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Jude the Obscure



"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.

This, the last completed of Thomas Hardy's novels, began as a magazine serial in December 1894 and was first published in book form in 1895. 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 and marriage.

Highly controversial when it was first published, with outcries from the Victorian public for its frank treatment of sex, it was often referred to as "Jude the Obscene". Heavily criticised for its apparent attack on the institution of marriage through the presentation of such concepts as erotolepsy, the book caused further strain on Hardy's already difficult marriage because Emma Hardy was concerned that Jude the Obscure would be read as autobiographical.

This is an almost unbearably sad story about love and sexual desire mapped into the peculiar English matrixes of class and destiny in the Victorian 19th century, has come to be recognized as one of Hardy's most important novels. It tells the tragic story of Jude Fawley, a kid from the country whose aspirations to university scholarship are thwarted; his socially unacceptable love affair is also a disaster.

This is a great novel written by Thomas Hardy. Jude Fawley is an orphan boy, fostered by his Aunt. Disqualified from university because he belongs to a poor family, he tries to survive but fails in both love and education. Jude is confused between sensual love, which is represented by Arabella, and spiritual love, represented by Sue Bridehead.--Submitted by fahim

This intensely bleak novel contains themes already explored in Hardy's previous novels: social injustice, the position of women in Victorian society, the hypocrisy of religion and the invalidity of existing societal mores. However, the over-arching theme of the novel is the human condition, which Hardy believes is inescapable and inevitable. In his later novels Hardy not only denies the presence of God, but seems to see the world as being ruled by a malevolent deity. His atheism precedes the twentieth century novels of James Joyce and D. H. Laurence. A recurrent theme is that of the uselessness of trying to atone for previous "mistakes": Fate will always prevail and no beneficent God will offer forgiveness. This is true of Sue in "Jude", who feels that by flouting contemporary values she has defied God, who is now punishing her. Fate also traps Henchard (Mayor of Casterbridge), and Tess (Tess of the D' Urbervilles), whose dark ending makes explicit man's vulnerability to external dark forces. I have mentioned these other two novels because they have elements in common with "Jude". Hardy depicts the world as he sees it, dark and bleak where escape from one's Fate is impossible, and to paraphrase Elizabeth (Major of Casterbridge), happiness is merely a short interlude in a malevolent world turbulence. My introduction is designed to set "Jude" in context and encourage exploration of links with Hardy's other great novels.--Submitted by Jill Giannotta

Jude the Obscure is a work by Thomas Hardy that takes the reader on a young man's discovery of himself and the world- the world as we too often bleakly find it as opposed to the world of sparkling wonder we too often wish it to be. Hampered by class and convention, struggling with desire and the desire to be moral, Jude aspires to a career above his station and aspires to love, successfully, a woman he cannot fully understand. His struggle is a valiant one, in the face of foes and frustration, the outcome being a lesson learned by so many that life may not take us where we wish to go, yet, on the journey, chance teaches much and atones for more.--Submitted by Claire

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Recent Forum Posts on Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure.

Perhaps I was in the wrong frame of mind when I read “Jude the Obscure.” My initial foray into Thomas Hardy was “The Return of the Native,” which I enjoyed so much. Even more so with “Tess of the D’Urbervilles.” I was waning a bit by “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” but quite honestly did not enjoy Jude. I know it was Hardy’s last novel before retreating into poetry, and could almost sense the torpor and disillusionment regards the subject that I presume he felt. Whereas the earlier mentioned pieces were alive, with passion / emotion and a minimum number of major characters, “Jude the Obscure” seemed the opposite.

The most terrible bit

If your cursor is hovering over this thread beware it contains a spoiler. I doubt I'll ever read this book. I more or less decided that when I watched the DVD. I liked quite a lot of it, but there was a terrible scene in which Jude comes home to find his son has hanged himself and his two little sisters. I thought, come on - is that necessary? Here they are, struggling but just about scraping through. Then this happens. The rest of the story seemed naturalistic, but this bit seemed like a visitation from an angry god. I thought the remainder of the film would be about Jude being tried for murder, but in the next scene they were at the funeral and the police seem to be satisfied with the explanation. Surely a child hanging himself and his two sisters from the guilt of being a burden to his parents is implausible. I have never heard of a news story like it. It would certainly make national news if it did happen. I could believe a child committing suicide for that reason, but the killing of siblings too? Besides, if Hardy wanted to make Jude's son the cause of Sue's daughters' deaths then he could do it some other way: perhaps by passing on a disease or starting a fire. I thought it was too melodramatic. After that I marked Hardy down as an author who thinks piling on the misery makes for good writing.

The Foot of the Cross - hymn

Does anyone know about which hymn Hardy is talking here? I would just like to see the lyrics, but I am no good at hymns and when they were composed... It seems there are several versions now and I can't figure out which. Anybody help?

what do you think?

I'm thinking of reading jude the obscure by thomas hardy. please tell me what you think of it. Thanks. Bethy

"story about love and sexual desire”?

I disagree with the introduction to Jude the Obscure on this page for the reasons mentioned What do you reckon?


Please reflect on the theme of marriage...the novel had quite an impact on me precisely because of Hardy's treatment of cannot but believe him.If you want to talk to me about that, pleasa write me on my e-mail adress.Thank you.

No Subject

jude the obscure is one the book that we have to study this year.i am a BA student at cheikh anta diop university (senegal).the reception of the book was very negative because the narrative represent desire as a force whose violence succeeds in overcoming the human will and was considered as an assault to sexual morality.indeed the character of arabella ,described as a sexual animal who is out of any moral value goes from a man to another .that unreligious anti conformist fickle girl behaves as she likes absolutly dominated, harassed by her animal and sexual impulses.
jude and Sue takes some advances but in a very reserved way .fled from their former respective marriages ,they choose to live as husband and wife and go as far as giving birth to a child .that illegal union is actually offensive to sexual morality that's the reason why it shocked that community.
these were some lines i wanted to write about the vision that i have on this specific point. if you any kind of remark write to mail is available. thanks...

English / History

One must be alert to the word obscure when reading 'Jude'. What is obscure about him, what is there to be obscure about? Even the very word obscure seems, obsure.

The opening chapters give little away to the nature of obscurity. Jude is a simple boy living with his aging aunt. But Jude lives within 'accelerating' times. The world is radically changing, including one's passions. The lasting impression left to him by the departing Philloston casts an indelible stain upon the boy's consciousness. His kindness to animals soon reveal to Jude that the world is not what it is supposed to be; contradictions lie deeply embedded within society. His former teacher tells him to be kind to animals, yet his act of letting the birds briefly feed off Farmer Troutham's field soon brings the wrath of Troutham down hard upon the boy: "So it's "Eat, my dear birdies," is it, young man?... I'll tickle your breeches,".

The contradiction of life Jude has brutally become aware of at such an early age is that of humanity / profit. This is once again shown in the act of killing their only pig, Challow. Jude's conscience retains Phillostons words, and Hardy's language compounds the sentimentality of Jude's love of nature: 'A robin peered down at the preparations from the nearest tree, and, not liking the sinister look of the scene flew away, though hungry.' Hardy, never once allowing us to forget nature's need before our own. Jude has been made aware to killing the pig in such a quick manner, but the previous teaching prevents him from commiting such a bloodthirsty act of letting a pid slowly bleed to death, for the sole sake of profit. We are beginning to understand the nature of Jude's obscurity, that of him being obscure to the changing nature of the world.

But Hardy's attitude to his novel is obscure in itself. We ride upon a tide of utterly purgatorial scenes, affecting, it seems, Jude solely. Even though we are allowed to enter into the consciousness of the other characters, their motivation seems wholly selfish and contrived. Dr Vilbert soon considers Jude as his protege, yet we must consider what kind of protege Jude has become. It is of course a lie, as most of the characters seem to do, lie that is. There is no serenity in the book, no peace and no understanding. The world is moving at such a pace, that when Jude attempts to try and understand it he is left irrevocably behind, standing on a platform, just missing his connection, so to speak.

There is love in the book but -that is for my feminist reading- it so estranged that we imagine it to be a personal tragedy rather than a ficticious creation. The book created outrage upon its unabridged publication, and Hardy's wife left him soon after. But the consciousness of Hardy, through his masterly use of language, could not be appeased. This is a book which will send the reader into the bowls of hell, only to realise it was needed to see how far humanity had descended. The moral, spiritual, and emotional face of society passes the reader by, as the characters continually do in relation to Jude. There is no community, something quite obscure with regards to Hardy's previous novels, and the humour, which often delicately compliments previous Hardy novels is vacant; one would have to be brave or depraved to laugh at the degradation of a simple boy who tried to make good.

No Subject

Jude is Great but gosh is so romantic!!! Hardy steps a typical character we met on Rennaiscense manner. It is the pure, the perfect Heroe for the Round Table of Arthur's but this kind of persons has not a prototype in reality. I liked the way she turned him down from church to humanity and so on... this is a book you hardly can find in Hardy's library...

Why the last novel?

The depressing nature of Jude is surely a reflection of Hardy's own attitude at the time of writing it. It expresses a negative view of marriage, ambition, the church and the education system, all of which are part of Jude's dream that eventually becomes Jude's nightmare. It is often said that Hardy gave up writing novels because of the poor reception given to the publication of Jude, but it seems equally likely that Hardy's decision to turn entirely to poetry writing was a result of his own feelings of failure at the time. The rejection of this ultimately black novel was no more than the last straw that forced him to accept what was already in his heart, if not in his mind.
Other Victorian novelists were as keen to address the deficiences of Victorian society, and attacked various institutions from slavery and child labour to the school system and the workhouse. However, they did not normally ensconce their ideas within such a dark and oppressive narrative, nor did they give up in the face of their failure to achieve instantaneous change within society.

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