Rummanah Aasi
  The first book I read by Thomas Hardy was Tess of the d'Urbervilles back in sophomore year in high school when I was on my classic kick. I remembered loving the book and crying my eyes out. It was definitely an emotional read. I wanted to go back and read more of Hardy's books but didn't have the opportunity to do so until now with this years Victorian Reading Challenge. I picked up Jude the Obscure and thought it was another tragic romance story but quickly found out it was nothing what I expected at all.

Description (from Amazon): Jude Fawley, poor and working-class, longs to study at the University of Christminster, but his ambitions to go to university are thwarted by class prejudice and his entrapment in a loveless marriage. He falls in love with his unconventional cousin, Sue Bridehead, and their refusal to marry when free to do so confirms their rejection of and by the world around them. The shocking fate that overtakes them is an indictment of a rigid and uncaring society.

Review: Jude the Obscure was first published in 1895. It was a critical failure and scandalous to many. In fact its critical reception was so negative that Hardy decided to never to write another novel and turned his focus to poetry as a way to proper express himself. Now in the 21st century, I found Jude the Obscure shocking, gutsy, dark, extremely tragic, and so ahead of its time. While reading, I couldn't help but wonder if the book was a critical examination of his own life.
  The story of Jude the Obscure attacked the three biggest institutions Victorian England held the most dear: higher education, social class, and marriage. The characters demand to reexamine and redefine marriage laws and challenge the commonly held beliefs about marriage and divorce in society. In addition, it also proposes a new Victorian woman: the intellectual, outspoken feminist. 
    Hardy is famous for his tragic heroes and heroines and the somber, socially critical tone of his narratives. Jude the Obscure focuses on the life of a country stonemason, Jude, and his tumultuous love for his cousin Sue, a schoolteacher. Ripped from what seems like a tragic Greek play, Jude knows that marriage is a disaster that has plagued his family for years and he believes that his love for Sue curses him doubly, because they are both members of a cursed clan.
   While some may declare Jude the Obscure to be a tragic love story, I would argue that it is not a love story at all but rather a harsh criticism of the institution of marriage which is seen as an invisible jail that traps people forever. Jude and Sue are unhappily married to other people not by choice but rather coerced in different ways. Jude is tricked by his fiance who declares she is pregnant and in order to save her virtue he agrees to marry her though he doubts that he loves her. Sue makes a promise that she will marry her boss when she gets financially settled. Of course you can argue that these characters dug themselves a hole and now have to live with their choices, which is exactly how fatalistic as it sounds, but if you look at it from their historical context did they really have a choice? What is interesting is that both Jude and Sue have to the same conclusion that marriage has become a ball and chain for them and they long freedom to actually find what they are looking for. It is this inevitable bond that pulls them together. While they try to do the right thing in finding out a way to be together, their relationship is not accepted/declared legitimate by society and therefore beset by tragedy. There were moments that made my jaw drop both in shock and in heartache as Jude and Sue try to sort out the hot mess they find themselves in. They are essentially damned in which ever way they go.
    In the end my feelings for this book was all over the place. I loved the fiery, smart, and highly spirited Sue who refuses to put on the act of the stereotypical silent Victorian woman. I hated how she was forced to abandon her true nature and play the role that she despises because after dealing with tragedy after tragedy, she admits that is the only way she can make things 'right'. I wanted to smack Jude upside the head for being hypocritical in acting what like a husband when he felt like it. I felt sad for him when he failed to try to achieve his dream leaving him to always be the dreamer who had no solid feet on the ground, but he did have his lucid moments that shined. I absolutely hated Annabell and felt incredibly sorry for Richard Phillotson. After reading Jude the Obscure, I was left in a daze with my mind spinning in different directions as I read to make sense of the story, which for me, is always a tell tale sign that I read a great book. 

Rating: 4 stars

Words of Caution: Adult themes and allusions to sex. I don't see any harm in giving this to a teen reader, but I think the slow pace and melodrama might turn them off.

If you like this book try: Adam Bede by George Eliot, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
5 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Wow, 1895? This sounds like such an interesting and intense read, and while I like to think my marriage isn't a prison, I'm sure in the Victorian time period (and I'm sure for some people today as well) it could easily be viewed as such, especially when etiquette was so strict and you married who you were told to. Amazing review Rummanah, this is no not my typical read, but I really want to pick it up now:)


  2. This sounds very interesting. I think your strong emotions about the characters is the sign that it's a great book.
    Have you read the Forsyte Saga? I've always wanted to.


  3. Jenny: Definitely intense. I didn't think women did the whole "I'll get pregnant so he'll stay with me" scheme back then but I was wrong.

    Alison: I have not, but heard lots of things about it. Maybe I'll pick it up next year.


  4. Missie Says:

    I took a Thomas Hardy course grad course just a few years ago, and a constant debate we had in class was in regards to why Hardy stopped writing fiction after Jude. The discussion were very heated and interesting.

    Awesome review. It reminded me of more than a few reason why I admire Hardy.


  5. Oh between this review and what Missie said... I'm curious I haven't read this one. Your emotions all over the place really tells me that this touched on a lot of aspects. Plus it's not every day you can review and say "smack upside the head". I love that!! :D


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