Book #39: Jude the Obscure

I was not expecting to like Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.

By this point, I’ve very clearly established that I don’t much care for Victorian literature. I also don’t really like novels that reflect on women, whether it’s their position in society, their subservience to men, or whatever else. It’s not a topic that has ever interested me.

But for some reason, I found myself enjoying Jude the Obscure. Basically, as a boy, Jude Fawley falls in love with the idea of academia. He dreams of going to nearby Christminster and studying to become a cleric or something of the sort. The problem is, being from a poor family in a time when scholarships do not exist, Jude has no hope of ever entering a college. His problems are furthered when he enters a bad marriage that “ends” after just two years. However, he falls in love with his cousin, Sue. Then, of course, scandal and moral problems follow them wherever they go.

This book kind of reads like a soap opera. There are four “main” characters and they trade partners several times. Jude and Sue love each other and want to live together like they’re married. But this is, I’m guessing, one of the earliest emergences of the anti-marriage, “it’s just a piece of paper” mindset. They nearly get married several times, but can never go through with it. At the last minute, Sue always has misgivings, and always finds a way to get Jude to go along with her.

The trouble for Sue is that she is a “modern” woman stuck in a world of Victorian ideals. She wants to be able to protect herself against her husband’s whims, and also wants to be more in control of her own fate. Jude, too, wants to live the life he wants, rather than the life society wants him to have. He wants to go to college and get an education. He also wants to divorce his first wife and be with Sue, but without getting married.

Jude and Sue face many challenges as they try to fight society and live their lives together. Both get divorced from previous spouses. Sue is kicked out of school for not behaving like a woman should. Jude loses his job several times as a result of whispers about his and Sue’s life. They are, several times, forced to move to a new town in hopes of escaping their reputation.

Overall, Jude the Obscure reads very well as a commentary on the restrictive society in the Victorian age. However, I should say that a review I read says that the book contains one of the most “unexpected endings in all of literature.” I wouldn’t go quite that far, but I will say that the resolution leaves the book off on an interesting note.

Rating: ****
Up Next: The Godfather


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