Jude the Obscure
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Jude the Obscure is the last of Thomas Hardy's novels, begun as a magazine serial and first published in book form in 1895. Its hero Jude Fawley is a lower-class young man who dreams of becoming a scholar. The two other main characters are his earthy wife, Arabella, and his intellectual cousin, Sue. Themes include class, scholarship, religion, marriage, and the modernisation of thought and society. D. H. Lawrence, an admirer of Thomas Hardy, was puzzled by the character of Sue Bridehead from Jude the Obscure, and attempted to analyze her sexual problem in his famous essay "A Study of Thomas Hardy" (1914). The film has been adapted to film as Jude (1996), directed by Michael Winterbottom, starring Kate Winslet as Sue.
The novel has an elaborately structured plot, in which subtle details and accidents lead to the characters' ruin. It also develops many different themes. These include how human loneliness and sexuality can stop a person from trying to fulfill his dreams, how, when free from the trap of marriage, one's dreams will not be fulfilled if one is of a lower status, how the educated classes are often more like sophists than intellectuals, how living a libertine life full of integrity and passion will be condemned as scandalous in traditional society, and how religion is nothing but a mistaken sense that the tragedies that wear down an individual are the result of having sinned against a higher being.
As in most of Hardy's novels, except for Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy manipulates the downfall of his characters like a sadistic god—as if he were a true believer in a deity that was not a redeemer but a cruel monster (a motif frequently called a "rigged doom").
There are strong autobiographical references to Hardy's own life in Jude the Obscure. Like Jude, Hardy did not go to university and like Sue, the love of Jude's life, Hardy's first wife, Emma Gifford, also became more and more religious as years passed.
The novel tells the story of Jude Fawley, a village stonemason in the southwest English region of Wessex who yearns to be a scholar at "Christminster", a city modelled on Oxford, England. In his spare time, working for his aunt's bakery, he teaches himself Greek and Latin. Before he can try to enter the university, the naïve Jude is manipulated into marrying a rather coarse and superficial local girl, Arabella Donn, who deserts him within two years. By this time, he had abandoned the classics altogether.
After she leaves, he moves to Christminster from his village and supports himself as a mason while studying alone, hoping to be able to enter the university later (he never will). There, he meets and falls in love with his cousin, Sue Bridehead. Sue and Jude also meet the latter's former schoolteacher, Mr Phillotson, who marries Sue some time later. Sue is attracted to the normality of her married life but quickly finds the relationship an unhappy one because, besides being in love with Jude, she is physically disgusted by her husband (and, apparently, by sexual relations in general).
Sue eventually leaves Phillotson for Jude. Sue and Jude spend some time living together without any sexual relationship because Sue does not want one. They are also both afraid to get married because their family has a history of tragic marriages, and because they think being legally obliged to love one another might destroy their love. Jude eventually convinces Sue to sleep with him, and several children are born. They are also bestowed with a child "of an intelligent age" from Jude's first marriage, whom Jude did not know about earlier. He is named Jude and nicknamed "Little Father Time".
Jude and Sue are socially ostracized for living together unmarried, especially after the children are born. Jude's employers always dismiss him when they find out, and landlords evict them. The precocious Little Father Time, observing the problems he and his siblings are causing their parents, murders Sue's two children by strangling them with box cord and then commits suicide by hanging himself. He leaves a note reading: Done because we are too menny [sic].
The shock of these events pushes Sue into a crisis of religious guilt. Although horrified at the thought of resuming her physical relationship with Phillotson, she nevertheless returns to him and becomes his wife again. Jude, demoralized, is tricked by drink into remarrying Arabella. After one final, desperate visit to Sue carried out in horrible weather, Jude becomes seriously ill and dies within the year, while Arabella is out courting a doctor.
Called "Jude the Obscene" by at least one reviewer, Jude the Obscure received a very harsh reception from scandalized critics. Hardy stopped writing novels altogether because of personal reasons and partially because of the manner in which Jude the Obscure was accepted; Hardy produced only poetry and drama for the rest of his life.
Jude was first published under the title The Simpletons; and then Hearts Insurgent in the European and American editions of Harper's New Monthly Magazine from December 1894 until November 1895. The initial, serialized edition was substantially different from the later novelized form. Many minor changes were made because the magazine publishers insisted—for moral reasons. Large portions of the plot were also different.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
Several films and songs based on this book exist.
- Jude the Obscure (1971) , directed by Hugh David, starring Robert Powell, Fiona Walker
- Jude (1996) , directed by Michael Winterbottom, starring Christopher Eccleston, Kate Winslet
- Jude the Obscene (1995) by Therapy? from their album Infernal Love.