Jude the Obscure
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Original title page of Jude the Obscure
|Original title||The Simpletons|
|Publisher||Osgood, McIlvaine, & Co.|
|Preceded by||Tess of the d'Urbervilles|
|Followed by||The Well-Beloved|
Jude the Obscure is a novel by Thomas Hardy, which began as a magazine serial in December 1894 and was first published in book form in 1895. It is Hardy's last completed novel. Its protagonist, Jude Fawley, is a working-class young man, a stonemason, who dreams of becoming a scholar. The other main character is his cousin, Sue Bridehead, who is also his central love interest. The novel is concerned in particular with issues of class, education, religion, morality and marriage.
The novel tells the story of Jude Fawley, who lives in a village in southern England (part of Hardy's fictional county of Wessex), who yearns to be a scholar at "Christminster", a city modelled on Oxford. As a youth, Jude teaches himself Classical Greek and Latin in his spare time, while working first in his great-aunt's bakery, with the hope of entering university. But before he can try to do this the naïve Jude is seduced by Arabella Donn, a rather coarse, morally lax and superficial local girl who traps him into marriage by pretending to be pregnant. The marriage is a failure, and Arabella leaves Jude and later emigrates to Australia, where she enters into a bigamous marriage. By this time, Jude has abandoned his classical studies.
After Arabella leaves him, Jude moves to Christminster and supports himself as a mason while studying alone, hoping to be able to enter the university later. There, he meets and falls in love with his free-spirited cousin, Sue Bridehead. But, shortly after this, Jude introduces Sue to his former schoolteacher, Mr. Phillotson, whom she eventually is persuaded to marry, despite the fact that he is some twenty years her senior. However, she soon regrets this, because in addition to being in love with Jude, she is horrified by the notion of sex with her husband. Sue soon asks Phillotson for permission to leave him for Jude, which he grants, once he realizes how unwilling she is to fulfill what he believes are her marital duties to him. Because of this scandal — the fact Phillotson willingly allows his wife to leave for another man — Phillotson has to give up his career as a schoolmaster.
Sue and Jude spend some time living together without any sexual relationship. This is because of Sue's dislike both of sex and the institution of marriage. Soon after, Arabella reappears having fled her Australian husband, who managed a hotel in Sydney, and this complicates matters. Arabella and Jude divorce and she legally marries her bigamous husband, and Sue also is divorced. However, following this, Arabella reveals that she had a child of Jude's, eight months after they separated, and subsequently sends this child to his father. He is named Jude and nicknamed "Little Father Time" because of his intense seriousness and lack of humour.
Jude eventually convinces Sue to sleep with him and, over the years, they have two children together and expect a third. But Jude and Sue are socially ostracised for living together unmarried, especially after the children are born. Jude's employers dismiss him because of the illicit relationship, and the family is forced into a nomadic lifestyle, moving from town to town across Wessex seeking employment and housing before eventually returning to Christminster. Their socially troubled boy, "Little Father Time", comes to believe that he and his half-siblings are the source of the family's woes. The morning after their arrival in Christminster, he murders Sue's two children and kills himself by hanging. He leaves behind a note that simply reads, "Done because we are too menny." Shortly thereafter, Sue has a miscarriage.
Beside herself with grief and blaming herself for "Little Father Time"'s actions, Sue turns to the church that she has rebelled against and comes to believe that the children's deaths were divine retribution for her relationship with Jude. Although horrified at the thought of resuming her marriage with Phillotson, she becomes convinced that, for religious reasons, she should never have left him. Arabella discovers Sue's feelings and informs Phillotson, who soon proposes they remarry. This results in Sue leaving Jude once again for Phillotson, and she punishes herself by allowing herself sex with her husband. Jude is devastated and remarries Arabella after she plies him with alcohol to once again trick him into marriage.
After one final, desperate visit to Sue in freezing weather, Jude becomes seriously ill and dies within the year in Christminster, thwarted in his ambition to achieve fame in his studies as well as in his love. It is revealed that Sue has grown "staid and worn" with Phillotson. Arabella fails to mourn Jude's passing, instead setting the stage to ensnare her next suitor.
The events of Jude the Obscure occur over a 19-year period, but no dates are specifically given in the novel.[note 1] Aged 11 at the beginning of the novel, by the time of his death Jude seems much older than his thirty years – for he has experienced so much disappointment and grief in his total life experience. It would seem that his burdens exceeded his sheer ability to survive, much less to triumph.
The novel explores several social problems in Victorian England, especially those relating to the institutions of marriage, the Church, and education. These themes are developed in particular through Hardy's use of contrast. For example, at the beginning of their relationship, Jude's Christian faith contrasts with Sue's religious scepticism, a contrast which is heightened even further by their later role-reversal. Although the central characters represent both perspectives, the novel as a whole is firmly critical of Christianity and social institutions in general.
By tracking Jude’s trajectory throughout the novel, the reader is enlightened to Hardy’s bleak view of organized religion. Jude, from his origins in Marygreen, always found religion to be the end game of an otherwise troublesome and uninteresting life. But, as seen through his systematic exclusion from the educational organization of Christminster, Jude’s dream of entering the church would prove to be unattainable, leaving him to pursue other, less fulfilling interests. A similar track can be seen in Hardy’s treatment of the traditional institution of marriage. From the original pairing of Arabella and Jude to their eventual reunion, Hardy depicts marriage as a crushing force which, although a social necessity, finds little home other than to propel the character’s downward spiral into unhappiness. Organized religion, as Hardy argues, is a system which actively complicates and obstructs the ambitions of our protagonists.
If one were to step back from these tangible institutions, the more encompassing themes of faith and doubt play an equally important role in the novel; both of these, in fact, are similar in that they are catalysts for action. Whenever a character proclaims faith in something, that something is pursued. Similarly, when a character doubts something, that is pursued. In the book, doubt can be viewed as a transfer of faith; whenever a character is doubting, they are simply deciding to put their faith in something else. Because the book has no universal standard of morality or value system, there is no black and white. Whatever the character believes in is what they pursue, whether or not it conflicts with the beliefs of another character. As an exemplification of this idea, one can turn to Sue’s final decision to leave Jude. In the final part of the novel, because of a change in her beliefs, Sue discovers that she is committed only to Mr. Phillotson. Because she puts faith in something else, in this case religion (and therefore marriage), she takes action in a completely different direction than before.
Although Hardy claimed that "no book he had ever written contained less of his own life", contemporary reviewers found several parallels between the themes of the novel and Hardy's life as a working-class man of letters. The unhappy marriages, the religious and philosophical questioning, and the social problems dealt with in Jude the Obscure appear in many other Hardy novels, as well as in Hardy's life. The struggle against fixed class boundaries is an important link between the novel and Hardy's life, especially concerning higher education and the working class. Although Jude wishes to attend the university at Christminster, he cannot afford the cost involved in studying for a degree, and he lacks the rigorous training necessary to qualify for a fellowship. He is therefore prevented from gaining economic mobility and getting out of the working class. This theme of unattainable education was personal for Hardy since he, like Jude, had not been able to afford to study for a degree at Oxford or Cambridge, in spite of his early interest in scholarship and the classics. Several specific details about Jude's self-directed studies actually appear in Hardy's autobiography, including late-night Latin readings while working full-time as a stonemason and then as an architect. However, unlike Jude, Hardy's mother was well-read, and she educated Thomas until he went to his first school at Bockhampton at age eight, and he attended school in Dorchester, where he learned Latin and demonstrated academic potential, until he became an apprentice at 16.
Another parallel between the book's characters and themes and Hardy's actual life experience occurs when Sue becomes obsessed with religion after previously having been indifferent and even hostile towards it. Through this extreme change in the character of Sue, Hardy shows Christianity as an extraordinarily powerful social force that is capable of causing a seemingly independent-minded woman like Sue to be self-immolating and sexually repressed. Like Sue Bridehead, Hardy's first wife, Emma, went from being free-spirited and fairly indifferent to religion in her youth to becoming obsessively religious as she got older. Since Hardy was always highly critical of organised religion, as Emma became more and more religious, their differing views led to a great deal of tension in their marriage, and this tension was a major factor leading to their increased alienation from one another.
Emma was also very disapproving of Jude the Obscure, in part because of the book's criticisms of religion, but also because she worried that the reading public would believe that the relationship between Jude and Sue directly paralleled her strained relationship with Hardy (which, in a figurative sense, it did).
A minor theme is cruelty to animals. The novel has two incidents of cruelty to animals. In slaughtering the pig which Jude and Arabella had diligently fattened, it was necessary to obtain a better quality of meat that the animal be "well bled, and to do that pig must die slowly." Jude, however, a man of compassion and strong feelings, could not endure hearing the agony of the slow death of the pig; so he plunged the knife into the animal to hasten its death: "The blood flowed out in a torrent instead of in the trickling stream Arabella had desired. The dying animal's cry assumed its third and final tone, the shriek of agony; his glazing eyes riveting themselves on Arabella with the eloquently keen reproach of a creature recognizing at last the treachery of those who had seemed his only friends."
Later in the novel, Jude and Sue are appalled at the use of steel traps to catch such small animals as rabbits, which usually died in slow agony when caught in the deadly contraptions. Jude was compelled to kill a trapped rabbit by "breaking its neck to end its suffering." Sue commented, "They ought not to be allowed to set these steel traps, ought they?" A reviewer compares the inevitable fate of the rabbit to marriage as "a permanent trap between two people" from which there is no easy escape.
Around 1887, Hardy began making notes for a story about a working-man's frustrated attempts to attend the university, perhaps inspired in part by the scholastic failure and suicide of his friend Horace Moule. From December 1894 to November 1895, a bowdlerised version of the novel ran in instalments in Harper's New Monthly Magazine, originally under the title The Simpletons, then Hearts Insurgent. In 1895, the book was published in London under its present title, Jude the Obscure (dated 1896). In his Preface to the first edition, Hardy provides details of the conception and writing history of the novel, claiming that certain details were inspired by the death of a woman (most likely his cousin, Tryphena Sparks) in 1890.
Called "Jude the Obscene" by at least one reviewer, Jude the Obscure received a harsh reception from some scandalized critics. Among the critics was Walsham How, Bishop of Wakefield; Hardy later claimed that the bishop had burned a copy. It has been suggested that negative criticism was the reason that Hardy stopped writing novels after Jude, but poet C. H. Sisson describes this "hypothesis" as "superficial and absurd".
D. H. Lawrence, an admirer of Hardy, was puzzled by the character of Sue Bridehead, and attempted to analyse her conflicted sexuality in his A Study of Thomas Hardy (1914).
Marxist critic Terry Eagleton, in his introduction to a 1974 edition of the text, refutes the conventional reading of the novel as 'the tragedy of an oversexed peasant boy', instead examining the social background of the text and proposing it as a conflict between ideal and reality.
Film, TV, theatrical, and podcast adaptations
The novel has been adapted into:
- A six-part television serial, Jude the Obscure (1971), directed by Hugh David, starring Robert Powell and Fiona Walker
- A feature film, Jude (1996), directed by Michael Winterbottom, starring Christopher Eccleston and Kate Winslet
- A two-part musical stage adaptation of Jude the Obscure by Ian Finley (book), Bruce Benedict (music), Jonathan Fitts (music), and Jerome Davis (lyrics), premiered at Burning Coal Theatre Company in Raleigh, NC in April 2012
- A podcast called "Obscure" where Michael Ian Black reads Jude The Obscure with commentary, was released in May of 2018
- The British playwright Howard Brenton wrote an updated adaptation of the novel, simply titled Jude, which premiered at The Hampstead Theatre in North London in May 2019. In this version, Jude is a free-spirited female Syrian refugee who works as a cleaner, her cousin is a male relative who becomes a radical Muslim, and she is regularly visited by a figure representing the Greek poet Euripides.
Elements of the ITV drama Broadchurch are drawn from the life and works of Thomas Hardy, and one character says in a police interview that he had read the book Jude the Obscure. Michael Ian Black has created a podcast called Obscure, where he reads and comments on the book Jude the Obscure. It began on 8 June 2018.
- There is reference to Sue Bridehead reading B. H. Cowper's Apocryphal Gospels, published in 1867 when she was younger. Penguin edition, 1978, p.263 and note 35, p.507.
- "Chapter 2". Jude the Obscure. Online-literature.com. 26 January 2007. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
- Jude the Obscure. Books.google.co.uk. p. 738. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
- Hardy, Florence Emily (2007). The Life of Thomas Hardy. London: Wordsworth Editions. p. 282.
- Hardy, Florence Emily (2007). The Life of Thomas Hardy. London: Wordsworth Editions. p. 29.
- Claire Tomalin, Thomas Hardy: the Time-torn Man(Penguin, 2007) pp.30,36.
- Tomalin, Claire (2007). Thomas Hardy. New York: Penguin.
- Jude the Obscure, Part I, Section 10
- Jude the Obscure, Part IV, Section 2
- "Copy of Jude the Obscure symbolism: Rabbit trap". prezi.com. 27 March 2014. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
- Pinion, F. B. (1968). A Hardy Companion. London: Macmillan. p. 52.
- "Book description of Jude the Obscure, edited by Cedric Watts (1999)". Broadviewpress.com. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
- Slack, Robert C. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 11(4) (March 1957) pp. 261–275.
- "Introduction" to the Penguin edition (1978). Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984, p.13.
- Schaffer, Talia. The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England. University of Virginia Press, 2000.
- Eagleton, Terry. "Introduction" Macmillan London Ltd, 1974. p. 10
- "Jude the Obscure, Parts 1 and 2". Triangleartsandentertainment.org. 13 April 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2012.
- McDowell, Robert. "Burning Coal's "Jude the Obscure" Is a Two-Part Musical Adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Novel". Triangle Arts and Entertainment. Triangle Arts and Entertainmen. Retrieved 28 September 2015.
- "Obscure". earwolf.com. 13 May 2018. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
- Bell, Matthew (January 2014). "Broadchurch: Anatomy of a hit". Royal Television Society Television Magazine. Retrieved 24 November 2014; Graham, Alison (22 April 2013). "Broadchurch: the perfect TV murder?". Radio Times. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
- "To Begin". ART19. Retrieved 9 June 2018.
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