Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure Summary and Analysis of At Melchester: Chapters 6-10


Chapter VI

Meanwhile, Mr. Phillotson has taken a job as a schoolmaster in Shaston. He tries to study ancient British history in his free time, but is unable to concentrate because he can’t stop thinking of Sue. We learn that she only got engaged to him after refusing to marry immediately, and that her letters to him are short and infrequent. She has also asked that he refrain from visiting her because she does not want the training college to know she is engaged. Eventually, Mr. Phillotson misses her so much that he decides to visit anyway, at which point he learns that she was expelled two weeks ago. He goes to sit in the cathedral and runs into Jude, who is repairing the building. The men have a tense confrontation, in which Jude admits that he loves Sue but then backtracks and says his desire to marry her is only hypothetical.

Later that day, Sue comes to Melchester to pick up her things as promised. Jude finally tells her the story of his marriage to Arabella. She is not as put off as Jude expected, but she refuses to answer when he asks if she cares for him. They agree that there are too many obstacles for a relationship between them to work, and they part “in good friendship” (168). However, Jude feels he still doesn’t know Sue’s true feelings.

Chapter VII

Jude receives a letter from Sue with shocking news: she and Phillotson have decided to shorten their engagement, and they plan to be married in a month. Jude wonders if the revelation of his own marriage has inspired Sue to rush her relationship with Phillotson. A few days later, he receives another letter from Sue, asking him to give her away at the wedding, since he is the only “married relation” (170) she has in this part of the country. Sue now signs her letters with her full name, giving them a stiffer and more formal tone. Jude agrees to give Sue away, and offers his home as a location for the wedding.

Sue comes to Melchester ten days before the wedding so she can establish residency there. She stays with Jude and seems anxious and withdrawn as the wedding nears. Jude continues to pine for her, and worries that Sue doesn’t understand what a serious commitment she is getting herself into. The day before the wedding, they walk arm in arm around the town, and visit the church where the ceremony will take place. Sue and Jude go to look at the building and walk down the aisle together, which causes Jude to have an emotional breakdown. Sue apologizes for putting Jude in such a vexing situation, and they leave the church. Outside, the cousins run into Mr. Phillotson, and Sue goes home with him. The next day, Sue and Phillotson have a simple but charming wedding. Jude is preoccupied the entire time with his worries about Sue. As Sue and Phillotson leave after the ceremony, Sue seems tearful. Just as they are about to depart, she runs back to pick up her handkerchief, and when she does, she gazes emotionally at Jude but leaves without saying anything.

Chapter VIII

Jude is devastated by Sue’s marriage and clings to the hope that she will run away from Mr. Phillotson. One day, two letters arrive for Jude. One informs him that Aunt Drusilla is dangerously ill, and the other is from his old employer at Christminster, offering Jude a good job if he returns to the city. Jude uses Aunt Drusilla’s illness as a pretext to contact Sue. He suggests that Sue come to Marygreen and meet Aunt Drusilla for the first time since her childhood, since the old woman is about to die. She agrees, and Jude promises to meet her at the train station at Alfredston and walk with her to Marygreen.

Jude returns to his old apartment in Christminster and reconnects with Tinker Taylor, his old drinking companion. They go to the bar where Jude recited in “At Christminster”. The building has been expanded and remodeled, and Tinker Taylor leaves after one drink because he does not like the new atmosphere. Jude stays and is shocked to discover Arabella working as a barmaid. He listens to her banter coquettishly with the customers; when one of them asks about her relationship status, Arabella claims that she was married but left her husband in Australia.

After the bar empties of customers, Jude approaches Arabella. She had assumed he was dead, and cordially offers him a free drink, which he declines. Arabella doesn’t want to divulge why she left Australia, but she explains that she came to Christminster because no one here knows about her past, and she is now making a good living as a barmaid. They resolve to talk more when Arabella’s shift ends at nine. This meeting means that Jude will be unable to meet Sue when she arrives at Alfredston, but there’s nothing he can do. When he meets Arabella, Jude mentions that Aunt Drusilla is sick, and Arabella volunteers to go with him to visit her at Marygreen. Jude isn’t pleased that Arabella and Sue will meet each other, but he can’t refuse Arabella’s request. Jude and Arabella spend the night at a cheap inn in Aldbrickham so their landlords won’t suspect their relationship.

Chapter IX

The next morning, Arabella and Jude return to Christminster. They still haven’t decided what to do about each other, since when they separated they never expected to be in the same country again, let alone the same city. Arabella admits that she married a hotel manager in Australia. Jude is outraged by this, but Arabella insists that it’s not a crime - many people remarry in Australia, and she lived very honorably with her husband there.

Jude goes to catch a train to Marygreen. At the train station, he runs into Sue, who assumed that he stood her up the previous night because he was still upset about her marrying Phillotson. She had come to Christminster to find him. Jude is delighted to see her but their conversation is slightly awkward at first, since this is the first time they’ve seen each other since Sue's wedding. Although Sue seems somewhat unhappy, Jude says he is glad that marriage has not yet crushed her soul. Not surprisingly, this offends Sue and she insists that she has a good marriage - indeed, Mr. Phillotson allows her more liberty than most older husbands would, as evidenced by the fact that she came to Marygreen alone. However, Jude can’t shake the feeling that Sue regrets her marriage.

When they get to Aunt Drusilla’s house, the old woman is slightly delirious and expresses great surprise that Sue would marry someone like Mr. Phillotson. Aunt Drusilla says that Mr. Phillotson is very undesirable, and asks Sue if she loves him, to which Sue cannot respond. Sue gets upset and runs outside, and when Jude follows her, Sue admits that Aunt Drusilla is right - she does not love Mr. Phillotson. As Sue is leaving Marygreen, Jude offers to visit her and Phillotson, but Sue says that he shouldn’t since he has not yet reconciled himself with her marriage. Several days later, Jude gets a letter from Arabella explaining that she has gone to London. Her Australian husband has opened a bar there and she is going to join him and help manage the business.

Chapter X

Jude finds Christminster too depressing, so he moves back to Melchester - ostensibly to study for the priesthood, but really to be near Sue, who is living in Shaston with Mr. Phillotson. In his free time, he becomes a bass singer for the local choir. Jude is very impressed with a new hymn the choir performs called “The Foot of the Cross”. He learns from the choir leader that the composer grew up in Christminster and now lives in nearby Kennetbridge. Jude believes the composer will be a kindred spirit, so he goes to Kennetbridge to call on the man.

When he gets there, the composer thanks Jude for his compliments but says that there is no money to be made in writing hymns, and he plans to take up the wine business. This disappoints Jude, and he is hurt when the composer’s manner changes upon finding out that Jude is poor (and thus will probably not buy any wine from him). When Jude gets back from Kennetbridge, he finds a letter from Sue apologizing for what she said at the train station, and inviting Jude for lunch in Shaston. Although Jude is too late to go to lunch, he sets an appointment to visit Sue and Phillotson the following week.


In this section, Jude attempts to reconcile himself to Sue’s marriage to Mr. Phillotson. However, indecision - a central motif in these chapters - prevents him from doing so. Jude is unable to commit to a career; although he likes the idea of becoming a licentiate, he cannot bring himself to give up his dream of becoming an academic. His inability to achieve a fulfilling career only exacerbates his obsession with Sue, since she is his only intellectual outlet.

Sue suffers from some problems with indecision herself. She poignantly hesitates when it’s time to go away with Mr. Phillotson after her marriage, and her fickleness about whether to cut off contact with Jude torments him. The characters’ indecision serves several functions. As a shared personality trait, it furthers the sense that Sue and Jude are a good match for one another. However, the stagnancy that their relationship experiences in this section also hints that indecision could poison any potential romance.

Although the novel’s two protagonists are indecisive, Mr. Phillotson comes into his own as a foil for Jude and Sue in these chapters. Not only is Mr. Phillotson old, he also has modest expectations in life - unlike Jude, he has given up higher education and dedicated himself fully to a career as a schoolmaster. Most importantly, Phillotson actively pursues the things he wants; while Jude agonizes and analyzes each letter from Sue for days, Phillotson goes to visit her when he feels she hasn’t been writing enough.

Although this section focuses most closely on Jude’s romantic woes, Hardy periodically returns to the subplot about Jude’s academic aspirations. This subplot can illuminate Jude’s interlude at Kennetbridge, which might initially seem unrelated to the events that happen before and after. By introducing the composer, Hardy shows that Jude’s exclusion from the academy was inevitable. Like Jude, the composer tried to pursue a path in the humanities, and despite being raised in Christminster and educated in music, he is unable to live off his earnings.

The composer’s personality also foreshadows Jude’s fate. Because he is so poor, the composer fixates on making money by selling wine, going so far as to solicit Jude, who has come by for a friendly talk. Jude will also be altered by financial woes before the end of the novel. Indeed, the pressure to earn money destroys his relationship with Sue and causes him to comment to his children that they are ‘too many’, leading to the murder-suicide by Little Father Time.