Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure Summary and Analysis of At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere: Chapters 1-4


Chapter I

By the following February, both Sue and Jude have officially divorced their spouses. Sue feels conflicted because the divorce wouldn’t have been granted if the authorities knew she was living with Jude (even though they are not having sex). Jude notes that because they are working-class people, they can get away with this sort of thing. He wants to get married now that they are legally free to do so, but Sue thinks that formalizing the relationship through marriage will ruin it. Jude has found a job engraving headstones. This is not as lucrative as his old work repairing cathedrals, but he likes it because Sue helps him with the lettering.

Chapter II

A few weeks later, Jude comes home after attending a public lecture about history. While he was out, Arabella visited, but Sue panicked upon seeing Jude’s ex-wife and told her that Jude would be unable to see her. Just as Sue is apologizing for turning Arabella away, Arabella returns and speaks to Jude through the window. She explains that her Cartlett, her Australian husband, refused to marry her legally, and now she needs money. Arabella invites Jude to the inn where she’s staying so that she can explain her situation more thoroughly. Although Sue begs him not to go in fear that Jude and Arabella will have sex, Jude ignores her pleas and heads for the inn. He feels obliged to help Arabella because they were once married, even though he no longer has feelings for her. When he comes back to put his rain boots on, Sue tells him she is ready to get married, and Jude agrees not to go to Arabella.

The next morning, Sue feels guilty about turning Arabella away, and goes to visit her at the inn to make sure she got home safely. In Arabella’s room, Sue gloats that she is the prettier of the two women, but she is offended when Arabella notes that Sue is so possessive of Jude because she is insecure about her status as his ‘natural wife’. Arabella tells Sue not to worry about Arabella stealing Jude, since she has just received a telegram from her Australian husband that says he will marry her after all. Arabella advises Sue to marry Jude so that if the relationship goes downhill, Sue will have a legal right to her property. Arabella says she will write to Jude about the matter she wanted to discuss last night.

Chapter III

When Sue gets home, Jude is ready to go and post the banns (marriage announcement), but Sue still has major misgivings about becoming his wife. They decide to postpone the wedding. A few weeks later, Arabella (who has now married Cartlett) writes to Jude as promised. After she left Jude and moved to Australia, Arabella had a son by Jude, who has been living with Arabella’s parents. However, Arabella’s parents are now having financial difficulties and want to send the son to her. Arabella thinks a bar is no place to raise a child, who will be constantly underfoot and prevent her and Cartlett from doing business. Since she doesn’t know what else to do with the boy, she asks Jude to take him.

Although they are initially shocked and Sue doubts the child’s paternity, Jude and Sue quickly become enthusiastic about adopting him. They think he would have a very unhappy childhood living with Arabella, and they pity him regardless of whether Jude is actually the father. When the boy arrives in London, Arabella sends him on to Aldbrickham without much notice, so Jude and Sue don’t know to meet him at the train station. The depressed child, who is called Little Father Time because he has an air of wisdom beyond his years, has to walk all the way to Jude and Sue’s house on the outskirts of town. He charms Sue by asking if he can call her ‘Mother’. Sue finally agrees to marry Jude since she thinks it will make life easier for the boy.

Chapter IV

Jude and Sue post the banns at a registrar’s office at a nearby town to avoid attracting attention. The Widow Edlin is their witness and only wedding guest. Sue still has doubts about marriage, which Widow Edlin only worsens by bringing up the Fawley family’s bad history with marriage. She finally tells the story about the gibbet (gallows) that Aunt Drusilla referenced in Part First. Apparently, one of Jude’s ancestors lost their son to illness, and the parents fought over where to bury the child. The father broke into the mother’s house to take the child’s coffin to the cemetery, and was hanged for burglary. Time hears all this and advises Sue not to marry Jude.

Sue and Jude go to marry at the courthouse, but Sue becomes anxious while watching various unsavory characters proceed to marry before them. She tells Jude that she can’t go through with it. On the way home, they sit in on a wedding that is taking place at the church. Sue reflects that she is anxious about marrying Jude because she had such a disastrous experience with Mr. Phillotson. Sue and Jude discuss how terrible an institution it is, and how it will surely be obsolete in a few generations. They cheerfully go home unwed. Although they tell the Widow Edlin that they chose not to marry, they let Time believe that they went through with the wedding as planned.


In the first chapters of "At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere", Hardy uses foreshadowing not only as a plot device, but also thematically to forward his argument against marriage. As Jude and Sue move toward marriage, they encounter many inauspicious signs, such as the criminal getting married at the courthouse. Little Father Time’s grim demeanor, and Jude’s inability to meet his son at the train station, establish a foreboding mood that suggests things will go badly for Jude and Sue, even as they move closer to starting a conventional family.

Arabella is the only character who explicitly encourages Jude and Sue to marry, and she does so for purely practical reasons - if they marry, Sue will have legal recourse if Jude beats her or runs out on her. Arabella’s advice evokes the moment in "At Marygreen" when Jude violently grabs her by the arms. The fact that the advice comes from her encourages the reader to think more critically about the opinion than if it had been expressed by Sue or Jude.

It is also worth noting that Arabella supports marrying for logistical reasons rather than in the heat of emotion, a lesson that she has possibly learned from her marriage to Jude. Jude and Sue are both wary to marry again because of their bad experiences with their first spouses, and this scene suggests that Arabella has learned a similar lesson (although she supports thinking carefully before marrying rather than doing away with the institution altogether).

The fact that both Jude and Arabella suffered equally in their marriage reinforces Hardy’s point that marriage is a morally bankrupt institution that harms both men and women. When Sue criticizes marriage, she tends to focus on the ways that it is especially harmful to women - for example, wives must give up their liberty in marriage in ways that husbands don’t have to, and she suggests that women are less emotionally equipped to deal with the long trials of marriage than men are. Since Sue is portrayed as having mostly correct opinions and often serves as the voice of the author, it is worth noting that in these chapters, the narrator corrects her and argues that men are harmed by marriage just as much as women are. As they watch the wedding at the church, Sue concedes to Jude that women should not blame men for the unfair state of marriage, but rather both men and women should rail together at 'coercion' - social mores.

This chapter also introduces Little Father Time, who will become the crux of Jude the Obscure’s central tragedy. Children who behave like adults were a somewhat common trope in Victorian literature - Eliot’s Adam Bede and Brontë’s Jane Eyre both feature similar characters. In this novel, Hardy juxtaposes Little Father Time’s premature grimness and surety with Sue and Jude’s inability to make decisions. The fact that Time must walk to the house on Spring Street by himself suggests that despite Jude and Sue’s good intentions, the imbalance of responsibility in this family will contribute to its downfall.