Ray's Reviews > Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
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's review
May 19, 2012

did not like it

Jude the Obscure is the finest novel I have ever disliked. Hardy is a gifted sculptor of characters; Jude, Arabella and Sue are highly believable characters with desires that connect them to us as readers In fact, rarely does one feel the strength of desire so well in a fictional character. We ache for these characters throughout the entire book. And that's why, at the end, when all hopes are blasted, we are left harrowed.
So, aesthetically I have little to complain about this novel. Hardy's prose is gorgeous, his main characters profound. Almost every other character is a caricature, but that doesn't detract much from the story. Father Time is a poorly designed special effect, but his end is effective. The structure of the plot is excellent.
My complaint, then, is that Hardy could never find any mitigating principle, that his fine writing ultimately serves no purpose but to rail at the universe for imposing suffering on us with only death as a way out. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Cormac McCarthy (in The Road) and I would argue Shakespeare and Pushkin could see evil and suffering, comprehend it, empathize with it, but ultimately believe that life IS worth living, but Hardy got hung up on the dark aspects and refused to re-enter the light.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Tristram (new) - added it

Tristram So you'd say that it is a benchmark of good literature that an author, for all his awareness of suffering, evil and probably even human inanity, eventually underlines the credo that life IS worth living?

message 2: by Ray (last edited Feb 01, 2014 09:01PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Ray Yes, that is my personal credo about great literature. One of my favorite examples is Ivan Karamazov, who rejects the world, asserts that both man and God are unjust, but all the same he says that for some reason he loves life and feels excitement every spring when he sees the young, tender leaves sprouting from the trees. Is there suffering in the world? Yes. Is there injustice? Yes. But truly good literature hopes against hope that the Universe is ultimately good. As Faulkner said, "The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail." The writer has an ethical responsibility to instill hope and affirm life.

message 3: by Tristram (new) - added it

Tristram Yes, that's definitely a well-made point, Ray. Dostoevsky certainly meets these demands because he was deeply religious and as such would have affirmed life and supposed there was some kind of sense in earthly life. So even Kirillov in Demons, who has developed a very intricate theory of humans transcending themselves by committing suicide, ends up in a cupboard, whining like a coward, if I remember correctly.

But still, one could argue that this life-affirming feeling one gets in spring is being cleverly brought about by hormones, and that Hamlet gives the apt answer to why we are afraid of death and embrace life. It's all nature's will to keep us going and play our little games, and so maybe Hardy had the same right to adhere to his bleak outlook on life and you have to prefer writers who, in their heart of hearts, are advocates of hope ;-)

That writers or artists have any ethical responsibility to affirm life is a tenet I would strongly put into question, though.

But thanks for making your standpoint clear!

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