Thomas Hardy 1894
This is a short commentary on a long book, meant for those who haven’t read it and wonder if they might want to do so.
Themes are hope, study, death, work, marriage, divorce, and infidelity. It strikes me that women are not portrayed that favorably although I do like Sue, Jude’s cousin and love interest.
Jude Fawley is a scholar by inclination and by soul’s longing, and a stonemason by trade. The story of his life is the story of hope – and the loss of hope. Thomas Hardy has said there is nothing of himself in the character of Jude but some critics are able to find parallels.
Jude is depicted compassionately and intimately, with optimism and longing informing his thoughts and actions as a boy and young man. The narrative is easy to follow, but I was surprised, after giving the book a quick re-read this weekend, to find that it was actually written in 1894. I would have guessed it was a hundred years older; the language of the characters seems to tell me that and there are no events or other features that place the story in time.
This is the darkest classic novel I have ever read. I grew to love Jude as much as one can love an imaginary figure, and it was distressing to watch him fail to realize his early promise. There is a scene in the book about the very slow slaughter of a pig (told in distressing detail), and that’s what this story is – the very slow killing of Jude’s hope. He started with big dreams, but he remained obscure.
I don’t regret reading or re-reading the book, partly because I educate myself with every classic work I read and partly because I so enjoyed Jude as he started out. However, be warned; you will not feel good after finishing this work.