Scott's Reviews > Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
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Jul 08, 08

bookshelves: 1890s, campus, victorian
Read in July, 2008

Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure (1895) has the careful pace, structure, and proportions of classical tragedy, while its themes -- marriage, divorce, social propriety, religion, education -- are essentially Victorian. But its treatment of sexuality, tame and oblique by modern standards, so severely shocked Hardy's contemporary audience that the resulting uproar drove the author from writing another novel. Far from being salacious, though, Jude painfully lingers on the difficult and even deadly consequences of failing to conform to social conventions. Hardy is a master at maintaining a consistently dismal tone throughout the book. You grow to like, or at least pity, most of the characters only to watch aghast as the decisions they make and the events fate deals them lead to their utter wretchedness. Only Hardy's gentle descriptions of English towns and countryside provide relief from this tragic story that illustrates the "deadly war waged between flesh and spirit," in which reason, feeling, and understanding are as much the victims as Jude, Sue, and the children.

For a gentler though no less engaging reworking of these themes (with the added twist of homosexual infatuation), you may want to read Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, which transforms Jude into a privileged but alienated Charles Ryder, while Sue Bridehead becomes the lovely, inscrutable, and finally repentant Julia.
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