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Jude the Obscure

Thomas Hardy - Author

Dennis Taylor - Editor/introduction

Dennis Taylor - Notes by

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ISBN 9780140435382 | 528 pages | 01 Sep 1998 | Penguin Classics | 5.07 x 7.79in | 18 - AND UP
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‘I’m an outsider to the end of my days!’

Jude Fawley’s hopes of a university education are lost when he is trapped into marrying the earthy Arabella, who later abandons him. Moving to the town of Christminster where he finds work as a stonemason, Jude meets and falls in love with his cousin Sue Bridehead, a sensitive, freethinking ‘New Woman’. Refusing to marry merely for the sake of religious convention, Jude and Sue decide instead to live together, but they are shunned by society and poverty soon threatens to ruin them. Jude the Obscure, Hardy’s last novel, caused a public furor when it was first published, with its fearless and challenging exploration of class and sexual relationships.

This edition uses the unbowdlerized text of the first volume edition of 1895, and also includes a list for further reading, appendices and a glossary. In his introduction, Dennis Taylor examines biblical allusions and the critique of religion in Jude the Obscure, and its critical reception that led Hardy to abandon novel writing.

The boy stood under the rick before mentioned, and every few seconds used his clacker or rattle briskly. At each clack the rooks left off pecking, and rose and went away on their leisurely wings, burnished like tassets of mail, afterwards wheeling back and regarding him warily, and descending to feed at a more respectful distance.

He sounded the clacker till his arm ached, and at length his heart grew sympathetic to the birds' thwarted desires. They seemed, like himself, to be living in a world that did not want them. Why should he frighten them away? They took upon them more and more the aspect of friends and gentle pensioners - the only friends he could claim as being in the least degree interested in him, for his aunt had often told him that she was not. He ceased his rattling and they alighted anew.

'Poor little dears!' said Jude, aloud. 'You shall have some dinner - you shall. There is enough for us all. Farmer Troutham can afford to let you have some. Eat, then, my dear little birdies, and make a good meal!'

They stayed and ate, inky spots on the nut-brown soil, and Jude enjoyed their appetite. A magic thread of fellow-feeling united his own life with theirs. Puny and as sorry as those lives were, they much resembled his own.

His clacker he had by this time thrown away from him, as being a mean and sordid instrument, offensive both to the birds and to himself as their friend. All at once he became conscious of a smart blow upon his buttocks, followed by a loud clack, which announced to his surprised senses that the clacker had been the instrument of offence used. The birds and Jude started up simultaneously, and the dazed eyes of the latter beheld the farmer in person, the great Troutham himself, his red face glaring down upon Jude's cowering frame, the clacker swinging in his hand.

'So it's 'Eat, my dear birdies,' is it, young man? 'Eat dear birdies' indeed! I'll tickle your breeches if you say, 'Eat dear birdies' again in a hurry! And you've been idling at the schoolmaster's too, instead of coming here, ha'n't ye hey? That's how you earn your sixpence a day for keeping the rooks off my corn!'

Whilst saluting Jude's ears with this impassioned rhetoric, Troutham had seized his left hand with his own left, and swinging his slim frame round him at arm's-length, again struck Jude on the hind parts with the flat side of Jude's own rattle, till the field echoed with the blows, which were delivered once or twice at each revolution.

'Don't 'ee, sir - please don't 'ee!' cried the whirling child, as helpless under the centrifugal tendency of his person as a hooked fish swinging to land, and beholding the hill, the rick, the plantation, the path, and the rooks going round and round him in an amazing circular race. 'I - I - sir - only meant that - there was a good crop in the ground - I saw 'em sow it - and the rooks could have a little bit for dinner - and you wouldn't miss it, sir - and Mr. Phillotson said I was to be kind to 'em - O, O, O!'

This truthful explanation seemed to exasperate the farmer even more than if Jude had stoutly denied saying anything at all; and he still smacked the whirling urchin, the clacks of the instrument continuing to resound all across the field, and as far as the ears of distant workers - who gathered thereupon that Jude was pursuing his business of clacking with great assiduity - and echoing from the brand-new church tower just behind the mist, towards the building of which structure the farmer had largely subscribed, to testify his love for God and man.

Presently Troutham grew tired of his punitive task, and depositing the quivering boy on his legs, took a sixpence from his pocket and gave it to him in payment for his day's work, telling him to go home and never let him see him in one of those fields again.

Jude leapt out of arm's reach, and walked along the trackway weeping - not from pain, though that was keen enough; not from the perception of the flaw in the terrestrial scheme, by which was good for God's birds was bad for God's gardener; but with the sense that he had wholly disgraced himself before he had been a year in the parish, and hence might be a burden to his great-aunt for life.

With this shadow on his mind he did not care to show himself in the village, and went homeward by a roundabout track behind a hedge and across a pasture. Here he beheld scores of coupled earthworms lying half their length on the surface of the damp ground, as they always did in such weather at that time of year. It was impossible to advance in regular steps without crushing some of them at each tread.

Though Farmer Troutham had just hurt him, he was a boy who could not himself bear to hurt anything. He never brought home a nest of young birds without lying awake in misery half the night after, and often reinstating them and the nest in their original place the next morning. He could scarcely bear to see trees cut down or lopped, from a fancy that it hurt them; and late pruning, when the sap was up and the tree bled profusely, had been a positive grief to him in his infancy. This weakness of character, as it may be called, suggested that he was the sort of man who was born to ache a good deal before the fall of the curtain upon his unnecessary life should signify that all was well with him again. He carefully picked his way on tiptoe among the earthworms, without killing a single one.

'His style touches sublimity'
—T.S. Eliot

'The greatest tragic writer among English novelists'
—Virginia Woolf

Student review by Kimberley Chen, studied at Queen Mary University of London

‘This weakness of character, as it maybe called, suggested that he was the sort of man who was born to ache a good deal before the fall of the curtain upon his unnecessary life’

Thomas Hardy’s novel, Jude the Obscure, caused an immense deal of outrage upon its publication in 1895. One such passionate reaction to the novel was from a bishop who resorted to igniting the book in flames. Another unfairly dubbed the book, ‘Jude the Obscene’. This critical reception to his book played a major part in Hardy’s decision to retreat away from novel writing, and to devote the remainder of his life to poetry and plays. So what incensed the Victorian readership to such a great extent? Well, Hardy’s novel is an assertive, daring and courageous voice which sharply questions the educational system, class structures and marital values of its time.

Jude Fawley sets his hopes on the University of Christminster, the city of light, the flourishing tree of knowledge, the glistening, luminous place of magnificent spires and grand domes. Yet, his ambitious plans are thwarted by what is essentially an elite and snobbish institution, which bars its doors from those of a working-class background. The arrogant Head of the college advises Jude in an acerbic manner that ‘remaining in your own sphere’ is the best course of action. Jude also finds himself trapped in a regretful marriage to self-interested, scheming and practical Arabella Donn. However, Jude eventually becomes desperately in love with his cousin, Sue Bridehead, but unconventionally decides to have a sexual relationship outside the bonds of marriage. Their refusal to abide by the strict social laws which govern their community means they are met with intense scorn and a devastating conclusion.

Hardy passionately attacks the institution of marriage on many grounds at a time when society had rigid and unbending views on such a topic. The novel shows strong disapproval of the marriage contract itself, for its cold, mechanical, business-like layout: ‘“Names and Surnames of the Parties” –  (they were parties now, not lovers, she thought). ‘Condition.’…’Rank or Occupation.’– ‘Age.’ – ‘Dwelling at’ – ‘Length of Residence.’– ‘Church or Building in which Marriage is to be solemnized.’– District and County in which the Parties respectively dwell’. A criticism is also made on the requirements of the wedding service for a patriarchal figure to give away the bride to the groom. The insinuation is that the groom has the privilege of making an intelligent choice about who he will be joined together with in matrimony, but the bride supposedly lacks the ability to make this same decision. The novel complains: ‘Somebody gives me (the bride) to him (the groom), like a she-ass or she-goat, or any other domestic animal’. Yet, perhaps Hardy’s greatest quarrel with the idea of marriage is that a marital union should cease to be if this relationship becomes disagreeable to either partner. A marriage that becomes despicable to either husband or wife cannot be considered a marriage at all in moral terms, Hardy forcefully protests. This is one of Hardy’s finest pieces of writing, deeply moving, utterly tragic and incredibly provocative.