Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure Summary and Analysis of At Christminster: Chapters 1-3


Chapter I

Three years later, Jude is on the road to Christminster. He has finished his apprenticeship, and is finally spurred to leave after seeing a picture of his beautiful cousin, Sue Bridehead, on Aunt Drusilla’s mantle. Aunt Drusilla had told him that Sue lives in Christminster, and Jude decided he would like to meet her. He moves into a cheap suburb of Christminster that he later learns is nicknamed “Beersheba” (81).

As Jude explores the city, he finds it cold and gloomy and feels very alone. He sees many influential theologians, politicians, and scientists, and thinks back on his own reading. Through Jude’s reveries, Hardy makes veiled reference to many contemporary writers and intellectual figures. A policeman sees Jude loitering and urges him to move along. That night, Jude falls asleep dreaming of the words of great thinkers. In the morning, he remembers that he had wanted to call on his cousin Sue.

Chapter II

Jude goes to find work at a stone-mason’s workyard. He notices that their projects are less ambitious than he had hoped: “at best only copying, patching and imitating” (87). He does not realize this is because fewer buildings are made out of stone than in the past. He introduces himself to the foreman and asks for work, with the caveat that the job will only be temporary. The foreman rejects him.

Jude hesitates to call on Sue, but he asks Aunt Drusilla to send him the photograph of her. She does, although she urges Jude not to associate with Sue or anyone on that side of the family. Jude makes no promises but kisses the portrait and puts it on his mantelpiece. Although he sees university students every day as he hunts for work, he is invisible to them and feels he is “outside the gates of everything” (89).

Eventually, Jude gets a job offer from the first stone-mason he visited. He accepts, and uses the money to buy a lamp, books, and pens. He uses a curtain to divide his tiny apartment into a bedroom and a study, and saves as much money as he can to attend university. He receives another letter from Aunt Drusilla reminding him not to associate with Sue or her family. Sue’s father has gone to London, but Sue is still in Christminster and working as a designer for an ecclesiastical warehouse. Aunt Drusilla disapproves of this since she thinks Sue is making “Papist” (90) idols.

Jude goes to visit the shop where Sue works, and is impressed by her skillful and pious job. He refrains from introducing himself, out of shyness and respect for Aunt Drusilla’s wishes. Several days later, Sue passes through one of Jude’s work sites but does not recognize him. Despite his attraction to his beautiful cousin, Jude strives to keep his feelings for her platonic.

Chapter III

Jude finally decides to introduce himself to Sue. He attends a service at her church, but feels so conflicted about meeting her that he cannot bring himself to approach her. He worries that his attraction to her will get out of hand, but reasons that the relationship would stay platonic because he is still married to Arabella.

Sue has an afternoon off, and uses it to go read a book in the countryside. She encounters a salesman selling sculptures of Roman gods and goddesses. Sue buys two - one of Venus and one of Apollo - which she considers better than “those everlasting church fallals” (97). Despite this, she feels self-conscious about bringing the pagan objects into town with her, and covers them up with flowers. She lies to her elderly landlady and says they are statues of saints. That night, Sue is unable to sleep well. Meanwhile, Jude studies the New Testament in his apartment.


This section focuses on Jude’s rapidly developing feelings for Sue Bridehead. Like his marriage to Arabella, Jude’s relationship with Sue is one of contrasts. In these chapters, Hardy highlights some of Jude’s ‘feminine’ qualities - his bashfulness, his lack of practicality in his dreams of enrolling at the university, his enslavement to his emotions. Sue, on the other hand, demonstrates some qualities that are, if not masculine, certainly unusual for a woman from this time period. She holds a skilled, apparently full-time job as a designer; she reads Gibbon; she demonstrates a rebellious streak by buying the statues of the Roman gods.

In the extended build-up to Jude’s romance with Sue, Hardy dwells on mistaken first impressions. Jude assumes that Sue is pious because of her job as a designer for an ecclesiastical shop, but it turns out that Sue is actually quite the free thinker - she dislikes the objects she designs, and prefers the statues of Roman gods that she buys on her visit to the countryside. The contrast between Jude and Sue’s views on religion foreshadows a source of tension in their future relationship.

Although Jude has idealized Christminster since he was eleven, Hardy’s portrayal of the city is very grim here. The city, which is based on Oxford (Morgan 135), is cold and unwelcoming to strangers, as evidenced by Jude’s solitary lifestyle and the policeman who urges him not to loiter when he first arrives. Moreover, there is a strict segregation between the university students and the working class; as Jude observes, the walls around the university are impermeable. This is the first moment in the novel in which it seems that Jude may never realize his academic dreams.

Even though the narrator takes Jude to task for his naïve belief that he can save up enough money to go to university, Hardy also highlights some of the ways that Jude has matured since the beginning of the novel. He thinks carefully about the potential repercussions of starting a relationship with Sue, and he makes a much more substantial effort to resist his attraction to her, refraining from introducing himself to her three times. He also writes to his Aunt Drusilla frequently and tries to respect her stringent demands about contacting Sue, even though she was never particularly kind to him as a boy.

Stonemasonry is a motif that comes up frequently in the first chapters of "At Christminster". Hardy uses it to highlight the differences in class between Jude and the students he wishes to emulate. Unlike the students, who would appreciate the buildings of Christminster from an art-historical perspective, Jude considers the kind and amount of labor the buildings required. Likewise, Hardy emphasizes that Jude would have had the opportunity for greater specialization (and perhaps artistry) in his field if he had been born in London.