"Jude The Obscure"

Jude The Obscure by Thomas Hardy

I love Thomas Hardy. I love his fatalism and his fearlessness. My favorite of his novels always seems to be the one I'm currently reading, but I think I mean it when I say that Jude the Obscure is really my favorite. At least until I re-read Far From The Madding Crowd.

This novel tells the story of Jude Fawley, a young stonemason obsessed with a desire to study for the ministry among the learned men, and in the hallowed stone buildings, of Oxford University. That desire haunts him as it is thwarted again and again, usually by his own failure to think his actions through. He works hard to make the best of whatever situation he finds himself in, staunchly adapting when change, even cruel change, comes his way.  But even Jude eventually comes to the end of his tolerance.

His first, second and only wife is Arabella, an earthy and opportunistic woman who knows how to make her way in the world. Jude is drawn to her sexually but never really loves her. His heart is given only to Sue, a cousin and the one great love of his life. Through marriages and divorces and re-marriages his feelings for Sue never change. Theirs is probably the most complicated romance I've ever read. And it's a Thomas Hardy novel, so don't expect any happy endings.

Sue is an interesting, and frustrating, character. Ethereal, frigid, intelligent and selfish, she becomes Jude's other obsession. As a reader I found her fascinating, as a woman I wanted to shake some common sense into her. The people who get involved with her don't fare well and yet she seems to mean well. Jude, and others before him, are tortured by her inability to love or to give herself to those who love her.

I found this novel of Hardy's different than the others in that his own voice comes through more clearly. When Jude is in need of a friend Hardy says "...but nobody did come, because nobody does." Hardy's own sadness and disappointment with life/people are apparent. But he takes a stab at humour as well, something I haven't seen often in his writing, if at all. There's a remark about the sense of humour  of the people of Shaston that is too long to quote here but is more lighthearted than usual for Hardy.

The authour's views on marriage and the established church are written on every page, sometimes with bitterness sometimes with sarcasm. In one scene, a landlord thinks Jude and Arabella are living together without being married and he is about to tell them they can't stay. "...till by chance overhearing her one night haranguing Jude in rattling terms, and ultimately flinging a shoe at his head, he recognized the note of genuine wedlock: and concluding that they must be respectable, said no more."  And of the church and her people: "He had been knocked about from pillar to post at the hands of the virtuous almost beyond endurance."

I don't hold to all of Hardy's opinions and prejudices, but I love his books. He has a gift for brevity, a gift I admire deeply because I don't have it. Thoughts it would take someone else a paragraph to express, he packs neatly into one sentence. Things like: "Principles which could be subverted by feeling in one direction were liable to the same catastrophe in another." I shudder to think how many more words it would have taken me to say that.

All in all a good story with good writing. I recommend this, and all of Thomas Hardy's novels.


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