Called "Jude the Obscene" by at least one reviewer, Jude the Obscure received a harsh reception from some scandalized critics. Among the critics was Walsham How, Bishop of Wakefield; Hardy later claimed that the bishop had burned a copy. It has been suggested that negative criticism was the reason that Hardy stopped writing novels after Jude, but poet C. H. Sisson describes this "hypothesis" as "superficial and absurd".
D. H. Lawrence, an admirer of Hardy, was puzzled by the character of Sue Bridehead, and attempted to analyse her conflicted sexuality in his A Study of Thomas Hardy (1914).
At least one recent scholar has postulated that Jude borrowed heavily from an earlier novel, The Wages of Sin by Lucas Malet.
Marxist critic Terry Eagleton, in his introduction to a 1974 edition of the text, refutes the conventional reading of the novel as 'the tragedy of an oversexed peasant boy', instead examining the social background of the text and proposing it as a conflict between ideal and reality.