seems to accept his version of reality, including his censure. "He said I was breaking his heart by holding out against him so long at such close quarters; he could never have believed it of woman. I might play that game once too often, he said. He came home merely to die. His death caused a terrible remorse in me for my cruelty—though I hope he died of consumption and not of me entirely" (177-78).

We have no way to authenticate what actually happened between Sue and the Christminster undergraduate, but we can analyze the transference implications of Sue's narrating style. Just as patients' stories in psychoanalysis repeat the themes and conflicts of their past, so do fictional characters' narrating styles represent "memorializations of their unresolved pasts." Expressing the hope that the student died of consumption and not from herself, Sue reveals a tendency to hold herself responsible for all the failures in her relationships. In characterizing the young man as a victim of love, she depicts herself as a victimizer. She feels remorse for her cruelty but also satisfaction over her power, even though in hurting others, she hurts herself. Jude is understandably horrified by Sue's story, which provokes her to say, with a "contralto note of tragedy" in her voice: "I wouldn't have told you if I had known!" (178). But Sue knows how Jude will react to the story. Like Estella, who repeatedly warns Pip that she will break his heart if he becomes romantically involved with her, Sue forewarns Jude about the dangers of intimacy with her—a heeding he fatally disregards.

Sue's relationships with Phillotson and Jude are replays of the unhappy union with the Christminster undergraduate. Phillotson is a hardworking school teacher whose name evokes his conventional social views and stolid character. Eighteen years older than Sue, he is a father figure to her, a fact that troubles his rival, Jude. Despite the temperamental and age differences between teacher and student, they enter into a chilling marriage and wisely agree to a divorce when their incompatibility becomes apparent. Sue moves in with Jude and bears two children. After their deaths, Sue inexplicably returns to Phillotson and remarries him. As Mrs . Edlin observes at the end, "Weddings be funerals a' b'lieve nowadays" (481).

Sue marries Phillotson largely to seek revenge on Jude, who she incorrectly believes has betrayed her. The engagement and marriage to Phillotson follow Jude's disclosure of his imprudent marriage to Arabella. As if to hurt Jude further, Sue asks him to give her away at the wedding. She even teases him by calling him "father," a term for the man who gives away the bride. The rejected suitor represses his response to the word: "Jude could have said 'Phillotson's age entitles him to be called that!' But he would not annoy her by such a cheap retort" (206). During a morning walk, Sue and Jude find themselves in front of the church where the scheduled marriage is to take place. She holds Jude's arm "almost as if she loved him," and they stroll down the nave as if they are married. Sue defends her provocative behavior by saying that she likes "to do things like this." Shortly before the wedding ceremony, Jude reflects on Sue's cruelty toward him, concluding that "possibly she would go on inflicting such pains again and again, and grieving for the sufferer again and again, in all her colossal inconsistency" (210).

Sue's wish to captivate men has Oedipal and pre-Oedipal implications. By marrying Phillotson, she may hope to repair the troubled relationship with her own father. By calling Jude "father," she projects the same complicated symbolism onto him. But if Sue sees Phillotson and Jude as variations of Oedipus, she seems to view herself as a female Narcissus, exerting fatal attraction over men. "I should shock you by letting you know how I give way to my impulses, and how much I feel that I shouldn't have been provided with attractiveness unless it were meant to be exercised! Some women's love of being loved is insatiable; and so, often, is their love of loving" (245). Sue's infatuations end in disillusionment and failure. She later expands upon the reasons for her marriage to Phillotson. "But sometimes a woman's love of being loved gets the better of her conscience, and though she is agonized at the thought of treating a man cruelly, she encourages him to love her while she doesn't love him at all. Then, when she sees him suffering, her remorse sets in, and she does what she can to repair the wrong" (290).

Like Narcissus, Sue seems to be in love with the unobtainable, the elusive, the spectral; like other narcissistic lovers, she proceeds from idealization to devaluation. Sue is also an Echo, denying her own independence and free will. Toward the end of the novel, she admits that she began her relationship with Jude in the "selfish and cruel wish" to make his heart ache for her. "I did not exactly flirt with you; but that inborn craving which undermines some women's morals almost more than unbridled passion—the craving to attract and captivate, regardless of the injury it may do the man—was in me; and when I found I had caught you, I was frightened" (426). Although she has grown to love Jude, she abruptly abandons him, causing anguish to them both. "And now you add to your cruelty by leaving me," Jude says, to which she replies: "Ah—yes! The further I flounder, the more harm I do!" (426).

Significantly, Sue's need to be loved by men has little to do with the wish for sexual gratification. She is so horrified at the possibility of intercourse with her husband that she throws herself out of the bedroom window when he accidentally enters her room. Jude calls her return to Phillotson, with whom she has never had sexual relations, a "fanatic prostitution" (436). Sue returns to her former husband presumably to punish herself and Jude for their nonconformist behavior. The "wickedness" of her feelings at the end of the novel is the same self-revulsion she experiences scarcely eight weeks into her first marriage to Phillotson. Denying there is anything wrong with her marriage, Sue delivers to Jude one of the most revealing speeches in the book:

"But it is not as you think!—there is nothing wrong except my own wickedness, I suppose you'd call it—a repugnance on my part, for a reason I cannot disclose, and what would not be admitted as one by the world in general!… What tortures me so much is the necessity of being responsive to this man whenever he wishes, good as he is morally!—the dreadful contract to feel in a particular way in a matter whose essence is its voluntariness!… I wish he would beat me, or be faithless to me, or do some open thing that I could talk about as a justification for feeling as I do! But he does nothing, except that he has grown a little cold since he has found out how I feel. That's why he didn't come to the funeral.… O, I am very miserable—I don't know what to do!… Don't come near me, Jude, because you mustn't. Don't—don't!" (255-56)

Sue's speech reveals a multitude of defenses gone awry. The middle sentences confirm the need for outside intervention denied in the beginning and end. Her cry for help anticipates Father Time's appeal for assistance preceding his suicide. Through displacement, Phillotson becomes the hated object, a projection screen for Sue's inner conflicts. Phillotson is not a brutal man; when he releases her from marriage, he shows enlightened judgment. Sue's first marriage to Phillotson may be attributed in part to naïveté and inexperience, but her second marriage suggests an unconscious need to continue her self-punishment. Her sexual surrender takes on the appearance of the "fanatic prostitution" Jude has sadly prophesied.

In remarrying Phillotson, Sue chooses to act out rather than analyze her conflicts. Unable to divorce herself from the institution of marriage she no longer believes in, she falls back upon martyrdom. Even as she punishes herself by returning to a husband she has never loved, she abandons the lover who has remained devoted to her. Sue occupies a dual role in the novel, victim (of Phillotson) and victimizer (of Jude). The roles are interrelated. In terms of ego psychology, she identifies with the aggressor—a process, Anna Freud remarks, in which passive is converted to active. "B y impersonating the aggressor, assuming his attributes or imitating his aggression, the child transforms himself from the person threatened into the person who makes the threat." Sue invokes an unsound social code to rationalize an unhealthy psychological situation. The repressive institution of marriage—repressive to Hardy because its rigidity did not allow a relationship to be dissolvable as soon as it became a cruelty to either party—legitimizes her self-punishment. Sue's second marriage thus becomes a more sinister replay of her first marriage, an example of a repetition compulsion principle that dominates Jude the Obscure.

In acting out their parents' broken marriages, Sue and Jude demonstrate how the present repeats the past. Sue's family background is almost identical to that of Jude, her first cousin. In endowing them with similar family backgrounds, Hardy intimates their unity of character. "They seem to be one person split in two," Phillotson remarks (276), vexed by his failure to understand either of them. To this extent, Sue and Jude resemble Catherine and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, who struggle to regain lost unity. The products of broken marriages, Jude and Sue have lost one or both parents at an early age and are raised by indifferent caretakers. According to Arabella, Jude's father ill-used his wife in the same way that Jude's paternal aunt (Sue's mother) mistreated her husband. Both marriages are doomed. After Jude becomes involved with Arabella, his great-aunt, Drusilla Fawley, informs him that his parents never got along with each other, parting company when he was a baby. Jude's mother, continues Arabella, drowned herself shortly afterwards. Drusilla makes no effort to soften the revelation or anticipate its terrible impact upon Jude. Drusilla's empathic failure repeats his mother's earlier rejection of him and foreshadows Sue's rejection of Father Time. After hearing the details of his mother's death, Jude attempts suicide in a similar way by walking on a partly frozen pond. The cracking ice manages to sustain his weight, temporarily thwarting his self-annihilation.

Hardy does not elaborate on the reasons for Jude's half-serious suicide attempt, but the painful repetition of the past cannot be ignored. As with most suicide attempts, including Father Time's, the motivation is overdetermined. Jude's attempt to repeat his mother's suicide is unmistakable, recalling John Bowlby's observation that children who suffer early maternal loss are vulnerable to suicide. Jude's suicide attempt suggests a wish for reunion with the lost mother, a desire for revenge, a need to punish himself for harboring murderous feelings toward the lost love object, and a feeling that life is not worth living. Both Jude and Father Time attempt or commit suicide following maternal loss; they are mirror images of each other, portraits of the same abandoned child. After his mother's death, Jude is raised by a father about whom he never speaks, not even after he has grown up and become a father himself. As with Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights, Jude the Obscure remains preoccupied with the consequences of defective parenting but gives little information about absent parents. After his father's death, Jude is taken in by his great-aunt, who makes it clear that he would have been better off dead, like his parents. "It would ha' been a blessing if Goddy-mighty had took thee too, wi' thy mother and father, poor useless boy!" (8-9).

Against a background of parental loss, Jude develops into a compassionate and idealistic man. Nothing in his family history accounts for his remarkable sensitivity, and for a time it seems as if he has escaped his past. His willingness to adopt Father Time demonstrates his generosity of spirit, and he remains devoted to his wife and children. Jude is a better parent to his newly discovered son than presumably his own parents were to him. Nevertheless, Jude is absent when Father Time most needs him, during the moments preceding the suicide. Although his role in Father Time's suicide is more ambiguous than Sue's, Jude readily accepts the inevitability of his son's death.

Sue's background reveals a similar pattern of parental loss. According to Drusilla, Sue's father offended his wife early in the marriage, and the latter "so disliked living with him afterwards that she went away to London with her little maid" (81). We never discover the length of time she lives with her mother in London or the circumstances of their life. Sue is then brought up by her father to hate her mother's family. Like Eustacia Vye in The Return of the Native, another motherless daughter raised by a remote male guardian, Sue grows up to reject conventional society. Her rebellion, no less than Eustacia's, is singularly unsuccessful. Sue's defiance as a twelve-year-old girl, boldly exhibiting her body as she wades into a pond, reveals a spiritedness that contrasts her later inability to be touched by her husband. Her craving for conformity culminates in her sexual surrender to Phillotson. In a novel filled with agonizing self-inflicted deaths, Sue's decision to remarry is one of the most horrifying moments—in effect, another suicide. She returns to her former husband, not to seek a better life, but to punish herself for the past. Sue can survive, paradoxically, only through self-debasement. Jude the Obscure reflects a closed system in which loveless marriages, restrictive social conventions, and unmerciful superegos thwart the possibility of a fulfilling life.

Sue's pattern of defiance followed by blind submission suggests, clinically, the child's ambivalence toward the parents: the rejection of the mother, the original love object, followed by the need to recover the lost unity of infancy. Sue and Jude return to the wrong marital partners, and the attempt toward reparation is doomed. From the viewpoint of object relations, Sue and Jude's inner world is precarious and turbulent. Each returns to a despised marital partner, suggesting the child's inability to separate from a defective caretaker. Phillotson and Arabella represent the omnipotent parents who can never be defied successfully. They offer punishment, not love, to the returning child, humbled and broken. Sue's submission to Phillotson parallels Jude's submission to Arabella. Both Sue and Jude regress to infantile modes of behavior (one is creed-drunk, the other is gin-drunk), obliterating themselves in a fatal union with hated love objects.

Object loss is a central theme in Jude the Obscure, and Freud's seminal essay "Mourning and Melancholia" (1917) casts light on many of the baffling psychological dynamics of Hardy's characters. Freud's definition of melancholia (depression) [in "Mourning and Melancholia," 1917] describes many of Sue's conflicts: "a profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment." In depression, Freud suggests, "dissatisfaction with the ego on moral grounds is the most outstanding feature" (248). This is especially true of Sue's self-punishing tendencies. Freud argues that the self-recriminations characteristic of depression are "reproaches against a loved object which have been shifted away from it on to the patient's own ego" (248). Depression is related to object loss in that the sadism directed initially against the object is converted to masochism. In both mourning and depression, the loss of an object deprives a person of the love necessary for growth and nurture. Unlike mourning, which is usually a temporary phenomenon, depression may last permanently. Freud viewed depression as arising from hostile feelings, initially directed toward parents, that are internalized, producing guilt and low self-esteem.

Depression is widely regarded as one of the most common of psychiatric illnesses, but there is disagreement over its origin and treatment. Analysts distinguish object-related depression from narcissistic depression. The sense of helplessness and lowered self-esteem are common to both forms of depression, but their origins appear to be different. Object-related depression, which Freud had in mind, awakens virulent aggression toward the disappointing love object. Narcissistic depression, by contrast, originates from disappointments in achieving fanta-sized or idealized states. For object relations theorists like Otto Kernberg, depression represents the internalization of aggression originally directed toward the rejecting love object. The major conflicts in object-related depression involve aggression: the fear of one's own destructive rage and the fear of retaliation by the object. For theorists like Heinz Kohut, on the other hand, depression represents the inability to merge with the idealized object. The major conflicts in narcissistic depression involve unrealistic or unobtainable goals, such as the pursuit of a perfect relationship.

Elements of both forms of depression appear in Jude the Obscure. The family backgrounds of Sue and Jude reflect a long history of parental neglect and abandonment. Both suffer object loss as children and parents. Their sadomasochistic relationship represents a defense against further object loss. That is, the sadist and masochist "play out both sides of the pain-inducing/pain-suffering object relationship." Masochism represents a bond—or, more accurately, a bondage—to the early sadistic object. Contrary to their separation at the end, Sue and Jude remain symbiotically bonded, just as sadism and masochism are inextricably conjoined. The narcissistic element of their depression appears in their failure to merge with healthy, empathie selfobjects. Neither Jude nor Sue can sustain former ambitions, goals, ideals; both fall victim to bitter disillusionment. Sue's movement from social rebellion to repressive conformity parallels Jude's journey from unquestioning acceptance of life to embittered rejection.

Nowhere is Jude's idealizing power more evident than in his desire to pursue a university education at Christminster. The novel opens with Phillotson telling Jude why a university degree is important. "It is the necessary hallmark of a man who wants to do anything in teaching" (4). Jude invests Christminster with mystical significance, transforming it into a radiant city of light, a "heavenly Jerusalem" (18). The eleven-year-old Jude associates his esteemed schoolteacher with holy Christminster, and he is understandably distressed by Phillotson's departure. Jude's infatuation with Christminster has erotic significance. "He was getting so romantically attached to Christminster that, like a young lover alluding to his mistress, he felt bashful at mentioning its name again" (22). At the same time, Jude speaks of his devotion to Christminster in terms of a son's devotion to his mother. "Yes, Christminster shall be my Alma Mater; and I'll be her beloved son, in whom she shall be well pleased" (41). Before leaving Jude, Phillotson invites him to Christminster, promising never to forget him. The promise is broken years later when Jude visits Phillotson and discovers that the teacher cannot remember him. Jude thus experiences his rejection by Christminster and Phillotson as repetitions of maternal and paternal abandonment.

Jude's lofty idealization of Christminster becomes a deadly mirage, as elusive as Narcissus' reflection. Jude's idealization is really an attempt to compensate for disappointment over parental abandonment. But on discovering the reality of university life, he is dismayed by its hypocrisy, rigidity, and narrowmindedness. Jude suffers other setbacks: he is deceived by the quack Vilbert, who reneges on the promise to supply him with Greek and Latin grammars; he is disillusioned at learning that Phillotson has given up the scheme to receive a university degree; and he is distressed upon receiving a letter from a Christminster professor advising him to renounce intellectual aspirations. We feel Jude's crushing rejection, his outrage at the collapse of his hopes for a university education. And yet, given Jude's impossible idealization of Christminster, we sense that he would have been disillusioned by any university system.

Jude comes to perceive, with Hardy's approval, that "there is something wrong somewhere in our social formulas: what it is can only be discovered by men or women with greater insight than mine,—if, indeed, they ever discover it—at least in our time" (394). Jude does not perceive, however, the narcissistic meaning of his idealizing tendencies. As Kernberg and other analysts point out, defensive idealization conceals fundamentally ambivalent feelings toward the love object, feelings that arise in the early mother-child relationship. The repetitive and compulsive nature of idealization suggests the continual effort to deny the disappointment and aggression associated with early object loss. Jude is eloquent in his social criticism and knowledge of literary and political history, but he is less convincing in his understanding of psychology. Wounded by early narcissistic injuries, Jude is rendered finally into a pining Echo, and his last words echo Job's: "Let the day perish wherein I was born" (488).

We can now see more clearly the parallel between Father Time's infanticide and the defective nurturing Jude and Sue received as children. A shadowy bad parent haunts Jude the Obscure, linking three generations of Fawleys. Each generation executes a death sentence in the name of the parents. Sue interprets her children's deaths as a sign of divine punishment for her wicked union with Jude. "I see marriage differently now. My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella's child killing mine was a judgment—the right slaying the wrong. What, What shall I do! I am such a vile creature—too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings!" (422-23). The reversal is astonishing. She now views Father Time, the murderer of her own children, as an agent of divine retribution, while the two innocent children are evil, like herself. Sue submits herself to a vindictive God, a reflection of her bad father. She seems close to psychotic, lost in a terrible delusion. The violent self-hatred revealed in her speech to Phillotson conceals her infanticidal fantasies, now rationalized in the name of religious purification. "M y children—are dead—and it is right that they should be! I am glad—almost. They were sin-begotten. They were sacrificed to teach me how to live!—their death was the first stage of my purification. That's why they have not died in vain!… Yo u will take me back?" (439). By splitting the children into good and bad objects, Sue denies her ambivalence toward them, thus preserving her psychic life from massive extinction.

Jude and Sue miss the most terrifying insight of all, the realization that their ambivalence has slain the children. Sue's key admission, that she is "glad—almost" of the children's deaths, betrays an unconscious wish. This explains her complicity in Father Time's decision to annihilate the unwanted children of the world. The boy obediently carries out her wishes. Long before she brings children into the world, Sue has been punishing herself relentlessly for feelings of wickedness. The murders objectify her repressed wishes. By endorsing Father Time's infanticidal actions, Sue reveals herself as the abandoning parent, determined to destroy the hated child within herself. At the same time, she is the abandoned child, intent upon merging with the hated father, Phillotson. Although Jude, Sue, and Father Time refuse to name the bad parent, they create situations in which they punish themselves and the parental surrogates who have failed them. For the tragic protagonists of Jude the Obscure, the present repeats the nightmarish past. Hardy's symmetrical plot demonstrates his deterministic view that "What's done can't be undone" (70).

Jude the Obscure portrays Nature as a deficient mother, the law as a repressive father, the two antagonists locked in a deadly, indissolvable marriage. "Radical disorder in the universe is finally matched by radical disorder in human personality," Heilman has remarked about the novel. Hardy's philosophical pessimism cannot be reduced to a single biographical determinant; yet the "General Principles" behind his artistic vision reflect the defective parenting, empathie failure, and object loss implicit in Jude the Obscure. In The Life of Thomas Hardy, ostensibly written by his second wife, Florence Emily Hardy, but largely ghost-written by the novelist himself, there is an important passage that evokes the spirit of the Fawleys:

General Principles. Law has produced in man a child who cannot but constantly reproach its parent for doing much and yet not all, and constantly say to such parent that it would have been better never to have begun doing than to have overdone so indecisively; that is, than to have created so far beyond all apparent first intention (on the emotional side), without mending matters by a second intent and execution, to eliminate the evils of the blunder of overdoing. The emotions have no place in a world of defect, and it is a cruel injustice that they should have been developed in it.

Although it is unlikely that Hardy intended this passage either as a criticism of his own parents or as a commentary on Jude the Obscure, the novelist's world view reflects the philosophical pessimism in Father Time's farewell speech. It would be misleading, of course, to identify Hardy with a single fictional character, especially with a boy who ends his life before he has a chance to live it. Nevertheless, despite the claim of objectivity in Jude the Obscure—"The purpose of a chronicler of moods and deeds does not require him to express his personal views" (348)—the narrator is implicated in the characters' gloomy vision. To give but one example, early in the novel the narrator asks why no one comes along to befriend the young Jude, already disillusioned by his hopeless struggle to master Greek and Latin. "But nobody did come, because nobody does; and under the crushing recognition of his gigantic error Jude continued to wish himself out of the world" (32). In "I'd Have My Life Unbe" (1984), Frank Giordano traces the pattern of self-destructive characters in Hardy's world, concluding that, for the novelist, "the desire never to have been born was far more than a traditional poetic trope, while the wish to have his life 'unbe' seems to have recurred often and been very powerful at certain stages."

It is now possible to inquire into the biographical elements of Hardy's novel. Not surprisingly, Hardy insisted that "there is not a scrap of personal detail" in Jude the Obscure. There is little in his biography to indicate overt object loss, certainly nothing like the early traumatic loss experienced by Jude and Sue. One fascinating detail emerges, however, about Hardy's entry into the world. When the infant was born, he was presumed dead and cast into a basket by the surgeon in order to attend to the mother, herself in distress. "Dead! Stop a minute: he's alive enough, sure!" the midwife exclaimed (The Life of Thomas Hardy, 14). The incident has a tragicomic quality entirely befitting Hardy's later vision of life. As a child, he was extremely delicate and sickly, often cared for by a neighbor. Hardy's biographers acknowledge his inauspicious beginning in life, suggesting a possible link between his early deprivation and life-long bouts of depression. Robert Gittings speaks about an "early thread of perverse morbidity in Hardy, something near abnormality," [in Young Thomas Hardy, 1975] while Michael Millgate observes [in Thomas Hardy, 1982] that Hardy's parents took little interest in him because they believed he would die in childhood.

James W. Hamilton, a psychoanalyst, has suggested that the actual circumstances of Hardy's birth burdened him "with profound guilt for having damaged and almost killed his mother," as revealed in his first poem, "Discouragement." An incident in Tess of the D'Urbervilles reveals a mother's underloving and overloving tendencies. Hamilton speculates that Tess's ambivalence toward her infant son, aptly named Sorrow (corresponding, perhaps, to the allegorical Father Time in Jude the Obscure), may well reflect Jemima Hardy's feelings toward her own child. "When the infant had taken its fill," Hardy writes in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, "the young mother sat it upright in her lap, and looking into the far distance dandled it with a gloomy indifference that was almost dislike; then all of a sudden she fell to violently kissing it some dozens of times, as if she could never leave off, the child crying at the vehemence of an onset which strangely combined passionateness with contempt." Sorrow's death, like Father Time's, implicates both nature and nurture: "So passed away Sorrow the Undesired—that intrusive creature, that bastard gift of shameless Nature who respects not the social law" (Tess, 81).

Hardy's acknowledgement that the fictional portrait of Mrs . Yeobright in The Return of the Native was closely based upon his own mother is also revealing. Closely resembling Mrs . Morel in Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, Mrs . Yeobright is an intimidating woman, alternating between moods of gentleness and anger. Like Paul Mo rel, Clym Yeobright is implicated in his mother's death. Michael Millgate points out in his biography that while Jemima Hardy always commanded the unquestioning devotion of her children, she could be "cold in her manner, intolerant in her views, and tyrannical in her governance" (21). The same could be said about nearly all parents at one time or another, but Mrs. Yeobright, like Mrs . Morel, is particularly overbearing.

To what extent did Hardy suffer narcissistic injuries as a consequence of erratic maternal care? Giordano notes that Hardy was plagued by feelings of low self-esteem, referring to himself on his forty-seventh birthday as "Thomas the Unworthy" (The Life of Thomas Hardy, 200). Although we do not usually think of Hardy as a mother-fixated novelist, as we do of D. H. Lawrence, Gittings observes that he repeatedly fell in love with women (in particular, with several maternal cousins) who reminded him of his mother. "More than most mother-fixed youths, Hardy was falling in love with his own mother over and over again, in a physical and consistent way that was a typical part of his almost literal-minded nature" (Young Thomas Hardy, 64). Hardy's attraction to his cousin, Tryphena Sparks, one of the chief sources of Sue Bridehead, has generated intense biographical speculation. Whatever actually happened between Hardy and his mysterious cousin, Jude and Sue reflect the novelist's fascination with incestuous love and its elusive, forbidden nature. Hardy's tragic heroes and heroines repeatedly find themselves pursuing the unobtainable. Like Narcissus, they discover the bittersweet quality of infatuation, ending their lives defeated and broken, unable to recover lost primal unity.

Hardy's little-known novel The Well-Beloved (1897) powerfully confirms the narcissistic infatuation to which his characters are particularly vulnerable. Hardy wrote The Well-Beloved, subtitled "A Sketch of a Temperament," at about the same time he was working on Jude the Obscure. Both novels explore spectral love. Critics generally agree that The Well-Beloved is Hardy's most autobiographical novel in its revelations of his unhappy love life. Jocelyn Pierston is a sculptor, not a writer, but like Hardy he is blessed and cursed by a seemingly endless series of blinding infatuations that end in bitter disillusionment. Pierston tires of his lovers as soon as he knows them well, and only one aspect of his life remains constant: the instability of his love. Unusually introspective, Pierston meticulously analyzes his infatuations, lamenting the havoc they wreak upon his life:

To see the creature who has hitherto been perfect, divine, lose under your very gaze the divinity which has informed her, grow commonplace, turn from flame to ashes, from a radiant vitality to a relic, is anything but a pleasure for any man, and has been nothing less than a racking spectacle to my sight. Each mournful emptied shape stands ever after like the nest of some beautiful bird from which the inhabitant has departed and left it to fill with snow.

Pierston's pursuit of the Beloved One, as he calls his elusive love object, suggests defensive idealization, concealing hostility toward women. "Each shape, or embodiment, has been a temporary residence only, which she has entered, lived in awhile, and made her exit from, leaving the substance, so far as I have been concerned, a corpse, worse luck!" (33). Like Narcissus, Pierston realizes that he is doomed to pursue phantoms who vanish upon close approach. Poetic justice catches up with him when he finds himself infatuated hopelessly with a young woman (the daughter of the woman he rejected earlier) who, driven by the same psychology, tantalizes and finally spurns him. Pierston is in love with the idea of love, as Sue Bridehead is. Indeed, Sue's revealing admission, that sometimes her love of being loved gets the better of her conscience, causing her to treat a man cruelly, applies equally well to Pierston. Both Sue and Pierston fail in their reparative efforts to undo the harm they have caused others.

In an illuminating article on The Well-Beloved [in Thomas Hardy after Fifty Years, edited by Lance St. John Boiler, 1977] that reveals as much about the creative source of his own fiction as it does about Hardy's, John Fowles has identified the real object of Pierston's hopeless quest. "The vanished young mother of infancy is quite as elusive as the Well-Beloved—indeed, she is the Well-Beloved, although the adult writer transmogrifies her according to the pleasures and fancies that have in the older man superseded the nameless ones of the child—most commonly into a young female sexual ideal of some kind, to be attained or pursued (or denied) by himself hiding behind some male character." Intrigued by an interpretation of The French Lieutenant's Woman published by the Yale psychoanalyst Gilbert Rose, Fowles posits in Hardy and other novelists an unconscious drive toward the unobtainable. Fowles accepts Rose's thesis that the wish to reestablish unity with the lost mother of infancy is an important motive behind the creative impulse. Behind Tryphena Sparks and the other incarnations of the Well-Beloved, including Sue Bridehead and Tess, both of whom Fowles calls in The French Lieutenant's Woman "pure Tryphena in spirit," lies the pre-Oedipal mother, the muse behind all creativity.

Yet Hardy's maternal muse was profoundly paradoxical, both creative and destructive. Jude the Obscure remains his bleakest novel, arguably the bleakest in English literature. Of all Hardy's great tragic novels, Jude the Obscure alone lacks convincing affirmation. Despite Hardy's sympathy toward Jude and Sue, he casts them into an indifferent world and then shows, in a novel at once beautiful and terrible, the tragedy of their self-extinction. "How cruel you are," Swinburne wrote to Hardy in an otherwise glowing review the novelist cites in his biography. "Only the great and awful father of 'Pierrette' and i'Enfant Maudit' was ever so merciless to his children" (270). Speaking like a disillusioned parent renouncing further children, Hardy observes, in the "Postscript to the Preface" to Jude the Obscure, that the experience of writing the book cured him completely of the wish to write additional novels. The novel provoked so much hostility, in fact, that he later referred to a book-burning incident in which the real object of the flames was the novelist himself. It may seem extravagant to compare Father Time's infanticide to Hardy's decision to silence forever his fictional voice. The fact remains, however, that although Hardy published a voluminous amount of poetry in the remaining thirty-three years of his life, he repudiated the art of fiction, perhaps believing, like Father Time, that the world would be better off without him. In that decision lies the greatest loss of all.

Mary Ann Kelly (essay date 1992)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2246

SOURCE: "Individuation and Consummation in Hardy's Jude the Obscure: The Lure of the Void," in The Victorian Newsletter, No. 82, Fall, 1992, pp. 62-64.

[In the following essay, Kelly studies Jude's existential separation from society and his desire for "a sense of belonging and integration."]

"He could not realize himself."
(Jude the Obscure 60)

The peripatetic motif in Jude the Obscure, Hardy's final novel, is obvious to any reader confronted with Jude's wanderings in Hardy's six Parts: from Mary green to Christminster; from Melchester to Shaston; from Aldbrickham and "Elsewhere"—back to Christminster again, where Jude chooses finally to die, to become unreal. The fact of Jude's rootlessness clearly enhances his isolation from community, his obscurity (read worthlessness) in society's eyes, and his pain in existing as an individual—his rootlessness demonstrating Every-modern-man's predicament: the struggle to overcome disconnectedness and fragmentation. Jude's isolation, separateness, and obscurity remit only suffering. In Jude's struggle to flee the isolation and the void, he learns, eventually, and paradoxically, that the void is in fact home, a state which he need no longer flee. Though Hardy insisted he was conveying only his impressions of existence, the philosophical basis of Jude's desperate and aimless search for a "home," a feeling of completeness, belonging, and connectedness (a search demonstrated in the degradations of sexual longing which lead him to Arabella; in his compulsion to drink himself into oblivion; in his obsessive attempts at transcendence through learning and idealizing Sue Bridehead; and, finally, in death itself), is informed greatly by a knowledge of Hardy's appreciation of Schopenhauer's dictum that, in this life, "determinism stands firm." According to Schopenhauer, the real world of phenomena is simply illusory, and an individual discovers who he is only after he has acted since will manifests itself before understanding. Individuals are merely manifestations of the blind, impulsive Will to live. Further, if birth itself is original sin, if consciousness is an evolutionary mistake, and if human behavior is essentially irrational, willful compulsion thinly disguised by the vanity and denial inherent in human reason, then the conscious existence of each individual is a kind of imprisonment from which we all, to some degree, yearn to escape. Escape from illusory reality as we know it, from individuation, becomes necessity. In Schopenhauer, Hardy found a philosopher who attempted to explain (not merely justify) existence: consciousness was evolutionary error, and so, in a sense, was individuation, the separation of the individual from the mass. Jude's initial attempts to realize himself by connecting with the phenomenal world are shown to be mis-guided. His final attempt to realize himself by connecting with the noumenal world, the void, is shown to remit peace.

Jude the Obscure opens with a separation—Phillotson, Jude's teacher and inspiration, leaving him behind. Jude's history is an account of a series of these kinds of separations which throw him back upon himself, separations from: his father; his mother; his aunt; Arabella; Sue; the world of academics; his children; and, finally, his faith in God. Jude's history of being left an orphan, from his earliest days, primes him to expect that loss, isolation, and solitude are his lot—and yet, his "lot" feeds a tremendous compensatory urge for community which he sublimates in his affinity with Nature and in his attraction to the role of caretaker and protector of wild birds, rabbits, and the domesticated pig. In these specimens of Nature, Jude, not necessarily consciously, but certainly intuitively, recognizes himself; in his sympathy for suffering creatures, victims, outcasts, he gives what he longs to receive: sympathy, compassion, and a sense of community with others—or, an other. Jude's attempts at integration with something beyond himself—community—whether it be with the natural world, with the family represented by his aunt, or with the family always potentially represented in his marriages—repeatedly fail. Hardy demonstrates his misguided effort to experience consummation, communion, in the world of phenomena. Jude's longing therefore increases in strength and immediacy until he is driven largely by this compulsion for reintegration—with something beyond himself—for the duration of his life.

The need for a sense of oneness with this world, or with an other, points to the truth that no man can live happily and be autonomous. Autonomy is a version of hell. Yet Jude's fate, above all, is to feel obscure, isolated, and rejected in the corporeal world; and the obsessive desperation of his psychological need to belong (which is correct in Nature, according to Schopenhauer), coupled with repeated repudiation, becomes his tragic flaw. In turn, this cycle of desperate need and insistent repudiation becomes his informant, a significant signpost on the path to truth.

Jude's yearning to travel, to roam, to escape, literally and philosophically, is the result of an unmet need in Hardy's eyes—a hunger for consummation, oneness, belonging, peace—denied Jude most obviously by society—but even moreso by his own nature—human nature, which according to Schopenhauer, is purblind Will. In one sense, then, Jude's "groping in the dark" (258) [page references are to the Houghtan, Mifflin edition of Jude the Obscure, 1965] can be seen as a dramatization of Schopenhauer's irrational and impulsive Will to live: incessantly seeking contentment through connection but more often finding pain in thwarted connections.

Schopenhauer's fatalism, his view of consciousness as a painful evolutionary blunder, fascinated Hardy and explained his own sense of the needless pain and futility of existence. Schopenhauer's solution to the "quieting" of the will, informed by Buddhist asceticism, Franciscan transcendence, as well as Kantian idealism, provided Hardy with a philosophical explanation for the moments wherein Jude (and, of course, Hardy himself, according to his autobiography) felt a longing to liberate his spirit from the imprisonment of his body: to travel in the realms occupied by the dead, as he does early in Part Second at night among the ghosts of Christminster. The wish or yearning to self-destruct, or rather the wish not to be imprisoned in the flesh, could be understood by Hardy in Schopenhauerian terms, not as simple suicide, but rather as a yearning for the freeing of one's will, the ultimate escape into will-lessness and, simply, consummation, a sense of belonging and integration.

The lure of the void is increasingly for Jude an enticement toward integration which yields promise in contrast to his life of segregation. This variety of nothingness is, as Robert Adams describes it [in Nil: Episodes in the Literary Conquest of the Void in the Nineteenth-Century, 1966], an

ominous and preparatory Nothing, as a sudden hush before the storm; there is a Nothing of completion, the void which follows on a cycle fully worked out. It is the clear intent of many tragic actions to clear the moral atmosphere by reducing their viewers to this pure simplicity, all passion spent. (13-14)

Thus, the void paradoxically promises Jude the re-union with a larger entity, even if this entity, which so promises a completion and reintegration, is Nothing, oblivion.

Early on, Jude exhibits repeated death wishes—from jumping on the frozen ice, to the slow disintegration of himself through drinking. In the disintegration of the self, there is the paradoxical promise of integration with the whole. Above all, this need for consummation, obliteration of self, integration of self with the entirety of Nature and the cosmos, overtakes Jude's motivations to realize himself (60) in the more traditional meaning of enhancing one's individuality. The will to self-destruct in order to belong transcends Jude's will to live as a separate being.

In this interpretation, Jude's peripatetic wandering; his self-destructive tendencies in alcoholism; his ruinous, desperate, and clutching attraction to Sue Bridehead; and finally his "suicidal" walk in the rain, can be seen as attempts to travel beyond the veil and to experience consummation, a communion with all others in Nature, with an other represented by Sue, and even communion with the dead which Jude longs for from the early pages of the novel. In philosophical terms, Jude's "groping in the dark—acting by instinct and not after example" (258) is ended when he lets go and chooses no longer to will to live:

"Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived."

"For now should I have lain still and been quiet." (321)

The aimless, frenetic travel characterized by Jude's search for quiet ends with Jude's last trip to Christminster, at least in part, because Hardy found philosophical explanations for the inherent aimlessness and rootlessness and discontent at the quick of Jude's (and everyman's) being—and because he found a spiritual, though nihilistic, alternative to Jude's compulsive search for consummation; Hardy demonstrated this alternative in Jude's final, simple, passive, and peaceful acquiescence; and, even more importantly, in Jude's willing not to live among those symbols of learning in Christminster which he long believed to be the only things worth living for. In death, Jude travels beyond the veil in a way which can be interpreted in Schopenhauerian terms not as simply despairing and suicidal. Jude exits this life with dignity and grace, and even an oddly uplifting serenity, under pressure—and in that, his demise can be seen as a transcendental and even ful-filling re-integration with the void.

The loss of the surrogate father, mentor, and caretaker in Phillotson in line one of the novel becomes a reverberating motif in Jude's wretched history. Even the beacon represented by the lights of Christminster is surely tied to Jude's need to be reconnected to the parent Phillotson represents. Jude's search for the parent, the father, God, the Truth, manifests itself in ways hidden to his conscious deliberation—yet this search compels all Jude's choices in life.

For example, in Christminster Jude makes associations in the dark shadows of the walls surrounding the college which attest to his desperate need to discover lost "fathers":

"Meanwhile I will read, as soon as I am settled in Christminster, the books I have not been able to get hold of here: Livy, Tacitus, Herodotus, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes—"

—Euripedes, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Epictetus, Seneca, Antoninus. Then I must master other things: the Fathers thoroughly:

Yes, Christminster shall be my Alma Mater; and I'll be her beloved son, in whom she shall be well pleased.

(32, emphasis added)

Of course, the loftiness of Jude's aim for this ideal recreation of a sense of belonging is undercut by his substitution of Arabella, "a complete and substantial female animal—no more, no less" (33) as a sexual conduit or shortcut to a lesser variety of temporary consummation—that satisfied by the sexual urge. But the need to "belong," to feel attached, and to be part of and lost in another persists inexorably in Jude, so desperate is his longing and so magnificent is his spiritual deficit. Varieties of the botched marriage, thus, become a central concern in the novel, and also become incidents which teach Jude by default the true route to communion.

The spiritual destitution Jude embodies renders his search for some variety of consummation a compulsion. And the degree of dependency manifested in his most depleted moments echoes through the novel:

Onward he still went, under the influence of a child-like yearning for the one being in the world to whom it seemed possible to fly—an unreasoning desire, whose ill judgment was not apparent to him now.

"I am so wicked, Sue—my heart is nearly broken, and I could not bear my life as it was! So I have been drinking and blaspheming, or next door to it, and saying holy things in disreputable quarters.… O, do anything with me, Sue—kill me—I don't care! Only don't hate me and despise me like all the rest of the world."

(99, emphasis added)

The ultimate consummation, symbolized by Jude's repeated wish for death, lurks always in the recesses of his mind. Death, extinction, is a subliminal and unconscious, yet tenacious and persistent, possibility. Ironically, the ultimate remedy to Jude's "obscurity" is for him to "belong" in a final consummation so complete in Death that he cannot be separate, individuated again. In the end, Jude, who is a "chaos of principles" (258) enters the larger chaos, the cacaphony and silence behind the veil, which finally entices him in his search for safety more than the "real" world he inhabits. Jude realizes himself in death because he is finally integrated, connected—albeit in a noumenal realm whose ghostly inhabitants have "called" to him since childhood. As Hardy discovered in Schopenhauer, birth may well be tantamount to original sin, and death may be the fulfilling correction of a mistake.

In one sense, Jude is the tragedy of "unfulfilled aims" which Hardy refers to in his Preface. But, in another sense, the novel is a curiously fulfilling demonstration of the disquieting emotions which set Jude on the road to pursue a geographical cure for a disease of the spirit: there is beauty in Jude's final ticket to oblivion because it attests to his learning an important lesson in his journey through life, a lesson he has sensed intuitively and more acutely than others since his boyhood days: that oneness with his fellows, living and dead, is his ultimate destiny; and that in obliteration of the individual, sublimation manifests itself most completely. Jude achieves the state of percipience without volition ascribed to Tess at the end of her plight. He recognizes that

Quietism, i.e. surrender of all volition [and] asceticism, i.e., … consciousness of the identity of one's own nature with that of all things . … stand in the closest connection.


Elizabeth Langland (essay date 1993)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6907

SOURCE: "Becoming a Ma n in Jude the Obscure," in The Sense of Sex: Feminist Perspectives on Hardy, edited by Margaret R. Higonnet, University of Illinois Press, 1993, pp. 32-48.

[In the following essay, Langland evaluates Jude's dilemma of identity in terms of his struggles with the social ideologies of class and gender.]

Because Thomas Hardy's representations of women, by and large, exceed the simple stereotypes scholars initially identified as characteristic images of women, feminist critics early turned to his novels. While those first studies opened up possibilities of a rewarding feminist approach to Hardy, recent work looks more broadly at gender, exploring the problem of masculinity as well as femininity. Poised between centuries (nineteenth and twentieth), between cultures (rural and urban), and between classes (peasantry and middling), Hardy engaged profound social dislocations in ways that disturbed the stability of gender classifications. His representation in Jude the Obscure of the social and material construction of masculinity and femininity reveals something that feminist and gender critics are only beginning to explore: the extent to which patriarchal constructions of masculinity become constrictions and, when inflected by class, create contradictions for individual males. To speak of "patriarchy" in this way exposes a basic truth. Patriarchy (like the resistance to it) is not only outside but also inside, structuring language, logic, our very understanding of human subjectivity. Part of the novel's brilliance derives from Hardy's ability to represent Jude's battle with the class and gender self-constructions his culture offers him. His embattlement gives the novel its richness and generates its tragic denouement.

The novel articulates Jude's dilemma of identity largely through his conflicting responses to his cousin, Sue Bridehead. This interpretation of Jude the Obscure turns attention away from questions of the authenticity of Sue's character—where it has often focused—and queries instead Sue's place in the construction of Jude's masculinity, her role as catalyst for the text's trenchant critique of gender and class paradigms. In an earlier article, I have demonstrated that Sue as character is filtered almost entirely through Jude's perspective. Thus, she is known to us through his experience and interpretations of her. I will argue here that Jude increasingly embraces relationship with his cousin as a means of self-fulfillment. He seizes upon her as an answer to the difficulty of "growing up," his feeling that "He did not want to be a man" (1.2.15) [page references are to the New American Library edition of Jude the Obscure, 1961]. Through kinship and twinship with Sue, Jude seeks an alternative to the frustrating constructions of his masculinity that his culture holds out.

By linking issues of self-definition to cultural practices, discourses, and institutions, Teresa de Lauretis and Linda Alcoff provide a way of thinking about a human subject [in Signs 13 (Spring 1988)] "constructed through a continuous process, an ongoing constant renewal based on an interaction with the world … [defined] as experience. 'And thus [subjectivity] is produced not by external ideas, values, or material causes, but by one's personal, subjective engagement in the practices, discourses, and institutions that lend significance (value, meaning, and affect) to the events of the world.'" Alcoff goes on to note that this is the process "through which one's subjectivity becomes en-gendered."

We may merge this concept of subjectivity with a Bakhtinian distinction between authoritatively persuasive and internally persuasive discourses that interact in the historical and cultural construction of a subject. Often, Bakhtin explains [in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, 1981],

an individual's becoming, an ideological process, is characterized precisely by a sharp gap between these two categories: in one, the authoritative word (religious, political, moral; the word of a father, of adults and of teachers, etc.) that does not know internal persuasiveness, in the other internally persuasive word that is denied all privilege, backed up by no authority at all, and is frequently not even acknowledged in society (not by public opinion, not by scholarly norms, nor by criticism), not even in the legal code. The struggle and dialogic interrelationship of these categories of ideological discourse are what usually determine the history of an individual ideological consciousness.

Bakhtin offers an important dialogical model of an individual's engagement with the world, the struggle between the authoritatively persuasive and the internally persuasive word. In the wide gap between the two, however, he locates idealistically the possibility of individual choice and control over one's destiny.

In contrast, I would agree with Alcoff that authoritative discourse often takes on the aspect of the internally persuasive word, if not at first then at last. De Lauretis explains further [in Feminist Studies / Critical Studies, edited by De Lauretis, 1986]: "Self and identity, in other words, are always grasped and understood within particular discursive configurations. Consciousness, therefore, is never fixed, never attained once and for all, because discursive boundaries change with historical conditions." Such a theory allows us to account for Jude's initial embrace, rejection, and final recuperation of his culture's religious, political, sexual, and moral discourses: the authoritative word of a father, of adults, of teachers. Jude's longing for Sue Bridehead is culturally embedded within this dynamic: he interprets her as that which his culture forbids. As an alternative to authoritative discourses, she embodies the internally persuasive voice.

It is a striking detail of the novel that Jude longs for Sue before he sees her, before he has even seen a picture of her. Why? Sue is introduced early in the novel in Aunt Drusilla's comments to a neighbor overheard by Jude. She links her two foster children through their love of books—"His cousin Sue is just the same" (1.2.9). Yet, she also contrasts Sue, a "tomboy," to Jude, a "poor useless boy," who has the sensibility and frame of a girl. Slender and small, Jude weeps easily and feels pain keenly: "he was a boy who could not himself bear to hurt anything," a tendency the narrator terms, only half-ironically, a "weakness of character" (1.2.13). Jude feels the assaults of his life so sharply that he wishes "he could only prevent himself growing up! He did not want to be a man" (1.2.15). Jude's desire to evade the constraints of manhood leads him to posit an alternative that he reifies in the character at once like and unlike him, his cousin, Sue.

The problem of becoming a man and the prohibition of Sue Bridehead are linked in Jude's mind by the early events at Mary green and Aunt Drusilla's comments on the tragic issue of Fawley marriages. If marriage is fatal to one Fawley, the same blood flowing through two linked individuals must culminate in tragedy. Sue is, therefore, forbidden to Jude. Hardy encodes that prohibition as a function of fate or nature. Aunt Drusilla warns: "Jude, my child, don't you ever marry. Tisn't for the Fawleys to take that step any more" (1.2.9). Hardy himself defined his concern in the novel as "the tragic issues of two bad marriages, owing in the main to a doom or curse of hereditary temperament peculiar to the family of the partners." The idea of hereditary taint reproduces in the narrator's attitudes the same conflicts that doom Jude. Such fatalistic discourse disguises the extent to which actual institutions coerce and thwart individuals, a process traced throughout the novel, which contemporaneous critics rightly recognized as a trenchant attack on authoritarian social practices and institutions.

That attack begins in the early events of the novel when Jude is hired to scare away the rooks come to peck the grain in Farmer Troutham's field. "His heart grew sympathetic with the birds' thwarted desires" (1.2.11), and he lets them feed until surprised by his angry employer who beats him. That beating, which chastens desire, initiates Jude's reluctance to become a man, at least a man fashioned after the class models most readily available to him.

In the process of formulating his identity, Jude fastens on Christminster and becoming a "university graduate," "the necessary hallmark of a man who wants to do anything in teaching" (1.1.4). Both are associated with Mr. Phillotson, his early model, and both are utterly distinguished from his current life, substituting as they do a middle-class for a lower-class model of manhood. Ironically, his aunt puts the idea in his head that such an occupation might suit her "poor boy." After Troutham fires Jude, she complains: "Jude, Jude, why didstn't go off with that schoolmaster of thine to Christminster or somewhere?" (1.2.14). He reverently anticipates that "Christminster shall be my Alma Mater; and I'll be her beloved son, in whom she shall be well pleased" (1.6.41). Although the Latin makes the school his mother, in fact, by entering Christminster, Jude would embrace an established patriarchal tradition, a fact underscored in the Biblical passage that Jude's rhetoric echoes: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:17).

Hardy frames the larger issue of Jude's struggle with social codes by stressing his desire to learn the languages of the past. Jude will master Latin and Greek with the goal of ultimately being authorized to speak as an educated, middle-class man. Latin, in particular, holds power over him even before he knows anything about it except its ascribed value. His longing for that authority culminates in a fanciful idea of Christminster as a "new Jerusalem" (1.3.20) and as a "mistress" (1.3.22) who is beckoning him to his fulfillment. The intensity with which Jude applies himself to these dead languages reveals their power, which is not simply the authoritatively persuasive word of his "fathers" and of the past, but quickly becomes an internally persuasive word guiding Jude's first major struggle toward self-definition. His ability to use Latin and to understand Latin will determine his behavior at later moments of crisis.

Until he is nineteen, Jude's sexual impulses are held completely in abeyance by his infatuation for the scholastic life. But Jude's encounter with Arabella Donn temporarily displaces the authority of intellectual discourse with another ideology. Generally, Jude's distraction has been interpreted as a capitulation to his natural sexual instincts, what the narrator characterizes as "The unvoiced call of woman to man, which … held Jude to the spot against his intention—almost against his will" (1.6.44). But sexual desire is not, in fact, what traps Jude. Notably, he is never the sexual aggressor with Arabella; she sees all his advances as "rather mild!" (1.7.52), and she has to plot rather cleverly to bring him to the point.

Two cultural paradigms of masculinity motivate Jude's divided drives. The first dictates that a "natural" man will find the stimulus of a proximate woman sufficient to arouse strong sexual desire, and it cuts across classes. The second involves the rhetoric of chivalric or honorable love and courtship and belongs more properly to the middle and upper classes. According to the first essentialist discourse, men are sexually different from women. Even Phillotson, a middle-aged, staid scholar, can consummate and reconsummate his marriage with a rigid and unresponsive Sue Bridehead. He, after all, is a "man." Thus, although the rhetoric of the novel presents Jude's weakness for women as a fault, it also insists on that "weakness" or susceptibility as important evidence of manliness. When Jude fails to live up to other discursive formulations of his masculinity, this one never fails him, as we shall discover in the crucial final scenes of the novel.

Surprisingly, this rhetoric of manliness is not undercut by the behavior of Arabella Donn, who is always equally ready to engage in sexual relations. We may attribute that curious gap to the presence of the second authoritative discourse we have identified. When Jude becomes sexually involved with Arabella, he simultaneously becomes entangled in another discourse of manliness whose hall-mark is romance, chivalry, and honor: "It was better to love a woman than to be a graduate, or a parson; ay, or a pope!" (1.7.53). These two discourses cooperate to construct the "gentle-man," a middle-class ideal. Notably, Phillotson is as bound by the second discourse as Jude; it initially determines his decision to let Sue leave him to go to Jude. He justifies his decision to Gillingham in the following way: "I don't think you are in a position to give an opinion. I have been that man, and it makes all the difference in the world, if one has any manliness or chivalry in him" (4.4.278).

Jude's susceptibility to the chivalric code of helpless women and protective and honorable men allows Arabella to use her claim of pregnancy to trap him into marriage. In spite of the fact that Jude knows too well "that Arabella was not worth a great deal as a specimen of womankind," "he was ready to abide by what he had said, and take the consequences" and "save [her] ready or no" (1.9.65, 70). His susceptibility to this discourse—a function of his middle-class aspirations—distinguishes Jude's "finer" aspirations and sensibilities from the "peasant cynicism" of country women like Arabella and Aunt Drusilla. According to their discourse, he is a "simple fool" (1.9.65) and "poor silly fellow" (1.9.66). When Arabella's plot is revealed, Jude vaguely ponders not his own folly, but "something wrong in a social ritual" (1.9.70). In fact, Jude's construction of manliness betrays him because he applies a middle-class ethic to Arabella's classic peasant ruse.

After Jude should have learned the bankruptcy of this patriarchal code of male honor and female victims—in its inapplicability to his relationship with Arabella where he is the defenseless innocent and she the practiced seducer—it seems inexplicably naive of him to persist in it. Yet such persistence provides another example of the ways in which authoritative discourses becomes internally persuasive. Indeed, Jude clings to such constructions both because they define him as middle-class and because they define him as masculine (not simply as male). Jude learns from Arabella not to question the adequacy of such formulations but only to "feel dissatisfied with himself as a man at what he had done" (1.10.76).

Such class and gender constructions of his masculinity come to seem essential to Jude's identity. When Arabella and Jude separate at her instigation, Jude returns to his dream of education in Christminster, motivated by another pair of self-images. First, he reaffirms his dream of modeling his manhood and embourgeoisement on the schoolteacher, Phillotson. In addition, he pursues an elusive superiority and gender neutrality figured by his middle-class cousin, Sue Bridehead, whom he has seen only in a photograph. The narrator explains this new motive as "more nearly related to the emotional side of him than to the intellectual, as is often the case with young men." It really is surprising that Jude should be led to Christminster by a photograph, especially after his disastrous marriage. But we accept the motive, I believe, because we recognize that Sue offers an alternative version of his problematic self. She is like Jude, after all, also "of the inimical branch of the family" (2.1.90).

Entering Christminster at evening, Jude immediately feels himself in the presence of "those other sons of the place" (2.1.93), a kind of patrillineage that seems to promise accommodation for a humble laborer. But in the morning, "he found that the colleges had treacherously changed their sympathetic countenances.… The spirits of the great men had disappeared" (2.2.97). Although Jude is momentarily impressed by the dignity of manual labor, what the narrator calls a "true illumination"—that the "stone yard was a centre of effort as worthy as that dignified by the name of scholarly study within the noblest of colleges"—he soon loses this impression "under the stress of his old idea" (2.2.98). Ironically, this discourse of manual labor's dignity stems from the middle-class intellectual elite, and the very condescension implicit in the perspective undermines its validity. So the narrator reproduces in his own rhetoric the conflicts that will doom Jude. Because Jude will be a manual laborer denied access to scholarly pursuits, the gap opened up will lead him increasingly to Sue as an authentic alternative. Not surprisingly, then, no sooner is Jude aware of the gap between his aspirations and his pursuits than his passion for Sue intensifies. He insists his aunt send his cousin's portrait, "kissed it—he did not know why—and felt more at home.… It was … the one thing uniting him to the emotions of the living city" (2.2.99).

This extraordinary scene of alienation and "at homeness" makes Sue pivotal to the construction of Jude's identity. Jude's claim of blood and emotional kinship (she "belongs" to him) suggests that his investment in her is deeply tied to his gender identity (2.2.103). Before meeting her, Jude has already internalized Sue's being as essential to his own subjecthood, a process intensified by his aunt's prohibition that "he was not to bring disturbance into the family by going to see the girl" (2.2.99). Sue represents what is in him but also what he is not to seek in himself, which is here coded as the feminine. His desire to discover that alternative, of course, results from his frustrations with both lower-class social definitions of manhood and the conflicts introduced by middle-class codes. When he first locates Sue, he "recognized in the accents certain qualities of his own voice." (2.2.103) [my emphasis]. Later Jude sees Sue, dressed in his clothes, as "a slim and fragile being masquerading as himself on a Sunday" (3.3.173). He affirms, "Yo u are just like me at heart!" (4.1.243). Phillotson corroborates the "extraordinary sympathy, or similarity, between the pair.… They seem to be one person split in two!" (4.4.276). Jude appropriates Sue to ground his floundering self in her "social and spiritual possibilities" (2.3.107).

Jude alternates between reflections on Sue as an "ideality" or a "divinity"—totally divorced from the coarse Arabella—and sexual longings for her. The tension in Jude's view has often been interpreted as stemming from Sue's "inconsistency"—her waxing hot and cold, her frigidity coupled with her desire for attention. But this approach to her character as a charming neurotic tends to ignore her fictional, cultural, and tendentious construction. I propose, instead, that the tension within the narrator's depiction of Sue reflects Jude's complex investment in her, which also causes him to hide from her his marriage to Arabella.

The urgent need Jude feels for Sue stems from his increasingly precarious sense of masculine identity and social significance. Comparing Christminster's "town life" to its "gown life" (2.6.139), he characterizes the former as the "real Christminster life" (2.7.141). The text implies that, if Jude were not possessed by "the modern vice of unrest" (2.2.98), not a "paltry victim of the spirit of mental and social restlessness" (6.1.393-94), he might be able to have a more authentic existence, that is, one grounded in a secure sense of who and what he is. At such moments, the narrator seems implicated in the same ideological illusions and conflicts that condemn Jude. The idea of an authentic existence is problematic in the text. Thus, Jude flounders among social markers for masculine identity and increasingly turns to Sue as the source of his meaning, finally concluding, "with Sue as companion he could have renounced his ambitions with a smile" (2.6.137). Of course, Jude is naive to believe he can easily renounce his ambitions; they are already too important to his self-concept, as we shall see.

In the novel's first half, Jude progresses from would-be intellectual, to honorable young husband (Marygreen), to would-be intellectual again (Christminster), to would-be ecclesiastic (Melchester)—each stage dominated by a particular authoritative discourse that promises to make a man of Jude. All the while Jude keeps in reserve his dream of Sue as a means to construct a self outside un-satisfactory patriarchal models: "To keep Sue Bridehead near him was now a desire which operated without regard of consequences" (2.4.121). Only the force of his need explains why Jude cannot tell Sue of his marriage to Arabella and must instead project his failure and secreti veness onto her as her inconsistency. When he finally and belatedly informs her and lamely excuses himself—"It seemed cruel to tell it"—she justly rebukes him, "To yourself, Jude. So it was better to be cruel to me!" (3.6.198).

When Jude finally reveals his marriage to Arabella, he also begins to generalize about Sue as a "woman." Such generalizations characterize the two points in the narrative when Jude must defend himself against separation from Sue, first here and then at the end of the novel. Previously, Sue has been represented in a more gender-neutral way, as a "tomboy," who joins boys in their exploits, or as a "comrade" with a "curious unconsciousness of gender" (3.4.179), who mixes with men "almost as one of their own sex" (3.4.177). Impelled to defend his own sexuality, Jude now stresses Sue's need to exercise "those narrow womanly humours on impulse that were necessary to give her sex" (3.6.200). Sue both is and is not a typical woman depending on Jude's psychosocial investment in her. At those points when he fears he will lose her, he tends to brand her typical of her sex to distance himself from his need for her. He repeats this distancing act at Susanna's marriage to Phillotson: "Women were different from men in such matters. Was it that they were, instead of more sensitive, as reported, more callous and less romantic?" (3.7.209).

Sue's self-generalizations as woman have a somewhat different textual function. She says, for example, in reference to herself, "some women's love of being loved is insatiable" (4.1.245). Such comments reinforce Jude's characterizations of Sue as asexual "spirit," a "disembodied creature," a "dear, sweet, tantalizing phantom—hardly flesh at all" (4.5.294). The spiritualization preserves her as the endlessly desired object, a Shelleyan Epipsyche. The text demands, above all, "the elusiveness of her curious double nature" (4.2.251).

The last half of the novel focuses the tension between Jude's need to be the man his culture demands and his desire to locate a more fulfilling existence outside custom and convention. When Jude argues his similarity to his cousin—"for you are just like me at heart"—she demurs, "But not at head." And when he insists, "we are both alike," she corrects him, "Not in our thoughts" (4.1.243). Their disagreement arises because Sue's attractiveness disrupts but cannot displace the categories of masculinity Jude has already internalized. Jude is drawn in two directions because he can never fully abandon the categories of thought he has imbibed from his culture.

Constructed as an outsider to patriarchal culture, Sue can articulate social tensions that Jude can then increasingly recognize. She argues, "the social moulds civilization fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns" (4.1.246-47). When Sue asks Jude, hypothetically, if a woman with a repugnance for her husband ought "to try to overcome her pruderies," he responds in contradictory ways, "speaking as an orderloving man … I should say yes. Speaking from experience and unbiased nature, I should say no" (4.2.252). Shortly thereafter, under pressure of his love for Sue, Jude announces, "my doctrines and I begin to part company" (4.2.258). After he passionately kisses Sue, Jude realizes that "he was as unfit, obviously by nature, as he had been by social position, to fill the part of a propounder of accredited dogma." Yet barred by Sue's marriage to Phillotson and his own marriage to Arabella, Jude has recourse to the category of "woman" to explain his difficulties: "Strange that his first aspiration—toward academical proficiency—had been checked by a woman, and that his second aspiration—toward apostleship—had also been checked by a woman. 'Is it,' he said, 'that women are to blame.'" (4.3.261).

The conclusion, "women are to blame," lodges Jude's reasoning within a traditional framework that takes him back to the Garden of Eden, Genesis, and Eve's temptation and fall. Although Jude should reject a discourse so inadequate to his experience, instead he reauthorizes its tenets on women. Such constructions are so essential to his subjectivity that they cannot be completely abandoned. Indeed, it is important to Jude that "he might go on believing as before but he professed nothing" (4.3.262, my italics).

The role of women as temptresses in this narrative corresponds to an ideology of masculinity that suggests sex is, for a man, a snare that leads first to entrapment, then disillusionment, and even damnation. As we have seen, a deep ideological subtext of the novel argues that a "man" is inherently disposed toward sexual relations and will find women a lure to physical intimacy. The fact that sexual familiarity may culminate in contempt does not prevent his being ready to behave sexually on the next encounter. A companion ideology stipulates that, whatever his feelings, a "gentle-man" will then behave honorably toward the "victimized" woman. The logic of these interlocking ideologies supports Jude's sexual relations with Arabella, both initially and following a chance encounter after several years' separation.

Jude's embrace of the gentlemanly ethic allows the lower-class Arabella repeatedly to exploit him. Similarly, when Arabella later appeals to Jude to follow her to her hotel to hear her story, and Sue objects, Jude argues: "I shall certainly give her something, and hear what it is she is so anxious to tell me; no man could do less!" (5.2.318). Arabella pronounces, "Never such a tender fool as Jude is if a woman seems in trouble" (5.2.324).

All of Jude's justifications of his behavior produce essentialist views of men and women. When Sue asks, "Why should you take such trouble for a woman who has served you so badly," he responds, "But, Sue, she's a woman, and I once cared for her; and one [a man] can't be a brute in such circumstances" (5.2.319). In response to Sue's accusation that his behavior is "gross," Jude replies, "Yo u don't understand me either—women never do!" (4.5.293). By generalizing from "you"—Sue—to "women," Jude also implicitly generalizes from "me"—Jude—to "men." Women do not understand men or male sexuality.

Jude's determination to fulfill a "man's" obligations to Arabella exerts a sexual coercion on Sue, who precipitously agrees to sleep with Jude to erase Arabella's claims on him. When Sue capitulates, Jude transfers to her his sexual allegiance and chivalric code. Arabella is no longer "a woman" but her clever self: "You haven't the least idea how Arabella is able to shift for herself" (5.2.322).

The sexual possession of Sue marks a crux in the novel and in Jude's self-construction. It permits him to define his male "nature" as one given to sensual indulgence—wine, women, and blasphemy. But he also aspires to a value outside a carnal construction of his masculinity that he locates in his relations with Sue. He tells her: "All that's best and noblest in me loves you, and your freedom from everything that's gross has elevated me, and enabled me to do what I should never have dreamt myself capable of, or any man, a year or two ago" (5.2.320, my italics). The kinship Jude feels for this female self allows him to move beyond the patriarchal imprimatur, defining an identity he had not believed accessible to himself or any man. In the "nomadic" phase of their life together, Jude "was mentally approaching the position which Sue had occupied when he first met her" (5.7.373).

Their kinship will be undermined by the cultural codes that define Jude's masculinity. Although Jude is represented as sharing Sue's anxiety about the constraints of marriage, his behavior is simultaneously shaped by Biblical injunctions on manhood: "For what man is he that hath betrothed a wife and hath not taken her?" (5.4.338). And although the couple is exquisitely happy in their life together—returned, in Sue's words, to "Greek joyousness" (5.5.358)—Jude reveals his continuing attraction to Christminster in the Model of Cardinal College he and Sue have made for the Wessex Agricultural Show. Despite the narrator's insistence on Jude's independence of thought, he chooses to bake "Christminster cakes" when he is pressed for employment after his illness. Arabella neatly pinpoints his continuing obsession and slavery to his former ideals: "Still harping on Christminster—even in his cakes.… Just like Jude. A ruling passion." Sue admits: "Of course Christminster is a sort of fixed vision with him, which I suppose he'll never be cured of believing in. He still thinks it a great centre of high and fearless thought, instead of what it is, a nest of commonplace schoolmasters whose characteristic is timid obsequiousness to tradition" (5.7.376).

Arabella's accidental meeting with Phillotson, immediately following her rencontre with Sue, sets the stage for the series of reversals or "returns" that conclude the novel. Her crude invocation of Old Testament law and learning as a model for contemporary behavior prepares us for the way in which Jude, as well as Phillotson, will be drawn back to the authority and consequence held out to them as men in a patriarchal society. Arabella states: "There's nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf taskmaster for taming us women. Besides, you've got the laws on your side Moses knew.… 'Then shall the man be guiltless; but the woman shall bear her iniquity'" (5.8.384). Arabella's addendum—"Damn rough on us women; but we must grin and put up wi' it!"—comfortably accepts a damaging gender bifurcation that Jude and even Phillotson have struggled to overcome in their response to Sue Bridehead. When Sue questions, "Why should you care so much for Christminster?" Jude replies: "I can't help it. I love the place.… it is the centre of the universe to me, because of my early dream.… I should like to go back to live there—perhaps to die there!" (5.8.386). Part 5 culminates with the realization of his dream to return there; Part 6 culminates with the realization of his dream to die there.

We, too, ask Sue's questions: why does Jude suddenly develop a passionate desire to return to Christminster for this Remembrance Day, and why does he return in a way so entirely forgetful of Sue and his children? Then, why does Jude persist in his resolve to seek work in Christminster after it has become the scene of his grotesque tragedy and can serve only as a reminder of that tragedy? In fact, the text occludes these questions and shifts focus to Sue Bridehead's intellectual, sexual, and emotional degradation. But there are significant ideological implications in that textual strategy. These breaks and shifts reveal their inner logic if we keep our eye on Jude's alternating evasion and pursuit of manhood.

Jude's return to Christminster spells a rejection of Sue and a reembrace of the patriarchal discourse that originally attracted him. Whereas on one level it seems absurd to say that Jude has rejected Sue since he pleads for her emotional and physical return to him, the subtext of the novel argues differently. By returning to Christminster, Jude privileges a hierarchic order in opposition to his more egalitarian relationship with Sue. Indeed, by delaying the search for housing, he shifts the burden of their relationship onto Sue, who bears the visible evidence of their three children and her pregnancy while he again becomes, in effect, the unencumbered novice who first entered the city several years earlier. When he again seeks lodging in his old quarter, Beersheba, he continues to replicate his earlier patterns. The unbearable poignancy of the novel's last section derives not only from the representation of Sue's collapse but also from the painful tension between Jude's embrace and rejection of Sue, a rejection that demands the collapse of her textual function as a significant alternative.

Jude longs for the spirit of the law, but is drawn to the letter as primary ground of his identity. Jude finally seeks an authority to define the meaning of his life, and he must do that from within the system, from a position that validates the system and its judgments of him as a failed man who has "missed everything." This final need for authority explains Jude's return to Christminster. Jude wants that intellectual milieu to frame the tragic limitation of his manhood. If, as Sue says, Christminster is only a "nest of commonplace schoolmasters," then Jude's life is a relative success. To give his life the tragic cast he favors, he must reauthorize Christminster. Relationship with Sue originally provided a focal point for a critique of authoritative discourse. Now that relationship, in its domestic and quotidian aspects, cuts away the ground of meaning necessary to Jude's "tragedy." The triumphant tragedy of Jude's life is only apparent when inscribed within the dominant, authoritative discourse of Christminster. It is under that authority that he can echo Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in summarizing his life: "However, it was my poverty and not my will that consented to be beaten. It takes two or three generations to do what I tried to do in one" (6.1.393).

The narrative sequence supports a reading of Jude's return to Christminster as a rejection of Sue Bridehead. First, Jude chooses to return on Remembrance Day when the city is teeming with visitors. Upon arrival he initially insists that "the first thing is lodgings," but he quickly abandons that goal in his desire to hurry to the procession, ignoring Sue's demurral: "Oughtn't we to get a house over our heads first?" Although "his soul seemed full of the anniversary," Jude announces that Remembrance Day is really "Humiliation Day for me!" a "lesson in presumption," an image of his own "failure" (6.1.390). Of course, to see his failure is also to see the possibility of success, to see that he might have become "a son of the University." The Alma Mater as pater familias. As it begins to rain and "Sue again wished not to stay," Jude grows more enthusiastic as he rediscovers old friends and reevaluates his life. He says he is "in a chaos of principles—groping in the dark—acting by instinct and not after example" (6.1.394), thereby grounding his identity in the context of Christminster and its definitions of success. Through that prism he reexamines his life, granting to Christminster authority to write his "romance," the middle-class tragic romance of the common man: "I' m an outsider to the end of my days!" (6.1.396).

Throughout the entire day, through thunderstorms and drenchings, Jude ignores his pale, reluctant wife and his several children to bask once more in the reflected glory of Christminster, "to catch a few words of the Latin," and so, in spirit, join the fraternity that has otherwise excluded him. He may tell Sue that "I'll never care any more about the infernal cursed place," but as they belatedly begin to search for lodgings, Jude is drawn to "Mildew Lane," close to the back of a college, a spot he finds "irresistible" and Sue "not so fascinating" (6.1.396). She is finally housed outside Sarcophagus and Rubric Colleges, Hardy's symbolically appropriate names, and she contemplates "the strange operation of a simple-minded man's ruling passion, that it should have led Jude, who loved her and the children so tenderly, to place them here in this depressing purlieu, because he was still haunted by his dream" (6.2.401). Jude's pursuit of his "dream" has left Sue and the children terribly exposed, and the events culminate in Father Time's suicide and murder of the other two children. Sue claims responsibility for these tragic events and neither the narrator nor Jude disputes her interpretation, yet responsibility really belongs to Jude who, in returning to Christminster, rejected Sue and his children for his old "dream."

Sue now takes on the narrative function of justifying Jude: "M y poor Jude—how you've missed everything!—you more than I, for I did get you! To think you should know that [the chorus of the Agamemnon] by your unassisted reading, and yet be in poverty and despair!" (6.2.409). There is nothing in the narrative that contradicts Sue's assessment. Thus the text can endorse the position that Jude "missed everything" while Sue, in getting Jude, apparently "got" what she wanted. It is ironic that she, who was supposed to be what he wanted, now stands debased, as the coin he received for his labors, an emblem of what riches he has missed.

It is a further irony that the only blame Jude accepts is for "seducing" Sue, a grotesque reinterpretation of his desire for Sue. He claims, "I have seemed to myself lately … to belong to that vast band of men shunned by the virtuous—the men called seducers.… Yes, Sue—that's what I am. I seduced you.… Yo u were a distinct type—a refined creature, intended by Nature to be left intact" (6.3.414). The idea of Jude as seducer presents an absurd reduction of their complex relationship with its twin fulfillments of independence and happiness. But a reconstruction of the scenario with himself as seducer serves the function of reconstructing yet another social aspect of Jude's manhood.

As Jude adopts these conventional, middle-class gender terms, he deprives Sue of any meaningful textual role outside parallel gender stereotypes, which dictate that the chaste but violated female move toward self-sacrificing, punitive, masochistic degradation. We return, once more, to the generalizations about women that were absent during the long emotional and sexual intimacy between Jude and Sue: "Is woman a thinking unit at all, or a fraction always wanting its integer?" (6.3.424). The text's positioning of comments like this one suggests that Sue's function as desirable other, a space free from the socially coded and rigid definition of manhood, has been exhausted or used up. In order for Jude to reclaim the construction of his manhood implicit first in Christminster and then in his relationship with Arabella, Sue must be reinterpreted as merely a pathetic woman whose mind has become unhinged. Hence, her "inconsistency."

This strict sexual bifurcation figures in the novel's closing rhetoric. Sue says to Jude, "Your wickedness was only the natural man's desire to possess the woman" (6.3.426). And , on Sue's return, Phillotson says ominously, "I know woman better now" (6.5.442). Sue accounts for her own role in the relationship by admitting to an "inborn craving which undermines some women's morals.… the craving to attract and captivate, regardless of the injury it may do the man" (6.3.426).

Jude returns to the twin evils of his life, his "two Arch Enemies … my weakness for womankind and my impulse to strong liquor" (6.3.427). He embraces in his Christminster dreams and the cruel reality of marriage to Arabella the same constricting construction of his man-hood which figured prominently in the opening pages of the novel. Although drunk, Jude calls up the established discourse of manliness to justify remarrying Arabella: "I' d marry the W -of Babylon rather than do anything dishonourable.… marry her I will, so help me God!… I am not a man who wants to save himself at the expense of the weaker among us!" (6.7.461-62). By sacrificing himself to the sham of this "meretricious contract with Arabella," Jude, of course, preserves a definition of manhood essential to his identity.

The honor, the rectitude, the righteousness, and the learning that Jude claims as the hallmarks of his middle-class manhood allow him to die with the words of Job on his lips: "Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived" (6.11.488). Such an invocation accords well with the other discourses Jude has previously embraced.

In Jude the Obscure, Hardy has given us a novel in which the authoritatively persuasive word ultimately becomes the internally persuasive one in the construction of one man's subjectivity. In the process, Hardy has revealed masculinity as a cultural and social class construct, one that coerces and limits individuals even as it holds out the irresistible promise of conferring definitive meaning on their lives. In Jude's longing for Sue, Hardy has made us feel the poignant desire for a self free from such coercive definitions, the need for some more flexible way to confront the problem of "growing up … to be a man," for some way to feel satisfied with himself as a man (1.2.15). In Sue's emotional and intellectual collapse, which proleptically justifies Jude's return to the Christminster way, he has made us feel the virtual impossibility of any individual defining himself in opposition to the dominant culture of his or her society. Jude's death and Sue's degradation, the events concluding the novel, arrest but do not resolve the text's testing of discursive formulations of gender paradigms. The anticipated unfolding of a subject proves to be an involution, a collapse inward resisted only by social practices and discourses that mock the idea of individual self-determination and locate self-fulfillment in death.

Early in her relationship with Jude, Sue Bridehead claims that, "We are a little beforehand, that's all" (5.4.345). In fact, she is only partly right; Jude and Sue are constructed by die very terms they seek to transcend. The lingering sadness of this novel lies in its apprehension of the ways destructive cultural self-constructions ultimately reach out to claim them, the ways, indeed, they are always already within, crucial to the formation and development of individual subjecthood and therefore perilous to reject. This modern understanding of the problematic subject and the material basis for subjectivity allows Hardy to give us a trenchant interrogation of the cultural construction of gender paradigms and their often contradictory inflections by class. It also allows him to generate a new form of tragic irony in the disparity between what we can understand and aspire to and what we can ultimately become—undermined, as we are, from within. Hardy's depiction of this ineluctable dilemma of identity gives him a distinctive place in the Victorian canon and suggests significant links with a modern sensibility, which has been acknowledged in his poetry but not so readily in his novels. In this regard, we may recognize Hardy as both the most modern of Victorians, and, in the poignancy of his final novel, the most Victorian of moderns.

Further Reading

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Adelman, Gary. Jude the Obscure: A Paradise of Despair. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992, 137 p.

Summarizes the historical context and critical reception of Jude the Obscure, followed by an interpretive reading of the novel that highlights its prevailing mood of despair.

Alden, Patricia. "A Short Story Prelude to Jude the Obscure: More Light on the Genesis of Hardy's Last Novel." Colby Library Quarterly XIX , No. 1 (March 1983): 45-52.

Observes the "germ" of Jude the Obscure in Hardy's short story "A Tragedy of Two Ambitions."

Bloom, Harold, ed. Thomas Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure.' New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987, 152 p.

Collection of nine critical essays on Jude the Obscure.

Dellamora, Richard. "Male Relations in Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure." Papers on Language & Literature: A Journal for Scholars and Critics of Language and Literature 27, No. 4 (Fall 1991): 453-72.

Studies the juxtaposition of erotic and ambitious male desire in Jude the Obscure.

Freeman, Janet H. "Highways and Cornfields: Space and Time in the Narration of Jude the Obscure." Colby Library Quarterly XXVII , No. 2 (June 1991): 161-73.

Argues the ultimate congruence of "space, time, and narrativity in Jude the Obscure."

Giordano, Frank R., Jr. "Jude the Obscure and the Bildungsroman" Studies in the Novel IV , No. 4 (Winter 1972): 580-91.

Seeks "a unifying formal principle in Jude the Obscure by examining the novel in relation to … the Bildungsroman, the novel of development and education."

Hassett, Michael E. "Compromised Romanticism in Jude the Obscure." Nineteenth-Century Fiction 25, No. 4 (March 1971): 432-43.

Contends that the lives of Jude Fawley and Sue Bride-head form a critique of "the Romantics' faith in the power of transcending or transforming imagination."

Ingham, Patricia. "Introduction." In Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, pp. xi-xxii. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Percieves Jude the Obscure as critical of the three major forces operating in late Victorian society: class, patriarchy, and Christianity.

Kincaid, James R. "Girl-watching, Child-beating and Other Exercises for Readers of Jude the Obscure." In The Sense of Sex: Feminist Perspectives on Hardy, edited by Margaret R. Higonnet, pp. 132-48. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.

Studies the topics of homicidal voyeurism and sadism directed toward children in Jude the Obscure.

Lodge, David. "Jude the Obscure: Permission and Fictional Form." In Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Thomas Hardy, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1979, pp. 193-201.

Presents several key scenes in the novel as evidence that the form of Jude the Obscure "works to articulate and reinforce the pessimism of its vision of life."

Millgate, Michael. "Jude the Obscure." In Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist, pp. 317-35. New York: Random House, 1971.

Evaluates the narrative technique and structure of Jude the Obscure.

Paterson, John. "The Genesis of Jude the Obscure." Studies in Philology 57, No. 1 (January 1960): 87-98.

Uses manuscript evidence to suggest the development of Jude the Obscure from a critique of the Victorian educational system into a work that takes "an equally critical examination of the sacrament and institution of marriage."

Schwartz, Barry N. "Jude the Obscure in the Age of Anxiety." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 X, No. 4 (Autumn 1970): 793-804.

Analyzes Jude the Obscure as a "modern epic" that endeavors to explore "the realities of twentieth-century life."

Steig, Michael. "Sue Bridehead." Novel: A Forum on Fiction 1, No. 3 (Spring 1968): 260-66.

Offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of Sue Bridehead and proposes that she is an aesthetically coherent example of the "hysterical character."

Watts, Cedric. Thomas Hardy: 'Jude the Obscure.' London: Penguin Books, 1992, 132 p.

Provides extensive biographical, textual, critical, and contextual information relating to Jude the Obscure.

—."Hardy's Sue Bridehead and the 'New Woman.'" Critical Survey 5, No. 2 (1993): 152-56.

Investigates Hardy's depiction of Sue Bridehead as a proto-feminist 'New Woman,' a "young woman who is educated, intelligent, emancipated in ideas and in morality, and who is resistant to the conventional notion that marriage and maternity should be the goal of any normal female's progress."

The following sources published by Gale Research contain additional coverage of Hardy's life and career: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104,123; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1890-1914; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 18, 19, 135; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors: British Editon; Discovering Authors: Canadian Edition; Discovering Most-Studied Authors; Discovering Novelists; Discovering Poets; Major 20th-century Writers; Poetry Criticism, Vol. 8; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 2; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 4, 10, 18, 32, 48, 53; and World Literature Criticism.

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Jude the Obscure