Thursday, 3 September 2015

"Jude the Obscure" by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy 1840-1928
  I enjoy reading Thomas Hardy novels.  I find his description of the countryside soothing to my soul.  And his characters are interesting. Two years ago, I re-read the novels that I had previously read, and added a couple more.  I have always stayed away from "Jude the Obscure" because it is described as being 'dark'.  In fact, it disturbed the readers of the time so much that it was called "the most indecent book ever written".  The bishop of Wakefield burned it.  And Thomas Hardy was devastated- so much so that he quit writing novels.
  But this novel is now listed number 29 in the list of the 100 best novels by "The Guardian", a British newspaper.
  Hardy had written the story in serial form in 1894 and it was published in book form in 1895.  After the public outcry, he made some changes and published the new version in 1912.  In fact, he continued to re-work this novel for the rest of his life.  

  I was really enjoying the first third of the novel.  Jude was an interesting character and I was looking forward to how he would meet the challenges of his life.  Quote: "His face wearing the fixity of a thoughtful child's who has felt the pricks of life somewhat before his time".
  In spite of having a very difficult childhood, he was determined to go to university and worked hard learning Latin and Greek on his own, in preparation for the time when his plans would come together.  However, they never did, because he got involved with women.
  He was seduced by Arabella, who tricked him into marrying her.  She is described this way: "Arabella was not worth a great deal as a specimen of womankind."
 But, Jude had fallen in love with his cousin Sue Bridehead, a married teacher, who was a free spirit.  Jude and Sue left their partners and united, alternately defying the pressures of society and then giving in.  Jude was smitten by Sue and always trying to please her, but what did she really want?  I never figured that out.  Their reasoning was agonizing to read and led to disaster.  
  There is no resolution of any aspect of the novel in the ending and I found that very dissatisfying!
  I understand the sociological issues that Hardy was trying to address- the struggle of the poor, the state of marriage in a patriarchal society, and the strong influence of the church.  Jude was not able to find his way through those hurdles and his life ended in failure.  When he and Sue tried to fight against the social norms, the children paid the price.  This is the reason that it is a 'dark tale'.
   I still enjoy Hardy's writing, but these characters frustrated me greatly.  A good study of the challenges of Victorian life, but not an enjoyable read.

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