History: The last of Thomas Hardy's novels, begun as a magazine serial and first published in book form in 1895. The book was burned publicly by William Walsham How, Bishop of Wakefield, in that same year. Jude the Obscure received a harsh reception from scandalized critics; it is thought largely for this reason that Hardy made the decision to produce only poetry and drama for his remaining 32 years. D. H. Lawrence, an admirer of Hardy, was puzzled by the character of Sue Bridehead, and attempted to analyze her sexual problem in his essay "A Study of Thomas Hardy" (1914). This book is considered to be the most angriest of all Hardy's novels.
Plot: 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 while working in his aunt's bakery, he teaches himself Greek and Latin. Before he can try to enter the university, the naïve Jude is manipulated, through a process he later calls erotolepsy, into marrying a rather coarse and superficial local girl, Arabella Donn, who deserts him within two years. By this time, he has abandoned the classics altogether.
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. Jude shortly introduces Sue to his former schoolteacher, Mr. Phillotson, whom she later marries. Sue is attracted to the normality of her married life, but quickly finds the relationship an unhappy one; besides being in love with Jude, she is physically disgusted by her husband, and, apparently, by sex in general.
Sue eventually leaves Phillotson for Jude. Sue and Jude spend some time living together without any sexual relationship; they are both afraid to get married because their family has a history of tragic unions, and think that being legally bound to one another might destroy their love. Jude eventually convinces Sue to sleep with him and, over the years, they have two children together. 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, believing that he and his half-siblings are the source of the family's woes, murders Sue's two children and commits suicide by hanging himself. He leaves a note reading: "Done because we are too menny".
Beside herself with grief, Sue turns to the church that has ostracized her 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 physical relationship with Phillotson, she nevertheless returns to him and becomes his wife again. Jude is devastated, and remarries Arabella in a drunken haze. After one final, desperate visit to Sue in freezing weather, Jude becomes seriously ill and dies within the year, while Arabella is out. His funeral is sorry, with only two people there.
Review: I usually love all Hardy's novels, but not this one. I admire the subject, nonmatrimony as being an alternative to marriage, which was evidently scandulous in Hardy's time, but I didn't find the characters or writing as eloquently descriptive as in his other novels.
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.
Opening Line: "The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry."
Closing Line: "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. "shes never found peace since she left his arms, and never will again till she's as he is now!"
Quotes: "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"
"Do not do an immoral thing for moral reasons!"