Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure Summary and Analysis of At Christminster Again: Chapters 1-5


Chapter I

Jude, Sue, and the children return to Christminster on Remembrance Day, so the streets are crowded in anticipation of a parade. Jude overhears someone wondering what a Latin inscription on a nearby building means, so Jude translates the inscription and enthusiastically lectures the surrounding people about the building’s architecture. Tinker Taylor and some of Jude’s old laborer friends recognize him and welcome him back, although they note that he did not achieve his dream of becoming an academic and ask him what happened. Sue and Time are saddened and uncomfortable with this line of questioning, but Jude explains to everyone that he was unable to achieve his dream due to his own moral failings and those of society.

After watching a preacher briefly, Jude and Sue try to find an apartment. However, no one will rent to them because they have children. Time sees this and is very distressed that he and his siblings are preventing the family from finding shelter. Eventually, they find a woman who will rent to Sue and the children if Jude finds lodging elsewhere. All seems fine until Jude leaves and the landlady asks Sue if she is married. Sue admits that she and Jude never had the courage to wed because of their terrible first marriages. When the landlady’s husband hears this (along with the fact that Sue has brought children and is pregnant with another), he says they cannot rent there, so Sue takes Time and tries to find another apartment. However, no one will rent to a single woman with a child. Time remarks that he never should have been born.

Chapter II

The landlady lets Sue and the children spend one night in the apartment since they cannot find anywhere else to stay. Time reflects that children only cause trouble and wishes he had been killed at birth so as not to cause problems for his parents. Sue is so upset about their dire housing situation that she agrees with him, and the mother and son cry together. The next morning, Sue and Jude have breakfast together before the children awake. Jude has found lodgings for them in his old neighborhood of Beersheba. When they go back to the apartment, they find that Little Father Time has hung his two younger siblings and himself. Jude, Sue, and the landlady try desperately to revive them, but they are all dead. Sue finds a suicide note from Time that reads: “Done because we are too menny” (331).

Sue blames herself, but Jude insists that Time was predisposed to do this - the doctor told Jude that more and more children are becoming disturbed in response to the horrors of modern life. However, Sue continues to blame herself for speaking so carelessly to Time. While she is asleep, Jude sends the children’s bodies away to be buried. When Sue wakes up, she is distraught and begs the gravedigger to let her see them one last time. Jude eventually gets her back to the apartment so she can rest. That night, she has a miscarriage.

Chapter III

Jude and Sue move to Beersheba, and Jude takes up stonemasonry again while Sue recovers from her miscarriage. Sue is overcome with depression and anxiety about their living together unmarried, and begins to feel that she should go back to Mr. Phillotson. She believes that in the wake of their horrible personal tragedy, they “ought to be sacrificing [themselves] on the altar of duty” (339). Arabella comes to visit Jude and Sue, and their discussion of the tragedy is awkward. Arabella did not attend the funeral because she did not feel welcome, but she has visited Time’s grave.

That night, Sue goes to St. Silas’s church. Jude follows her and finds her prostrate before the cross. She now thinks that she was wrong to be with Jude at all, and Arabella’s child killing her own is a sign that breaking her first marriage was wrong. Jude is incredulous at Sue’s sudden conservatism. As they walk home together, Sue suddenly asks if she can stay at an inn instead of at home with Jude. She wants to break up with him and go back to Phillotson. Not surprisingly, Jude is flabbergasted by this development and they have an argument when Sue tries to explain herself. Jude accuses her of never having loved him at all, and Sue agrees that her motivations for loving him were selfish - she wanted to be loved without loving back. They kiss goodbye and Sue leaves.

Chapter IV

As it turns out, Phillotson saw Sue, Jude, and the children at the parade in Christminster, which he attended with Gillingham, but he chose not to approach them. He also read about the children’s murder-suicide in the newspaper. One day he runs into Arabella at Marygreen, and she informs him that Jude and Sue are no longer living together, and that Sue considers herself Phillotson’s wife in the eyes of the church. After consulting Gillingham, Phillotson writes to Sue and tells her that she can come back to him and be his wife if she wants to. A few days later, Sue asks Jude to meet her at their children’s grave. She explains that she is going back to Phillotson. They will remarry for formality’s sake, although she believes she has been married to Phillotson this whole time. Although he thinks she is mistaken, Jude bids her farewell.

Chapter V

Sue goes to Phillotson’s house at Marygreen. She is repentant, and almost happy that her “sin-begotten” children died because “their death was the first stage of my purification” (358). However, she still flinches a little when Phillotson tries to kiss her. When Sue goes up to her room to get ready for bed, the Widow Edlin accompanies her. As Sue pulls her nightgowns out of her bag, she realizes that she accidentally packed a pretty embroidered nightgown that she wore when she was living with Jude. Sue tears it up and throws the pieces into the fire. Between this and the things Sue said earlier about her children, the Widow Edlin is very alarmed. “Lord, you be too strict!” she says, “Upon my life I don’t call that religion!” (360).

Meanwhile, Phillotson and Gillingham talk about Sue. Due in part to Gillingham’s exhortations, Phillotson decides that he will need to be much stricter with Sue this time so that she doesn’t leave him again. Just then, the Widow Edlin enters and tells Phillotson that she doesn’t think he should marry Sue, because the girl is obviously forcing herself into the marriage despite still loving Jude. Phillotson gently rebukes the Widow Edlin, but privately thinks that he should wait a bit to get married just in case the Widow is right. Although he eventually decides to go through with the wedding as planned, Mr. Phillotson tells Sue that she will have as much privacy as she did when they were married before. This pleases her.


In these eventful chapters, tragedy brings out the fundamental differences between characters who seemed similar earlier in the novel. Hardy emphasizes the contrast between Jude and Sue’s reactions to their children’s deaths by relating their long arguments in the days after the event. Although he was the more demonstrative partner in their relationship, Jude is much calmer than Sue in the face of crisis - while she sleeps or has hysterics, he makes practical arrangements to bury the children, and he is the first to accept that a doctor will be no help in reviving them.

In contrast, Sue is so distraught that she has a miscarriage. Hardy heavily insinuates that Sue’s sudden turn to religious conservatism is inspired by her recent personal trauma; the Widow Edlin even speculates out loud that this might be the case. Hardy has hinted throughout the novel that Sue’s personality might change drastically in a time of crisis; even in benign situations, she is characterized as anxious and high-strung. Her turn to religious conservatism, then, could be read as a criticism of fervent religiosity in general; Hardy seems to suggest that strict Christian doctrine is something that emotionally vulnerable people turn to in times of crisis, and is therefore not to be taken seriously.

That said, Hardy is not completely progressive in these chapters. Immediately after the children’s deaths, Jude suggests that Time’s psychological disturbance might be a response to modernity. Hardy does not specify what aspects of modernity are so troubling; he only suggests that children are exposed to the horrors of life before they are old enough to properly handle these experiences.

Jude the Obscure relies heavily on chance encounters to advance the plot and characterization. Back in Part First, Jude argues with Arabella because he happens to overhear her friends talking about how Arabella coerced him into marriage. Likewise, Mr. Phillotson reunites with Sue after he runs into Arabella by chance and she informs him of Sue’s opinion that she is still his wife in the eyes of the Church. Sometimes, these chance encounters don’t factor into the plot, but instead advance characterization. For example, Mr. Phillotson sees Jude and Sue at the parade in Christminster but does not approach them; the incident simply demonstrates his restraint and consideration for his former wife.

Although Arabella plays little role in this chapter except as a vehicle to bring about Sue’s reunion with Phillotson, Hardy continues to develop her complex characterization. For better or for worse, Arabella is extraordinarily resilient. While she makes a crass comment to Sue about being more upset by Time’s death than by the deaths of her two children, she also survives the tragedy relatively easily. After her encounter with Phillotson, she walks away, practicing her dimple-making just like she did as a girl. However uncaring this may seem, Arabella is the only character who continues to pursue goals in life and enjoys a modicum of happiness after the children’s deaths; she may be coarse and less intellectual, but she seeks her own happiness.