Jude the Obscure

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Thomas Hardy – magazine serial published in 1894 in Harpers Monthly; book published in 1895. This cover is from the Dover edition, published in 2006

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. (So, I guess, add incest to the themes? Although cousins frequently married back in the day.)

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.

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.