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Customer Review

31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Modern Hardy, 7 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Jude the Obscure (Penguin Popular Classics) (Paperback)
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.
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