Chapter

<i>Jude the Obscure</i>: The Irrelevance of Marriage Law

Amanda Claybaugh

in Subversion and Sympathy

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199812042
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199315888 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199812042.003.0003
Jude the Obscure: The Irrelevance of Marriage Law

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This chapter examines the role of divorce as an option in unhappy marriages, in a reading of another tragic novel by Thomas Hardy. Divorce law was substantially reformed during the mid-nineteenth century, in part as a result of the impact of novels, so that access to divorce expanded dramatically. The 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act then influenced subsequent novels in turn, as they pondered the human meaning of adultery and cruelty provisions. In Jude the Obscure (1895), as in several earlier novels, Hardy both examines “matrimonial divergences” and also tries to imagine solutions to them. But although these novels expand our conception of matrimonial suffering, they do not end up arguing for a further reform of marriage law, as Hardy's tragic sensibility leads him away from the reformist spirit. Unhappily married couples in this novel take it for granted that they cannot divorce their unsuitable spouses, and then they find out that they can. But this ends up making no real difference, as Jude and Sue feel that a “tragic doom” hangs over them. Starting from this case, and studying Hardy's relationship to the social and literary phenomenon of the “New Woman,” the chapter uses the novel as an occasion to think about the ways in which the law and the novel diverge, as well as the ways in which they work in concert. In Jude, the law is not so much cruel or obtuse as it is irrelevant to the deeper sufferings of human beings.

Keywords: British novel; divorce law; marriage law; suffering

Chapter.  8194 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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