Monday, March 2, 2020

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (novel #144)

…the human was more powerful in him than the Divine.

This is a sad story, which is not a criticism. Sometimes a sad story can be quite compelling. And again, this is a horribly sad story.

In fact, to quote Luther Heggs…
The horribleness and awefulness of it will never actually be forgotten.

It goes something like this:

Boy [Jude] has great aspirations. Boy meets girl. Girl entraps boy into a doomed marriage. Marriage confounds boy’s lofty ambition. Girl leaves boy – not divorces – just leaves. Boy meets new girl [Sue], but boy is not free. Boy and girl defy Victorian mores to their unhappiness and ruin.

Hardy does a marvelous job. Jude was a likeable chap, and I was fully invested in his fate, even when I saw him making fatal decisions that I knew would lead to no good. The sadness of the story can make it feel as though I didn’t like the novel, but if I am deliberate and honest, I have to admit, it is a very sad story, told very well.

It is sad on another level however, that I do have some complaint with. Hardy uses this novel, I think, to make his criticism of Victorian and Christian values (that’s fair, it’s his right as an author), particularly in regard to marriage, class structure, and religion. He suggests that the rigid rules of society and the consequences of flaunting them are the cause of his character’s unhappiness – and the cause of much unhappiness in the world.

To that, I take some exception. Jude and Sue were unhappy abiding by the rules, but they were unhappy when they broke them. Hardy would probably say they were made unhappy by the prejudice of their neighbors, a point I will concede has some merit. However, my point is this: society DOES have rules; break them at your own risk. Indeed, Jude learned this…
To indulge one’s instinctive and uncontrolled sense of justice and right, was not, he had found, permitted with impunity in an old civilization like ours.

If you tie your happiness to how the world treats you – you will never be happy.

So, I have to take some points off because, for me, Hardy did not prove his point. I ordinarily try not to judge an author’s work by their personal lives, but if they use their work to promote their world-view, then it’s fair game. Still, I give Jude the Obscure

3 ½ out of 5 stars

This book satisfies square B-2 “Classic Tragedy” in the 2020 Classic Bingo Challenge and “Classic with a person’s name in the title” category from the Back to the Classics Challenge 2020

This was my first read of Jude the Obscure or Thomas Hardy. I’ll definitely read more, though I know to expect similar sentiment.


If he could only prevent himself growing up! He did not want to be a man.

Drinking was the regularly stereotyped resource of the despairing worthless.

Strange that his first aspiration – towards academical proficiency – had been checked by a woman, and that his second aspiration – towards apostleship – had also been checked by a woman.



  1. Excellent post!! Well done. I just so happen to have had the same experience and comprehension as you, but I probably wasn't as gracious and proper in my review. I can really have it out w/ Hardy; but like you, while his works are heartbreaking, Hardy's worldview is broken. I suspect he was a broken man.

    As you pointed out, the sad story was very well told....(his writing style is beautiful and pleasant) can expect it in his other works: Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of D'Urbervilles, Far From the Madding Crowd. So I do hope you get to read these.

    1. Thanks Ruth. Yeah I figured you wouldn't like his worldview any more than I did. Beautiful powerful writing though.

  2. A great way to describe a tragic novel. Jude has been daunting me because everybody say it's the most tragic of Hardy, but I think you have a point here: "a very sad story, told very well". Thanks, Joseph!

    1. You're welcome...definitely worth a read.

  3. One I have yet to read. I've enjoyed all his books so far with the exception of Tess of the D's but his writing even in that depressing and fatalistic story was beautiful. Nice review, Joseph.

    1. I've not read Tess, but know the story. Jude is similar in the fatalistic theme, but as you say, beautifully written.


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