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:
3. The Castle