Jude the Obscure was an evil, evil book written by Thomas Hardy some time ago. Nearly every college level Literature professor, and I use the term loosely, has inflicted this travesty on their unsuspecting students.

Reduced to its lowest terms, this book is about a guy whose life sucks. Horribly. The reader is forced to wonder why the author doesn't simply put this character out of his misery. For instance, he meets his first wife when she throws a pig penis at him. The two manage to get married, and she eventually leaves him because he is an ineffectual loser. Another instance of how bad this character has it is when he actually tries to commit suicide, but merely comes down with pneumonia. This is, of course, not enough to actually kill him. The remaining characters in the book go downhill rapidly from there.

His second girlfriend is also his cousin, hinting that this book is set, not in England, but in West Virginia. They have two children, but Jude's child by his first wife comes back, and kills the other two as well as himself. He leaves a badly mispelled suicide note, "Done because we are too menny". Somehow the tragedy is supposed to be amplified by this, but the reader, having been inured by mishap after mishap can only chuckle derisively. Aargh! That's not funny, it's not even tragic...

Finally, Jude dies, and the book, thankfully, ends. However, the horror doesn't end there. The hapless student, for I cannot imagine anyone reading this book voluntarily, must then analyze the book. When the world of Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 comes about, I will be at the front of the book burning line, carrying a baker's dozen or so copies of this book.

Jude the Obscure written by Thomas Hardy is the most powerful and despairing of his novels, and I also think that it is one of the best books ever written. The novel was first published in 1896. Sure when it first came out it was burned by a Bishop because it made fun of the Church near the end. When Sue Bridehead, Jude's cousin (whom he has kids with but never marries) becomes highly religious after the death of their children and decides to return to her ex-husband Mr. Phillotson.

Jude Fawley, is a stone-mason, whose academic ambitions are thwarted by poverty and the indifference of the authorities at Christminster, appears to find fulfillment in his relationship with Sue Bridehead. Both of them have fled from previous marriages, and together they share a 'two-in-oneness' rarely matched. Ironically, when tragedy strikes it is Sue, the modern, emancipated thinker who is unequal to the challenge, and Jude the dreamer that becomes strong.

The novel takes a serious look on unmarried couples who have children in the late 19th century to the early 20th century, and how they are treated by society. It also presents the situation when the past comes back to haunt the present, in the case of Jude Fawley's son with his first wife who disturbingly mirrors Jude (his nickname being Father Time), he is an intelligent eight year old child who reflects on life and thinks of his parents situation that he becomes ultimately depressed and kills himself and his two younger sisters thinking that he would make it easier for Sue and Jude. The death of the children is what tears Sue and Jude apart, unfortunately it was also the day that they were finally going to get married after putting the idea off many times because of an old family curse: that the Fawley's always have bad marriages. This novel also takes a serious look at the effects of tragedy and depression and how people treat it or cope with it.

A recent movie was made based on the book called Jude that is directed by Michael Winterbottom and stars Kate Winslet, Christopher Eccleston, and Rachel Griffiths.

*Side notes

- Jude doesn't try to kill himself, when Sue leaves him he becomes depressed and very ill with pneumonia (he was waiting out in the snow for Sue, always watching her), he eventually dies of dehydration because his first wife who was suppose to be taking care of him wasn't there to give him water.

- Arabella his first wife throws a pig heart at him, and he marries her because she tricks him into thinking that she was pregnant.

- His son doesn't have good spelling because he never went to school but is strangely intelligent and reflective.

- He never marries Sue, his cousin

"Jude the Obscure" is a novel, first published in 1895, that is considered to be the masterpiece of its author, Thomas Hardy. Much like The Mayor of Casterbridge, it provides a linkage between the sentimental, stylized novels of Victorian times, and the modern, realistic works of the 20th Century. At the time of its publishing, its content was considered scandalous in its depiction of extramarital sex, but in the present day, it is very tame in that regard.

The basic plot of "Jude the Obscure" is that Jude Fawley, an intellectually gifted but poor young man, dreams of going to university, but instead becomes a stonemason. A naive young man, he is tricked into marriage at a young age by Arabella Donne, a more experienced woman. The marriage doesn't work out, they separate, and he later meets his cousin, Susan Brideshead, who quickly becomes engaged to Richard Phillotson, an older man who was previously the tutor of Jude. Susan is a liberated young woman, or at least supposes herself to be, and leaves her husband to live with Jude. (In the book, and at the time, them being cousins is not a problem. Them both being previously married, however, is.) The book follows their declining emotional and financial status at a time when being divorced meant being an outcast from society.

I wrote a bit about The Mayor of Casterbridge, and most of what I wrote there very much applies to this book. At times, Jude the Obscure is a socially and psychological realistic novel that shows the personal consequences of people trapped in restrictive and demeaning social norms. But at other times, the soap opera like contrivances of the book's quadrangle, as the two pairs break up and rejoin, and lost children are rediscovered, is painfully melodramatic. This comes to a head in the book's key scene: Jude and Arabella's son, called "Father Time" for his precocious seriousness, murders Jude and Susan's children, and then commits suicide, because he feels that the children are keeping his parents in poverty. When I read the scene, I was confused, because while I thought I had been following the text closely, I missed the fact that several years had passed, and Susan had children by Jude. The children are, in fact, never mentioned or given personalities, except for their role as sacrificial victims to move the plot along. Consider the following line of dialogue:

"We went about loving each other too much -- indulging ourselves to utter selfishness with each other! We said -- do you remember? -- that we could make a virtue of joy. I said it was nature's intention, Nature's law and raison d'etre that we should be joyful in what instincts she afforded us-- instincts which civilization had taken upon itself to thwart. What dreadful things I said! And now Fate has given us this stab in the back for being such fools as to take Nature at her word!"
That speech was given an hour or two after she discovers her two children murdered and her step-son dead by suicide. Within the book, the purpose of the episode is clear: it shows that Susan, despite her claims of liberation, is psychologically unprepared for what that means in real life. But the point is made in a heavy-handed, unrealistic, and tasteless way, with the deaths of three children. Even after their deaths, the psychological crux of the novel is that Jude and Susan divorced their first spouses. Even given the much greater social taboos of the time, the characters seem to wallow in what (to me) seems like a fairly pedestrian situation. Even given the fact that I am reading a novel in 2020 that was written in 1895, the book seems contrived. Melodramatic circumstances are put together so the author can push the story along in a way that doesn't seem natural.

All of the usual caveats should be applied here: Hardy was writing in a different time and parts of the book that would have made it more coherent couldn't be included due to censorship. The book is historically important. Parts of it are very well written. But as it is now, I just couldn't take it seriously, because such a crucial part of the book felt so contrived.

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