“Every inch of ground had been the site, first or last, of energy, gaiety, horse-play, bickerings, weariness. ... Under the hedge which divided the field from a distant plantation girls had given themselves to lovers who would not turn their heads to look at them by the next harvest; and in that ancient cornfield many a man had made love-promises to a woman at whose voice he had trembled by the next seed-time after fulfilling them in the church adjoining. But this neither Jude nor the rooks around him considered.”
This passage is an example of Hardy's extensive reliance on foreshadowing in this novel. The reference to "plantation girls [who] had given themselves to lovers who would not turn their heads to look at them by the next harvest" resonates in Jude's relationship with Arabella. Although Jude is experiencing many of life's emotions and problems for the first time, Hardy points out that many others have lived through similar situations in the past, and will continue to do so.
“And so, standing before the aforesaid officiator, the two swore that at every other time of their lives till death took them, they would assuredly believe, feel, and desire precisely as they had believed, felt, and desired during the few preceding weeks. What was as remarkable as the undertaking itself was the fact that nobody seemed at all surprised at what they swore.”
Here, the narrator pauses the plot to comment on Jude and Arabella's choices - and by extension, the institution of marriage more broadly. Jude the Obscure provides an unflinching glimpse into the problems that can appear even when people think they will be happy in marriage. Hardy emphasizes the permanence of marriage, particularly with respect to the ephemeral feelings, like infatuation and sexual attraction, that often lead people into it. The novel's intimations that society might be better without marriage were extremely controversial in the nineteenth century, and led to blistering criticism and censorship for Hardy.
“Even were he free, in a family like his own where marriage usually meant a tragic sadness, marriage with a blood-relation would duplicate the adverse conditions, and a tragic sadness might be intensified to a tragic horror.”
Hardy's reference to "tragic horror" foreshadows the grisly deaths of Jude's children at the end of the novel, which follows directly from the "tragic sadness" of the family's poverty and Jude's deteriorating relationship with Sue. Jude's fear of the 'family curse' of doomed marriages underlines the role of fate in the novel. Although Jude tries his best to improve himself and resist making bad choices, he is influenced by circumstances and emotions beyond his control, and his destiny is seemingly decided from the beginning. In this sense, the novel is reminiscent of classical tragedy.
“Those buildings and their associations and privileges were not for him. From the looming roof of the great library, into which he hardly ever had time to enter, his gaze travelled on to the varied spires, halls, gables, streets, chapels, gardens, quadrangles, which composed the ensemble of this unrivalled panorama. He saw that his destiny lay not with these, but among the manual toilers in the shabby purlieu which he himself occupied, unrecognized as part of the city at all by its visitors and panegyrists, yet without whose denizens the hard readers could not read nor the high thinkers live.”
This passage distills almost all of the points Hardy makes about education in Jude the Obscure. The novel's tragic sense of predestination comes from the fact that Jude is in the working class. Due to social conditions in England at the time, he can never become a scholar, even though he is more suited to it than many people in the upper class (as shown by Hardy's portrayal of the undergraduates who go to pubs and cannot speak Latin). Hardy also skewers the upper class's sense of superiority by noting that their studies and luxuries rely on the toil of the laborers they treat so badly.
“Cathedral? Yes. Though I think I'd rather sit in the railway station ... That's the centre of the town life now. ... The cathedral was a very good place four or five centuries ago; but it is played out now… I am not modern, either. I am more ancient than mediævalism, if you only knew."
When Sue rebuffs Jude's suggestion that they sit together in the cathedral, she reveals her own views on religion. From her suggestion that the railway station has replaced the cathedral, we can infer that Sue is more coldly logical and practical than Jude; she is not at all moved by the cathedral's ancient grandeur and beauty. However, she is also commenting on the changes society has undergone since earlier times. The idea that the railway station is the town center suggests that in a newly mobile population, community has become less important.
“Crime! Pooh. They don't think much of such as that over there! Lots of 'em do it… Well, if you take it like that I shall go back to him! He was very fond of me, and we lived honourable enough, and as respectable as any married couple in the colony!”
When Jude finds out that Arabella has remarried in Australia, Arabella dismisses his objections. Arabella's marriage to the hotel manager parallels Jude's own relationship with Sue. Although Arabella is rarely the voice of wisdom in this novel, her belief that her marriage to her second husband is just as 'honourable' and 'respectable' as her marriage to Jude reflects Hardy's own views on marriage. In the novel, the narrator repeatedly argues that marriage doesn't allow for a couple's relationship to change over time, and Arabella's comments reinforce this. Her argument with Jude on this topic also foreshadows the moral dilemma that Jude will have when he starts his affair with Sue later on.
“I have been thinking ... that the social moulds civilization fits us into have no more relation to our actual shapes than the conventional shapes of the constellations have to the real star-patterns. I am called Mrs. Richard Phillotson, living a calm wedded life with my counterpart of that name. But I am not really Mrs. Richard Phillotson, but a woman tossed about, all alone, with aberrant passions, and unaccountable antipathies…”
In this passage, Sue meditates on the problems with marriage that preoccupy Hardy. As in earlier passages, Sue criticizes the way marriage subjugates the individual's needs to those of society. However, she also brings up for the first time the ways that marriage harms women in particular. She suggests that it does not satisfy or account for the 'passions' and 'antipathies' she experiences. Moreover, her identity as a married woman erodes her individual identity.
“Why should you care so much for Christminster? ... Christminster cares nothing for you, poor dear!”
When Jude expresses a desire to move back to Christminster at the end of "At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere", Sue points out that he has done more for the city than the city has ever done for him. Her use of the word "Christminster" here is an example of synecdoche - she is referring not only to the city, but to the university there as well, at which Jude could not enroll because of his poverty and low social status. This passage is an inflammatory moment in Hardy's critique of higher education, which he suggests is not accessible enough to the lower classes.
“I see marriage differently now. My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella's child killing mine was a judgement—the right slaying the wrong. What, shall I do! I am such a vile creature—too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings!”
Here, Sue explains her regression to religious conservatism after her children's death. Perhaps the most important thing to notice about Sue's ideological shift is her self-absorption; she seems to believe her children have no importance outside their effect on her life. Of course, this is not a new personality trait - Sue shows this same self-absorption in her interactions with Jude and in her fateful final conversation with Time. But by framing Sue's religious conversion as a result of her self-absorption, Hardy calls into question the supposed pure - or not - motivations behind one's faith.
“We've both remarried out of our senses. I was made drunk to do it. You were the same. I was gin-drunk; you were creed-drunk. Either form of intoxication takes away the nobler vision… Let us then shake off our mistakes, and run away together!”
As he attempts to persuade Sue to elope with him, Jude raises many of the novel's most controversial points about marriage and religion. Jude suggests fairly explicitly here that religion allows people to become emotionally numb; indeed, by comparing Sue's 'creed-drunkenness' to his own literal drunkenness, Jude unconsciously highlights the parallel between the two cousins' way of dealing with their emotions. Sue seeks solace in religion and Jude in alcohol; both turn to external distractions instead of dealing with their feelings directly.
Jude the Obscure Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Jude the Obscure is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Jude is a victim of "class" society, which renders him unable to attain his goal and better his life. His greatest desire is to become an academic, but his life is steeped in laboring for others. Class distinctions would allow for his ultimate...