Skip to main content

Jude the Obscure



Fate plays a dominant role in Thomas Hardy’s world. However much you may try to get on, fate can come like a brutal monster and crush you mercilessly just when everything seems to be going well. In his last novel, Jude the Obscure, Hardy passed the blame to society; your society can cripple you as well as your destiny.

Jude is an orphan boy raised by an aunt. He grows up and becomes a stonemason but has higher aspirations. He wants to study and improve the standard of his life. But the country girl, Arabella, seduces him and tricks him into marriage. Arabella is also someone who wants to improve the standard of her living and when she gets a chance to go to Australia she leaves Jude. Jude goes to Christminster [Hardy’s fictional version of Oxford] to pursue his ambition.

Jude meets cousin Sue in Christminster and helps her find a job at Richard Phillotson’s residence. Phillotson was a schoolmaster in Jude’s birthplace. His academic aspirations had brought him to Christminster. Sue marries Phillotson though the latter is much older than her. The marriage turns sour and ends in divorce. Sue starts living with Jude though they don’t marry. Their live-in relationship is far ahead of the times and it shocks the Victorian moral sensibility. They have two children in the due course of time.

Arabella returns from Australia where she had married a hotel worker and had a son. Little Father Time, Arabella’s son, looks like an old man with his grey hairs and wrinkled skin. Jude And Sue adopt him as Arabella is more interested in pursuing her own delights. Little Father Time remarks to Sue that he should not have been born. Sue responds that she is expecting yet another baby. Soon Little Father Time kills the two children before killing himself. The note he leaves behind reads: “We are too menny.”

Sue is shocked. She thinks this is some retribution from God for her sins. She chooses to return to Phillotson, her proper Victorian husband. Jude returns to Arabella but does not live long. Finding him lying dead in his bed, Arabella chooses to go and watch the boat race; the dead can wait.

Relationships aren’t quite sacred in this novel in spite of the rigid Victorian morality that prevailed in England at that time. If the society was different, if it allowed people to follow their heart genuinely, would life have been better? For example, if Christminster supported Jude’s aspiration instead of letting him down on account of his being from a lower social class, the story would have been quite different.

Does society cripple the individuals? Of course, it does. That’s what Jude the Obscure shows. But can we live without the society? That’s not quite possible either. You can’t escape your fate which assaults you in the form of the people who enter into your life. Life is a “general drama of pain,” as Hardy wrote in another novel [The Mayor of Casterbridge] with occasional episodes of happiness. Or as Tess of D’Urbervilles [another of Hardy’s wonderful novels] says, the stars are worlds and most splendid but some are blighted; we live on a blighted one.

Life is pain. Your efforts to mitigate that pain may bear fruit occasionally but are more likely to be snuffed out by the cruel fate. “Indifference to fate, though it often makes a villain of a man, is the basis of his sublimity when it does not,” wrote Hardy in Far from the Madding Crowd. Genuinely passionate people like Jude are crushed, indifferent ones like Arabella teeter on the edge of villainy, and hardly a handful manage to achieve sublimity. That is the human destiny. Not quite a great one.


PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2ZChallenge. The previous parts are:


Comments

  1. Another interesting recommendation. Your book choices are simply wonderful and they are exposing me books which I havent read! Thanks for making my TBR rich :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. This book seems like a lot to take in. It talks of the bitter truth about the unfairness of life. What is the point of passion if fate awaits to crush us in the end? Thanks for another thought-provoking recommendation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am a follower of Albert Camus. Life is absurd and we have to go on just because we are here. Let Fate play its games.

      Delete
  3. Very interesting recommendation. Would definitely get my hands on this book.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somehow I had an inkling it would be Jude. My favourite is Tess. Having said that definitely Jude was way ahead of its time and a brave reflection of the problems of Victorian England. But just as you said society cripples. However one cannot be indifferent to its existence.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps the writer who illustrated the society-individual theme best is Conrad. I wanted to bring Heart of Darkness here but Ghosh's Hungry Tide overruled.

      Delete
  4. Thomas Hardy was born beofre his time, I suppose. Jude the Obscure has a tight weave of stories and characters that are laced with adultery as well as social shortcomings.
    Thanks for sharing this multilayered story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hardy quit writing novel and started writing poetry because of the opposition he faced on account of this novel.

      Delete
  5. I am a huge fan of Thomas Hardy's writing, but I haven't read Jude the Obscure yet. Tess is my favourite of the ones I have read.
    www.nooranandchawla.com

    ReplyDelete
  6. Interesting book. And so profound... Haven't read this!

    ReplyDelete
  7. What an interesting subject. I must read this.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I loved the description of this book. I haven't read this. I will add this to my reading list.

    ReplyDelete
  9. This one of my favourites. I had Mayor of Casterbridge for my graduation.
    What I used to like was the twists and turns in the stories.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

An Aberration of Kali Yuga

Are we Indians now living in an aberrant period of history? A period that is far worse than the puranic Kali Yuga? A period in which gods decide to run away in fear of men? That’s a very provocative question, isn’t it, especially in a time when people are being arrested for raising much more innocuous questions than that? But I raise my hands in surrender because I’m not raising this question; the Malayalam movie that Maggie and I watched is. Before I go to the provocations of the movie, I am compelled to clarify a spelling problem with the title of the movie. The title is Bhramayugam [ ഭ്രമയുഗം] in Malayalam. But the movie’s records and ads write it as Bramayugam [ ബ്രമയുഗം ] which would mean the yuga of Brama. Since Brama doesn’t mean anything in Malayalam, people like me will be tempted to understand it as the yuga of Brahma . In fact, that is how I understood it until Maggie corrected me before we set off to watch the movie by drawing my attention to the Malayalam spelling

Karma in Gita

I bought a copy of annotated Bhagavad Gita a few months back with the intention of understanding the scripture better since I’m living in a country that has become a Hindu theocracy in all but the Constitution. After reading the first part [chapters 1 to 6] which is about Karma, I gave up. Shelving a book [literally and metaphorically] is not entirely strange to me. If a book fails to appeal to me after a reasonable number of pages, I abandon it. The Gita failed to make sense to me just like any other scripture. That’s not surprising since I’m not a religious kind of a person. I go by reason. I accept poetry which is not quite rational. Art is meaningful for me though I can’t detect any logic in it. Even mysticism is acceptable. But the kind of stuff that Krishna was telling Arjuna didn’t make any sense at all. To me. Just a sample. When Arjuna says he doesn’t want to fight the war because he can’t kill his own kith and kin, Krishna’s answer is: Fight. If you are killed, you win he

Kabir the Guru - 1

Kabirvad Kabirvad is a banyan tree in Gujarat. It is named after Kabir, the mystic poet and saint of the 15 th century. There is a legend behind the tree. Two brothers are in search of a guru. They have an intuitive feeling that the guru will appear when they are ready for it. They plant a dry banyan root at a central spot in their courtyard. Whenever a sadhu passes by, they wash his feet at this particular spot. Their conviction is that the root will sprout into a sapling when their guru appears. Years pass and there’s no sign of any sapling. No less than four decades later, the sapling rises. The man who had come the previous day was a beggarly figure whom the brothers didn’t treat particularly well though they gave him some water to drink out of courtesy. But the sapling rose, after 40 years! So the brothers went in search of that beggarly figure. Kabir, the great 15 th century mystic poet, had been their guest. The legend says that the brothers became Kabir’s disciples. The b

Raising Stars

Bringing up children is both an art and a science. The parents must have certain skills as well as qualities and value systems if the children are to grow up into good human beings. How do the Bollywood stars bring up their children? That is an interesting subject which probably no one studied seriously until Rashmi Uchil did. The result of her study is the book titled Raising Stars: The challenges and joys of being a Bollywood parent . The book brings us the examples of no less than 26 Bollywood personalities on how they brought up their children in spite of their hectic schedules and other demands of the profession. In each chapter, the author highlights one particular virtue or skill or quality from each of these stars to teach us about the importance of that aspect in bringing up children. Managing anger, for example, is the topic of the first chapter where Mahima Chowdhary is our example. We move on to gender equality, confidence, discipline, etc, and end with spirituality whi

Kabir the Guru – 2

Read Part 1 of thi s here . K abir lived in the 15 th century. But his poems and songs are still valued. Being illiterate, he didn’t write them. They were passed on orally until they were collected by certain enthusiasts into books. Vipul Rikhi’s book, Drunk on Love: The Life, Vision and Songs of Kabir , not only brings the songs and poems together in one volume but also seeks to impart the very spirit of Kabir to the reader. Kabir is not just a name, the book informs us somewhere in the beginning. Kabir is a tradition. He is a legend, a philosophy, poetry and music. I would add that Kabir was a mystic. Most of his songs have something to do with spirituality. They strive to convey the deep meaning of reality. They also question the ordinary person’s practice of religion. They criticise the religious leaders such as pandits and mullahs. Though a Muslim, Kabir was immensely taken up by Ram, the Hindu god, for reasons known only to him perhaps. Most of the songs are about the gr