Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

This is the first book I finished in 2016. It is a classic and I read it for the Brontë Reading Group. This is a wonderful group of people, totally dedicated to the Brontës and 19th century English literature. The discussions are always lively, but never so lively as when we disagree on a book. Some people loved it and some did not. I belong to the latter category.

I love Thomas Hardy and I visited Dorchester last year. He  grew up there and stay there most of his life, except for some years in London. It is a lovely place and he has managed to introduce it, as a fictional area, in almost all of his books. Jude the Obscure is the last book he wrote. Actually, the critics were so harsh that he decided to write no more books. Instead he continued with his poetry and for this we have to be greatful. He managed to write himself into being one of the best English poets of all times.

My favourite books by him are The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd.  I did not like so much Tess of the D’Urberville although it is a wonderful satire over the hypocrisies of the society at the time. Well, all his book are very well written satire of the times in which he lived. So also Jude the Obscure. It is not difficult to understand why it met with such uproar at the times. He writes about religion and marriage, and his protagonists, Jude and Sue are no religious people and are living together without being married. There are two divorces included and all the hypocrisies of the time find their way into the novel.

Personally, I do not understand any of the people, and thinking of it, do not even like them. They are all very peculiar and act in a way which I do not fully understand. The characters are all very vague and I could never really grasp their personalities. While Sue and Jude were living together, he wanted to marry her. But every time they set out to do it, she changed her mind. She went for this and then changed her mind, she went for that and changed her mind again. On top of it, Jude just bowed to her whims and did not either put his foot down or made a statement of one kind or the other.

He had very high expectations as a young man. He wanted to study but it was not possible because he was poor. He taught himself and would have made a master student if he had had the possibility to study. He spoke Latin and Greek, knew all the classics and so on. He met Arabella as a young man and she seduced him into marrying him. Once married she went off to Australia with her parents, just to come back some years later. Over there she married an Australian man who had now emigrated to England. That is why she asked for a divorce to officially marry this man again.

To entice him to marry her, she told him she was pregnant although she was not. So, in spite of the fact the he was in love with his cousin Sue, he did the honourable thing and married her. That was also the time he had to give up his dream of studying. Now he had to work to support a family. Once Arabella is gone, he contacts Sue again and spends time with her. She is working as a teacher and have found a mentor in an older professor. He falls in love with her and proposes to her. She accepts and sticks to her promise, although she is in love with Jude. One can easily say that this is a mess.

The novel is a satire of the times and on the favourite subjects of Hardy, religion and hypocrisy. He was obviously far ahead of his time when writing about lovers living together without being married. Hardy said that this was the book that was least based on his own life and experience, but his wife was afraid that people would think the story was taken from his own life. Having read a biography on him, I am bound to think that it is based on his own, rather unhappy life and marriage. In thinking so, the novel makes more sense.

The Content Reader
Max Gate, the house that Thomas Hardy built for himself. 
He was a trained architect
I found the novel rather slow, and the ending is far from a happy one. I found that Tess of d’Urberville was rather sad as well in the end. Maybe Hardy was right; there was no hope for poor people if they wanted to raise themselves above their class. It was a fight that did not end happily. It is all very sad.

Hardy is still one of my favourite writers of the time. He has the talent to write a good story, to highlight the problems in society. He was rather criticised during his life-time and it took him hard. However, if he could see into the future, I am sure he would be happy to see that his books are read more than 100 years later. 

No comments:

Post a Comment