Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure Summary and Analysis of At Christminster: Chapters 4-7


Chapter IV

Jude gets an assignment to do some carving on the inside of a local church. During the services, he sits down so as not to disturb the churchgoers. He sees Sue and Miss Fontover among the congregation and notices that she is rather nonchalant about her worship. Again he refrains from approaching her because he knows that desiring her sexually is immoral. One day not long after, Sue tries to call on Jude at the workyard while he is out working on an assignment. When he gets back, he is surprised and pleased to learn that she came by. This pleasure turns to “a cold sweat” (102) when Jude gets home to find that Sue has left a note at his apartment. It scolds Jude for not letting Sue know that he was in Christminster; she would have appreciated a friend, but now she is leaving town soon and the opportunity be lost.

Jude sends a note to Sue asking her to meet him that very evening at the square “which marked the spot of the Martyrdoms” (102). When they meet, Sue remarks that the appointed place is inauspicious and asks him to walk a little beyond it for their first meeting. As it turns out, Sue knows Mr. Phillotson. He lives outside Christminster and works as a village schoolmaster, having failed to realize his dream of becoming a parson. Jude and Sue decide to pay Mr. Phillotson a visit. Jude is hurt when his old school-master does not remember him, and only dimly recalls sending Jude the grammars. He is also discouraged that his old role model has failed to achieve the dream of attending university and becoming a parson - for if he can’t do it, how can Jude? Despite this, Mr. Phillotson welcomes them cordially and mentions offhand that he is looking for a student-teacher.

On the way home, Sue mentions that Miss Fontover destroyed her statues (which Sue calls her ‘patron-saints’). Sue is moving out because of this incident, but she is struggling to find a suitable apartment within her budget. Jude suggests she work as a student-teacher for Phillotson - once she completes the training, she will make twice as much as a schoolmistress than she did as a designer. Jude visits and writes to Mr. Phillotson, talking up Sue’s skills and her interest in teaching so Phillotson will hire her. Eventually, Phillotson agrees.

Chapter V

Mr. Phillotson quickly hires Sue, since the applicant he had originally preferred failed to show up for work. He is very pleased with her performance, and looks forward to hiring her permanently after the government inspection later in the year. Sue moves into a flat across the street from the school. In the evenings, Mr. Phillotson gives her private instruction in arithmetic and other topics she will need to be familiar with as a full-time teacher. As required by law, they employ an elderly chaperone named Mrs. Hawes to sit with them during these lessons. Despite Mrs. Hawes’s presence, Mr. Phillotson begins to feel attracted to Sue.

The school goes on a field trip to see a traveling diorama of Jerusalem. As the docent lectures the children on the spots of religious importance within the city, Sue remarks to Mr. Phillotson that the diorama is silly - she feels there is no way of knowing what Jerusalem was like in ancient times, and cities like Alexandria and Athens are more important, anyway. Mr. Phillotson disagrees because Christianity is so important to English culture. Just then, they run into Jude, who has skipped work to come see the exhibit. He is deeply engrossed in it, and Mr. Phillotson playfully tells him about Sue’s objections. Sue becomes embarrassed and flustered, but Jude backs her up by pretending to share her skepticism about the model. The next day, Mr. Phillotson is surprised that Sue is able draw a very detailed sketch of the diorama on the blackboard from memory.

Two days later, the school-inspector comes to look in on Sue’s teaching. She is so startled by his arrival that she becomes faint. Mr. Phillotson comes to encourage her, and gives her some brandy after the school-inspector leaves. Sue holds his hand, and he tells her that she is the best student-teacher he ever had. Jude goes to visit Sue and Phillotson on Friday, but on his way there, he sees them out walking together. Mr. Phillotson puts his arm around Sue, which she allows even though she is visibly uncomfortable. This sight depresses Jude, but he resolves not to interfere with the romance since he is already married.

Chapter VI

Aunt Drusilla is very ill, so Jude goes to Marygreen to make arrangements for her care. He asks her more questions about Sue’s upbringing, and Drusilla realizes he has met his cousin. She advises him not to get involved with Sue because the girl is “townish” and “impertinent” (113). However, Drusilla’s nurse remembers Sue and tells Jude that she was a tomboyish girl who once recited poetry with a level of concentration and maturity beyond her years.

Jude runs into some villagers in Marygreen who ask how he is faring in Christminster. He replies that he loves the city but cannot afford to attend university. The villagers aren’t surprised; they believe that higher education is only for the wealthy. The exchange inspires Jude to pursue his education with more initiative. He writes to five deans of the university, explaining his desire to learn and his unfortunate financial situation. None answer. Although the university does offer some scholarships for open competition, Jude cannot hope to compete with the other applicants because he has had so little formal education. He realizes that it will take fifteen years to save enough money to enroll at the university, and gives up on his dream. Meanwhile, Mr. Phillotson has decided to leave Christminster for a job in Mid-Wessex.

Eventually, Jude does receive a delayed response to his inquiry from the dean of Biblioll College. The dean advises him to “remain in your own sphere and [stick] to your trade” (120). Jude goes to a rowdy pub to drink and is struck by the beauty of the city’s working class; he reflects that this, and not the university, is “the real Christminster life” (121). On the way home, he finds a piece of chalk and writes the following quote from the Book of Job on the gate of Biblioll College: “I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?” (121)

Chapter VII

Jude goes to another pub the next afternoon and for the first time, talks to and befriends the other patrons. He gets drunk and boasts about his intellect, which leads the other patrons to challenge him to recite the Biblical Creeds in Latin. Jude does so after two undergraduates buy him a whiskey, and although he gets flustered when they complain that he chose to recite the Nicene and not the Apostles, he finishes beautifully when they buy him a second drink. The crowd applauds him, but Jude calls them fools because they don’t actually know if he recited the verses correctly (Jude is right - the narrator tells us that the two undergraduates don’t speak a word of Latin).

Jude storms out in a fit of rage and shame at the company he has kept, and goes to Sue’s house. She lets him spend the night there. In the morning he is deeply embarrassed that he showed his worst side in front of her, so he slips away before she wakes up. When he gets home he finds a note announcing that he has been fired from his job for unspecified reasons. Hopeless and dejected, Jude returns to Marygreen on foot and stays in his old house. The morning after his return, Jude runs into Mr. Highridge, a young clergyman, and tells his story. Mr. Highridge suggests that Jude become a licentiate, a lower level in the ecclesiastical hierarchy that requires less education.


The story’s main action begins to unfold in these chapters now that all of the main characters have been introduced, but Hardy continues to focus on characterization. When Jude, Sue, and Mr. Phillotson run into each other at the traveling exhibit, their reactions to the diorama reveal the differences in their fundamental attitudes toward religion. Jude is deeply interested and moved by the diorama, which suggests that he appreciates Christianity on both an intellectual and moral level. Sue is skeptical of it; she prefers agnosticism since the events in the Bible occurred so long ago, but she nevertheless shows a keen understanding of the diorama (and by extension, religion) when she recreates it on the blackboard the next day. Mr. Phillotson has the least to say about the diorama, which suggests that he is less intelligent compared to Jude and Sue, and although he appreciates it because it ‘means so much’ to people, he is not moved by it one way or the other like the two young people.

The brief scene in the classroom is the second one that is related from Sue’s perspective, rather than Jude’s (the first was her trip to the countryside when she bought the statues). Sue is the only character besides Jude from whose perspective the story is told. Hardy seems to be setting her up in "At Christminster" as a secondary protagonist. Although her views on religion differ radically from Jude’s, Hardy treats them with just as much (if not more) depth and sensitivity as he does the religious opinions of the protagonist.

Jude has the first of several personal crises when the dean suggests that Jude’s dream of higher education is unrealistic. This crisis brings out several negative qualities of Jude’s personality. He continues to indulge his tendency to turn to alcohol when he is upset, as we first saw when he learned that Arabella had tricked him into marriage. We also see Jude’s pompous, boastful side.

This flaw is an example of the novel’s moral complexity. On the one hand, it is heavily in favor of making higher education more accessible. Hardy emphasizes the inequality of his society by contrasting the two supposedly ‘elite’ undergraduates, who don’t know a word of Latin, with Jude, who can movingly recite the Bible even while drunk. But on the other, the narrator sometimes seems to disdain Jude for aspiring to transcend his working-class origins. The narrator frequently derides Jude for the ‘impracticality’ of his goals, and he characterizes the dean’s advice as “terribly sensible” (120).

This could be read as conflicting with the novel’s overall moral: the narrator seems to say that the working class deserves to be more educated as a whole, but individuals from the working class who try to seek education are impractical and uppity. However, we could also read these statements as reflections of character flaws that result from Jude pursuing his goals too singlemindedly.