Prescient and groundbreaking in 1914, anachronistic and plodding in 2014.
I raced through the first 250 pages in a ten hour reading fest. It is of course beautifully written and the story builds well to this stage. Jude gets the girl and all is well, pretty much. However the portents of doom hover over Jude and Sue, and Arabella emerges as the the kind of bitter twisted jealous creature who we might find in Eastenders or some similar soap opera. At this point, just after the emergence of 'Little Father Time' I lost interest. I was quite happy with the rural idyll, the artisan and his bohemian female partner. They were a breath of fresh air. However I had no desire to experience their fall.
Hardy, of course, is, like Dickens et al, taking a swipe at social injustice and that bastion of unenlightenment the institutions of religion and the law. At times this is rather unsophisticated and obvious, almost like a sermon against religion. Fair enough, but it makes dreary reading.
The highlight for me was Sue jumping out of an upstairs window to escape the (not very) amorous advances of her husband.
Jude the Obscure could be strap-lined 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' as the male characters are constantly 'doing the right thing' only to be manipulated and frustrated by the women. This Schopenhauerian view of the world is rather simplistic. Women do have to be more practical, unless like Sue they have no interest in procreation, and this might explain why they place more emphasis on selfishness and are less high-minded than the men in Hardy's novel.
In summary I'd suggest that Jude the Obscure is dated. Hardy writes beautifully and makes many excellent observations about the inequities of human existence, but we know all this and I feel he might have been better making this book uplifting rather than moving it towards such a depressing conclusion.