The whole oeuvre of Thomas Hardy is quite impressive, nevertheless, we cannot avoid rating Jude the Obscure as his Masterpiece. And that is not only concerning an excellent plot and very realistic characters, but because once you have finished reading (or re-reading, in my case) this novel your perception of the world may dramatically change. Jude the Obscure is not that kind of book that someone asks you if you have read and if you recommend it and you have to focus to remember if that is one or another book from the same author and offer an easy answer if it would please or not the person who asked you for opinion.
Well, let’s start from the begining. Jude is a very sensitive and clever lad, being raised by his aunt Drusilla. There is an excerpt in which Drusilla complains that someone who has beaten Jude used to be her servant, what makes us conclude that the Fawley family was once wealthy, but now has been impoverished. Jude also is a self didact, learning Greek and Latin by himself, and dreams of becoming an Academic and is not afraid of doing works that require physical strenght either. My first impression of him was like, gee, this guy has it all, a man like that cannot possibly fail in life, even under Mr Hardy’ s skilful hands. Yeah, you dream as much as you like Carrie, there are no taxes over that yet.
The plot starts to thicken when we are introduced to a girl that seems to be in love with Jude, the local Butcher’s daughter to be more precise. Jude marries her, even when his aunt passionately advertises him not to (due both to a supposed Family Curse and the harshness of the bride). But Arabella is all flesh, while Jude is all brains, so what could come from that? No good, for sure. So Arabella soon leaves her husband and decides to persuit a better luck in Australia, meanwhile Jude decides to move to Christminter, where he can work using his hands as his mind develops constantly in the hope of being able to enjoy a vacancy at the University. That sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it?
Now Jude seems to be on track to a merry sucessful life. But aunt Drusilla has written his cousin Sue, who also lives in Christminter, to find Jude and become his friend. Sue is a sunshine kind of person – not particularly clever, but whip smart, shrewd and passionate. They soon fall in love with each other, as they are very similar, and the dynamics between them is so strong one cannot possibly imagine how they could not be able to share a strong bond. However, remember aunt Drusilla’ s words, they share the same blood, so they also share the same curse. And if a curse is bad enough, try to picture it x2. Just a warning.
Being of a passionate and strong personality, Sue soon gets annoyed because of people’s comments about the nature of her relationship with her cousin. One rainy night, she escapes from her home and runs to Jude’s cabin, where she tries to seduce him in a very ambivalent way, and this ambiguity will soon be put in the spotlight when, after learning that Jude is already married, Sue decides to accept the proposal of Richard Pillotson, Jude’ s former mentor. This, added to the refusal of his entrance at the University, makes Jude endlessly miserabe, so he leaves town and returns home with his immense grief.
Still pining for his failures in academic and romantic life, after the Funeral of aunt Drusilla, Jude receives a letter from Sue summoning him for a visit. He catches the first train only to find his beloved cousin unhappy, unsettled in her own home and suffering as she finds the marital intimacy untolerable. When Richard offers to let her go with Jude, as he does not enjoy seeing her so obviously sad, Jude and Sue accept his proposal gladly and decide to elopse together.
When Jude and Sue are together, they live what I call “Infinite Bliss” (which, ironicaly, I only find in tragic-ended novels: Liev Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina and George Orwell’s 1984) finding immense joy in each other’s company, having freedom from their respective spouses, both of them childless, not even tangled by marital duties. Even the fact they are not having sex does not make a single cloud in the perfect blue sky… They play on the beach, travel by train and laugh at each other like only fools in love can (pause to try to restrain my lonely heart from breaking, drought and forsaken).
As we all know, happiness cannot last much. Arabella returns to the picture only to tell Jude he has fathered a son of hers, also named Jude, who is coming from Australia to live with his dad and stepmom. Jude is a small, silent and dark humoured boy, which made me think Jude the Obscure would be him, instead of his father, who finally convinces Sue to share her intimacy with him and as a predictible result of the couple in love activities, they add two more children to the list.
Now they are a family of five, impoverished and lead by an adulterous couple. They are ostracized and dismissed whenever their employers find out they’re not married to each other. Jude says to Sue that they must move until the world moves on (yeah, so glad it has, after all no one is throwing rocks over Kristen Stewart for cheating Robert Pattionson or so). One day, at a Fair, they find Arabella once again, who has become a pro(s)per ‘widow’ after her also ilicit husband has died and proclaimed her as his only heiress. She mocks Jude and Sue, saying they are ‘Mr. and Mrs. Fawley’ and remarking that Jude used to feel he was above ordinary folks. After that, Jude decides to move back to Christminster, to what Sue asks if it was because Arabella has hurted his pride, and he replies it was “because he still had some (pride)”.
Back to Christminster, the family has a hard time finding a place to stay. Sue, once again pregnant, has an outburst in which she says aloud no one allows them in because “They are too many”. The next day, back from searching a new job, Sue and Jude return home only to find their two children murdered by little Jude, that hanged himself leaving a note saying “Done because they are too menny”. Sinking heavily in grief, Sue has a miscarriage and Jude feels entirely lost, although not guilty.
Now many of you would not agree with my opinion, but I think people that are very passional and sensitive, when things go wrong, often have a hard time accepting that bad, even terrible things happen to good people with no reason at all, that there are random events and the world has a great deal of chaos – assuming we are not always responsable for everything that comes to us, instead prefering to atribute the blame over their own deeds. So Sue, drowning in pain, finds consolation in the Church and her only solace is to place herself and Jude as the main source of their tragedy, as they were living in sin, united as a couple without God’s blessing. Therefore, she decides to go back to her husband and resume their marriage. With Arabella back into the scene, Jude also resumes his own original relationship.
Both unhappy with their spouses, Jude and Sue meet only once again, in the middle of a particularly freezing Winter, and Jude begs Sue to come back to him as she walks out of him. He catches a cold, becomes ill and dies withing one year. Sue survives, “staid and worn”, and Arabella waits for the next husband in line. The End.
Thomas Hardy has been almost burned alive, altogether with this novel, for his bold attitute of publishing such scandalous piece of work. It includes in one single strike all kinds of issues one could think of – incest, ilicit sexual passion, frigidness, religious obsession, suicide, ill natured children, murder. If reading it may cause nause and heartbreaking feelings, I try to figure out how it would be writing and proposing it to editors. A dark, raw and timeless masterpiece, although as Obscure as the two Judes.