What We’re Reading: Jude the Obscure

jude the obscure by thomas hardy
Available at the Main Campus Library
(PR 4746 .A1 1996)

Jude Fawley is a fool trying to be an angel and is in an untenable situation: holding on to his dream and driven by passion, while trying to do the right thing.

Title: Jude the Obscure

Author: Thomas Hardy

Genres: fiction, classic literature, social commentary

Read Great Things 2021 Categories: A book that takes place outside the continental United States;  A book about family; A book recommended by a Durham Tech Library staff member.

This book was read by Stephen Brooks, Main Campus Librarian. 

Why did you choose to read this book?

I am in a two-person book club and my friend gave me the choice of one or two nonfiction books or a book by Thomas Hardy. My colleague Meredith Lewis thought I would enjoy Hardy’s Jude, so that’s the one I picked.

What did you like about it?

If something can be described as “classic literature” and I haven’t read it, I’m interested. On the other hand, I tend to dislike Victorian literature, but (see below), Hardy wrote this novel as a response to Victorian values and the restrictions they place on the individual.

Hardy’s writing style incorporates a lot of words with which I was not familiar, but which a contemporary reader would have understood; and Jude contains many Biblical, Greek, and Roman references as well. I like being challenged in this way from time to time. (Guess who majored in English!)

Did it remind you of any other book, or a movie?

Like other Victorian novels, Jude was published serially, so it reminded me of Charles Dickens’s novels. In the same way as a Dickens novel, Jude drags on in sections where I wanted Hardy to just get on with the story. It also reads like a soap opera, in which characters’ romantic meddling and schemes drive the plot.

Was there anything noteworthy about the book?

The book is a critique of Victorian society: marital status, traditional gender roles, and social standing. As Alexander Pope wrote, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Jude Fawley is a fool trying to be an angel and is in an untenable situation: holding on to his dream and driven by passion, while trying to do the right thing. Hardy makes the point that Jude and other characters’ downfalls result from societal restrictions and not only their own weaknesses.

Hardy wrote Jude in the late 19th century. It tells the story of Jude Fawley, Arabella Donn, Sue Bridehead, and a few other recurring characters. Jude will be seduced by and marry Arabella before falling in love with his cousin Sue— practically before ever meeting her. Maybe you can see where this is going.

Jude grows up imagining himself as a great scholar; he reads works of classic literature, teaching himself Greek and Latin, in the hopes of attending the great university in the fictional college town of Christminster. He finds work as a stonemason while he postpones his dream. However, his romantic entanglements and ambiguous marital status—along with a lack of wealth and standing—interfere with his plans. His too-numerous conflicting commitments lead to tragedy. 

With what feeling did the book leave you?

I have an appreciation of some ways that society has changed for the better since the 1890s. On the other hand, students who did not grow up with social standing and wealth are still at a disadvantage, compared with their peers, with respect to achieving their educational dreams.

To whom would you recommend this book?

I recommend this book to fans of English literature or books that take you to a different place and time.

With what would you pair this book?

I paired the novel with a dictionary and Wikipedia while reading it, so I could look up words I didn’t know and understand the book’s historic and literary references.

About Meredith Lewis

Meredith is a librarian at Durham Tech on both the Main and Orange County Campuses.