4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 17 November 2014
The plot has been so much rehearsed and summarised that I do not think there is a requirement to repeat this once more. So, just a few thoughts on the novel. I have read much Hardy over the years, though hitherto had not got around to this – possibly somewhat put off by its reputation for unremitting gloom.
It is a well written and powerful story. For late nineteenth century, certainly candid in its discussion of society’s stultifying sexuality and matrimonial arrangements, thus its reputation when first published as considered, by some, to be an immoral work. The four main characters – Jude Fawley, Sue Bridehead, Phillotson and Arabella all have a combination of frustrating and sympathy-inducing characteristics; there are no real unreconstructed evil monsters in the quartet, and even though Arabella is a selfish and cunning minx, the reader does not feel entirely lacking in empathy with her and the situations she finds herself in.
The overall theme is very much the typical Hardy one whereby characters are battered around by force of circumstance and the utter unpredictability of nature and the universe. There is little they can do about it, except struggle to do they best they can and accept that there is no overall plan to life and no directing deity to provide a rationale or strategy for the suffering that poor folk in the late nineteenth century Wessex experienced.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 31 July 2006
When I received this book for Christmas last year, I looked at it and wondered if I would ever read it. Fortunately, I decided to about a month ago and did not regret it. It was a real hard-hitting read;don't be fooled by the blurb which sort of suggests it is a romantic sweet book as it is more powerful than that. It was one of few books that I can honestly say, when finished, left me with a shocked almost sad look on my face(and thats saying something as Iam an avid reader and not much hits me that much). The ending is completely unexpected which keeps you hooked. I highly recommend it.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
If like me, your were put off Hardy by studying him at school or if you have in your mind's eye a writer obsessed with Wessex and a kind of moralising pastoralism, then try reading Jude. Here is a novel written with real emotional conviction and shot through with an anger which only comes from real experience. It is really a book about rebelling against conventions particularly about sexual morality and the aspirations of the artisan. Jude Fawley is an abandoned child who from his earliest years dreams of a richer fuller life both culturally and physically which he believes will be opened to him through higher education, symbolised by the distant spires of Christminster (Oxford). The passion with which Jude adores everything the venerable university stands for is only matched by his awareness of the futility of his dreams but that does not stop his hunger for books and learning which occupy his every free moment as he practices the trade of a stonemason. However, his sensual appetites override his academic ambitions and he finds himself imprisoned in a marriage devoid of the passion that brought it about. Meeting Sue Bridehead who he perceives as his soul mate underlines his captive state and they both come to question the very purpose of marriage resolving to live together without the need for a piece of paper. Yet the consequences of offending Victorian social codes are severe: from social exclusion to the loss of employment and indirectly the death of their children. Sue's response involves a return to the mindset she eschewed in her youth, Jude remains defiant bemoaning the fact that he was `fifty years ahead of his time' and coming to hold his beloved Oxford and its metaphysics in contempt. Rarely has the anguish of broken dreams had more resonance than here. Indeed Hardy prefigures the modernist obsession with self and the clash between impulse and duty. The tone throughout is bleak and often bitter, but the emotional dilemmas are so vivid and authentic that the scenes have genuine pathos and the characters the depth to engender sympathy. The book has a touch of the classical tragedy about it, and even Hardy's rather pedestrian language scarcely limits the power of his heartfelt plea for the tolerance of difference. If you haven't read Hardy begin here, if you think you don't like his work, Jude is the book to change your mind.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Branded 'Jude the Obscene' in at least one contemporary review and famously burned by the Bishop of Wakefield Hardy's final novel is nothing if not controversial. While most novels from the Victorian era that caused a bit of a stir at the time now seem relatively tame Jude retains much of its power to shock and disturb. The book was many years ahead of its time and even in the Victorian fin de siecle - an age not especially noted for its prim and retiring ways - it stands out as the work of a brilliant but very bitter and angry man. Jude the Obscure attacks marriage and the Church in a savage fashion; it castigates the class system and the world of privilege that allows the rich to study at university while denying the opportunity to those who lack money and status; it simultaneously loves and despises women who make an effort to live their lives as they wish in preference to tamely bowing down to convention and it rages against an indifferent universe that neither loves nor hates mankind but merely continues ever onwards, equally oblivious to love and beauty as to suffering and death. It's not an easy read, but it is a perceptive one and, as ever with Hardy, beyond the bleakness much of the descriptive writing is touched with a sublime poetry.
Jude Fawley, intelligent, sensitive and handsome, dreams of attending Christminster (a thinly veiled Oxford) only to fall foul of class, money and the wiles of a woman, Arabella, out to nab herself a husband before her looks fade. Trapped in a loveless marriage Jude becomes increasingly attracted to his cousin Sue Bridehead, a woman with her own ideas, a dislike of convention and a deeply capricious nature. Add some typically bleak Hardyesque runs of bad luck; a few spiteful village gossips and a social structure that prefers loveless marriages to blissfully happy partnerships out of wedlock and you have a narrative that is never going to end happily. What makes the book fascinating however is the interplay between Jude, his love for Sue, his marriage to Arabella and the strangely bloodless presence of Phillotson, Jude's old teacher and a man in love with Sue. The way the characters interact is compelling and it gives the book an all too human quality. In particular the contrast between Sue (all intellect and pale, distant beauty) and Arabella (passion, drive, clever but uneducated and one of life's survivors) is fascinating. Hady's novels are full of memorable female characters but to my mind Sue and Arabella, and the contrasts between them, are among his very finest creations. They give the novel its drive and they fascinate the reader just as much as they fascinate the male characters in the book.
In conclusion while I adore Hardy with a passion I always find Jude a somewhat difficult book to like. The events, from the pig-killing at the beginning (Hardy had a lifelong disgust of cruelty to animals) to the tragic tale of Jude and Arabella's son, Little Father Time, at the end make it an uncomfortable read but, for all that, it contains moments of exquisite beauty: Christminster seen in the distance through the haze of a summer's day for example, or Jude's brief moments of happiness with Sue or his youthful, passionate affair with Arabella. It's bleak certainly; but it is also important and written with a rare passion and for those reasons alone it's an unforgettable novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2011
In the postscript to the preface of Jude The Obscure, Thomas Hardy quotes a German reviewer of the novel. Sue Bridehead, the heroine, was described there as "the first delineation in fiction of the woman ... of the feminist movement - the slight pale `bachelor' girl - the intellectualised, emancipated bundle of nerves" that modern conditions were producing. The book's reception `cured' Hardy of the desire to write another novel, and all of the above happened before the dawn of the twentieth century.
Jude The Obscure is a novel about relationships within marriage. Hardy's opinion was that legal ties between men and women ought to be breakable once the union had achieved dysfunction. It was an opinion that differed from that expected by the age. It prompted a bishop to burn the book, rather than the writer, who was unavailable at the time.
Thomas Hardy's Jude Fawley was adopted into a baker's family, and harboured an ambition to self-teach himself into a classical education in Christminster's learned colleges. His schoolmaster, Mr Phillotson helped a little. Jude's ambition was always somewhat far fetched, though he applied himself diligently to his studies and achieved a great deal. In his formative years, he also learned the stonemason's trade to allow the earning of a living. On a country walk he then took up with Arabella, the daughter of a pig farmer. Having found himself stuck, he tried to learn how to stick real pigs but somehow the penetration never came easy. The couple parted, apparently childless.
Sue, Jude's cousin and thus a co-member of a family reputed for its marital failures, was always a soul mate for the young man. But she never quite seemed up to the task of giving herself, giving of her self. Thus, when she married Phillotson, the much older, staid and perhaps already failed schoolmaster, his lack of demands on her fit exactly with her assumptions about how married life would progress.
Sue certainly knew what she wanted from life and did everything in her power to secure it. Safety, security, respectability, perhaps property were top of her list. Arabella, the pig farming barmaid who lured the naïve Jude, was similarly single-minded in pursuing her own, rather different interests. After leaving Jude, she takes up with a new man and hops it to Australia, apparently for good.
Sue and Phillotson finally dissolve their marriage by mutual consent to allow Sue to pursue her desires. She and Jude, who love one another dearly, then make their lives together. They do not marry. They live as brother and sister, with lust on one side of the bed and revulsion on the other. A child arrives by train. The wizened-looking boy is Jude's, Arabella claiming she was pregnant before the couple separated. Sue and Jude offer a home for the waif, and then two more whose family fortunes have fallen on bad times.
And then tragedy appears. Their world falls apart. Sue craves the responsibility of marriage, perhaps merely for the respectability she has lost, so she returns to a new marriage with Phillotson. As before, it's just for the show of it. Jude develops consumption.
What happens in Jude The Obscure is the meat of the book. How it happens is less important than how the characters justify their actions, effectively their reactions to what life offers in response to their imagined aspirations. How these people seek to justify themselves tells much of what they think is expected of them by others, by the society at large. Thus the novel appears to be a study - even a treatise - in selfishness melded with self-obsession, but this is always shrouded in a coded justification that cites the need for social, societal, even sanctified heavenly approval.
In many ways, Jude The Obscure's men are its victims, its women coldly triumphant, its tone vaguely misogynist. It has little time for the establishment, which is often portrayed as a conspiracy to promote misery. Christminster, Oxford in other words, is thought of as a great centre of high and fearless thought. But in reality it is "a nest of commonplace schoolmasters whose characteristic is timid obsequiousness to tradition." The alternative, self-congratulatory selfishness did not appear to be much better. Thus Jude The Obscure has much to say about our own time, about public virtue and the need to live according to the socially expected.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2006
Like many, I read Hardy novels at school rather than through choice. I was put off by his ability to take what seemed like pages to describe a tree!! This book was a gift and I am so grateful for it.
Jude's story is beautiful, heart-breaking, plausible and sincere. His desire to live a content life, demanding very little from society, is thwarted by poverty - and women! I shared his hope, his frustration, his sense of loss and his love for Christminster. I feel richer for having spent my time with Jude and plan to return to Hardy as a grown-up to see what it can offer me today. Do yourself a favour, read this book.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 2004
This is a dreary and depressing novel.......and as such is one of Hardy's finest! Widely renowned, this was Hardy's last novel in his long and rich days of writing. Worth reading perhaps just for that!
Though, let me warn you, this is not to be entered into lightly. It is real reading. The plots are intricate and beautifully proportioned, the characters are stark and individual, and the ending leaves you feeling short of breath and in need of a glass of whiskey.
Hardy has managed to create a deluge of characters that are so incompatible you know that life cannot go on happily for long. Jude the weak and Arabella, Jude the tragic and Sue - it proves to be a stimulating though saddening life story as Hardy follows Jude around his fantasy of Southern England, centring on the towers of Christminster (Oxford).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 July 1997
Thomas Hardy, in Jude the Obscure creates a character who is important, not only because Jude is struggling for a better life, but because he is human. Jude often becomes sidetraked from his true goal, but often begins to fight as soon as he realizes what he has done. The story is beautifully well written, with characters the reader can sink their teeth into. Hardy is a master of the human condition, he understands the underlying principles of life and portrays them vividly so that we all can learn important lessons from reading his work.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 September 1999
"Jude" is a wonderfully contemplative and sorrowful novel. The protaganist comes across as childlike, impressionable and cheated. The setting and atmosphere is deeply oppressive, but at the same time, enlightening. Certain events shock visibly (the fate of the children) while Hardy's allusions and imagery do not go unmissed but compliment what is an enjoyable novel, and one that just has to be read.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 3 August 2000
This book will absorb you into its pages. I found I could relate to Jude's childhood and that part of the book was pleasant and comforting to read. Once his early dreams begin to evaporate it becomes a sad and touching story of the sacrifices one will make for love. The characters are well developed and I felt I was living the story - a number of times I wanted to shout at Jude not to be so stupid!
A great read, and definitely not a book to rush through.