Jude the Obscure

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A novel by T. Hardy, originally printed in abridged form in Harper's New Monthly Magazine (1894–5, as Hearts Insurgent), then in the 1895 edition of his works.

In the author's words, it is a story ‘of a deadly war waged between flesh and spirit’. Jude Fawley, a young Wessex villager of exceptional intellectual promise, is encouraged by the schoolmaster Phillotson. He is trapped into marriage by the barmaid Arabella Donn, who shortly afterwards deserts him. He moves to Christminster (which represents Oxford), hoping one day to be admitted to the university. He meets his cousin, Sue Bridehead, an unconventional, hypersensitive young woman who works in a shop selling ecclesiastical ornaments: they fall in love. Sue, in what appears to be a fit of desperate masochism, suddenly marries Phillotson. She is driven from him by physical revulsion, and flies to Jude; they live together but do not consummate their love until Arabella reappears on the scene. Jude, who had been planning to enter the priesthood as a licentiate, as a substitute for his thwarted intellectual ambitions, is now doubly defeated. He and Sue become free to marry, but Sue shrinks from the step.

Under the pressure of poverty and social disapproval their relationship deteriorates, and tragedy overtakes them in the death of their children: the eldest, ‘Old Father Time’, son of Jude and Arabella, hangs the two babies and himself, leaving a note saying, ‘Done because we are too menny.’ In an agony of remorse and self‐abasement, Sue returns to Phillotson and the church, and Jude, deeply shocked by her abandoning of her free‐thinking principles, begins drinking heavily and is inveigled back by Arabella. He dies wretchedly.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Thomas Hardy (1840—1928) novelist and poet

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