BOOK REVIEW: JUDE THE OBSCURE by Thomas Hardy
For a novelist whose books can drive me crazy Hardy still manages to draw me in and keep me there. It happened with this novel; my review: 9/10.
The cover of my version.
The Plot: The novel is about Jude Fawley, a village stonemason, who yearns to be a scholar. He studies hard alone, teaching himself Greek and Latin, but before he can get to university he’s manipulated into marrying a local girl, Arabella, who deserts him within two years. By this time, he’s abandoned the classics altogether.
My version is from 1926 and it's in the best condition.
After Arabella’s departure, Jude moves to the university town Christminster and supports himself as a mason while studying, still hoping to enter the university. But he meets and falls in love again, this time his cousin Sue Bridehead, who eventually marries Jude’s former schoolteacher, Mr Phillotson.
Thereafter there are various twists and turns: Jude never manages to enter university, Jude and Sue divorce their partners, live together unmarried and have several children, Arabella and Jude’s son comes to lives with Jude and Sue.
My Review: Jude has such a strong imagination, and he idealises rather than sees his loves or even his life as they are. And being such a strong idealist, disappointment with his life doesn’t lead him to renounce his unrealistic expectations. What’s difficult though, is how destructive Jude’s romanticism is, because it distorts his vision of reality and leaves him unable to modify his path. It’s disappointing (and frustrating at times) that he acts neither rationally or practically, but his romanticism is also admirable in that he continues despite all the setbacks he experiences.
Jude wakes up from his dream a couple of times, such as when he learns Arabella has manipulated him into marrying her. But each time he returns to his dreams, and I guess leads himself towards disaster. Hardy, for example, makes it clear several times that the life Jude and Sue are leading, eg not marrying, is part of a delusion and on some deeper level Jude must also understand this as well.
One of the strongest things in the novel, for me as a woman, was the marked contrast between Sue and Arabella. Arabella is earthy and solid, with the early example of the slaying of the pig cementing this for me. Hardy also identifies Arabella as ‘fake’: her practising her dimples, her false hair and her pregnancy to Jude. Sue is quite different: Jude almost adores her as an angel, and she's certainly unearthly and ethereal in nature.
Hardy’s depiction of Sue is not a 20th or even 21st century view, which made it hard for me to appreciate her. Arabella’s earthier lusts feel more 21st century in nature, and easier to understand than the reasons Sue argues against marrying, for example, Sue’s belief that marriage will extinguish tenderness and even love, and her preference to continue as ‘lovers’ even after the birth of children.
An excerpt from the novel; soon after Jude and Sue meet.
All in all though, I couldn't put the novel down and will make a point to reread the story again to see what more I can understand from the story.
Sue’s also inconsistent, a common enough trait in real life, but difficult to understand, and especially sympathise with, in a novel. But in many ways, I suppose, this side of Sue which makes Jude the Obscure such a complex, albeit frustrating, novel, and it’s Jude’s idealisation of Sue which results in the contradictions rather than Sue herself.
The end to novel for both Jude and Sue is tragic, needless to say, and not one of triumph, and it comes after much hardship and suffering. Jude and Sue really do deserve more from life and I hope if they were born today that would happen.