Jude the Obscure

From Academic Kids

Jude the Obscure is the last of Thomas Hardy's novels, first published as a novel in 1895.

Called "Jude the Obscene" by at least one reviewer, Jude the Obscure received so harsh a reception from scandalized critics that Hardy stopped writing fiction altogether, producing only poetry and drama for the rest of his life.

Jude was first published under the title The Simpletons and then Hearts Insurgent in the European and American editions of Harper's New Monthly Magazine from December 1894 until November 1895. The initial serialized edition was substantially different from the later novelized form. Many minor changes were made because the publishers insisted for moral reasons. Large portions of the plot were also different.

The novel is often thought of as Thomas Hardy's best work, not only for the elaborate structuring of the plot where small and subtle details lead to the character's ruin, but in the themes of the book. Such themes include how human loneliness and sensuality can stop a person from trying to fulfill his dreams; how when free from the trap of marriage one's dreams will not be fulfilled if one is of a lower status; how the educated classes are often more like sophists than intellectuals; how living a libertine life full of integrity and passion will be condemned as scandalous in conservative society; and how religion is nothing but a mistaken sense that the tragedies that wear down an individual are the result of having sinned against a higher being. As in most of Hardy's novels except, perhaps, for Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy manipulates the downfall of his characters like a sadistic god as if he were a true believer in a deity that was not a redeemer but a cruel monster (a motif frequently called a "rigged doom"). The novel tells the story of Jude Fawley, a stonemason who yearns to be a scholar at "Christminster", a city modelled on Oxford, England. Denied entry into the university, Jude is manipulated into an unwanted marriage with a country girl, Arabella, who soon deserts him. He becomes obsessed with his cousin, Sue Bridehead, even after she marries his former schoolteacher. Sue is attracted to the normalcy of her married life but quickly finds the relationship an unhappy one because inherently she is a libertine like Jude.

When Jude and Sue begin to live together, employers who find out about this illicit relationship and its bastard children dismiss Jude from his employment and landlords continually evict them. Jude's eldest son (from his first marriage to Arabella), known as "Little Father Time", hangs Sue's two children and then himself, after observing the problems he and his siblings are causing their parents. This tragedy ends Jude's relationship with Sue, who returns to her first husband Phillotson after experiencing extreme religious guilt. After being tricked yet another time into remarrying Arabella, Jude falls ill and makes one last trip to Sue. Sue first confirms her intense love for him then leaves him forever, evincing the moral stranglehold of the church. Jude returns home and dies alone as Arabella is out courting his doctor.

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