It’s Thomas Hardy’s last completed novel. It touches subjects like religion, education, class, marriage, and, most of all, morality, or at least what passed for morality in the 19th century.
The story revolves around the life of Jude Fawley, a young boy, living in Marygreen with his Aunt Drusilla. He’s unaware of the possibilities in stored for him until the schoolteacher opened his eyes the day he left for Christminster to go to university and pointed Jude in the direction of books.
That day was the day that Jude learned to see past the horizon. It was the beginning of his dream to surpass his condition and strive for the stars.
His road is set as far as education is concerned. His aim is Chestminster, the heart of education as he sees it. Just as “Martin Eden”, he works in the day and studies at night.
Although he is self-taught and much better than the rest of the students attending the university, which he proves on one occasion, Jude still feels out of place and unworthy of walking among the educated students of Chestminster. He is a stonemason by day and a dreamer by night.
Jude’s romantic side
While he emerges himself in books, his romantic life seems destined for failure. He thinks he falls in love with a young girl from his village, Arabella Wilkinson, whom he marries under pregnancy pretense.
They both realize the failure they made but only Arabella has the courage to do something about it. She runs away to find what she felt was missing from her life. They are still married in the eyes of the Lord and on paper, a detail which Jude fails to mention to his cousin, Sue Bridehead, when he meets her in Christminster.
Sue is a free spirit, a scholar at heart. Unlike Jude, who feels the need to compensate for his lack of formal education, aware of her strengths and weaknesses. She seems superior in theory but unstable when it comes to practice. Sue professes principles and standing for what you believe in, but she fails to fight until the end to defend them.
Their love seems impossible not just because they are cousins but because the Fawleys are destined to love but make each other miserable in a marriage.
Is love meant for Jude?
The closer Jude seems to get to love, the further away he gets. Sue’s pride pushes her to marry Mr. Philloston, Jude’s teacher from Marygreen. It’s a bold and spiteful decision that she will later regret.
In the midst of it all, Aunt Drusilla is the only constant line in Jude’s life. She is the shoulder Jude cries on and a permanent reminder of the one thing he cannot have: a forbidden love with his cousin.
Though, through it all, she wants the best for him and feels his pain. Her words are true but never bitter, her support genuine as is her love for the boy she raised.
Despite her marriage to Mr. Philloston, Sue is not happy. Jude seems to follow her everywhere and be a reminder of her wrong decisions. The one thing she asks is for him to never give up on her.
Jude and Sue are one person split in two, as Mr. Philloston puts it. They decide to live together with Mr. Philloston’s permission despite everyone’s opinion and objection.
Jude and Sue
Life could be perfect for a while. Little did they know it wasn’t about to last. Arabella asks them to take in the son that resulted from their marriage. The poor boy took his father’s name. It was as if he never really got a chance to be happy.
Little Jude seemed such a bright young boy, obedient and helping around the house. He loved his little sisters and he was a support for his parents.
Their life together is not easy. They work to feed their family but they are together in everything they do. Despite their not being married, they live their love more than other married people do, in action not in words.
Their little universe is disrupted by Arabella, who made sure other people around her are just as unhappy as she is. She laughs at Jude’s dream of becoming a scholar in Chestminster.
Our lives would be so much easier if, at times, our egos didn’t get in the way. Jude, like the rest of us, is only human and his weakness drives him back to Chestminster. Chestminster was the beginning of his dream to become a scholar. It was also in Chestminster where he met Sue. He had one. Now it was time to have the other.
Life gets in their way
Sue, Jude, and their three children go to Chestminster. Hope comes with every new beginning. As it was for them. Life was harder in the 19th century when being together out of wedlock was considered a sin. They have difficulty to keep lodging. Not everything is lost, for Jude manages to get his old job back as a stonemason.
The horizon never seemed closed for them both and their little family. Little did they know what awaited them at home.
Little Jude kills his little sisters and kills himself because of the words his mother said in the middle of the night when tiredness got the best of her. His gesture was out of love for his family.
His act, support for the parents who took him in and took care of him beyond devotion.
Sue is driven into the arms of the church, where she constantly prays for their salvation. Jude goes back to chasing her every step, just as he did before they got together.
She goes back to becoming impossible for Jude. He goes back to the constant pursuer, always chasing but never having, at least, not with a huge price to be paid.
Takeaways from “Jude the Obscure”
It’s easy to search and find the meaning behind life’s circumstances. Days come and bring with them events and people in our lives. What we make of them it’s only up to us.
Our journeys are our own and nobody else’s. What we read, dream, and experience make up our universe. No life resembles another. How can it, when we each have our perception of reality based on our previous and present beliefs, education, circumstance…
We each have our principles we believe in and are willing to fight for them. Some are weak and step back the moment they hit a block in the road. Others strive and rise more powerful, emerging from the difficulty with more conviction.
What we cannot do is let others decide who we are and what our lives are all about. Otherwise, we end up living a life according to other people’s patterns. Wouldn’t that be a waste?
This post contains an affiliate link. This means I get a small fee, at no cost to you. For further information, please read our disclaimer.