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Archived Group Reads 2014 > Jude The Obscure - Book 2 At Christminster (week 2)

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Marialyce (absltmom, yaya) Please post your thoughts on Book 2.


message 2: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1973 comments Mod
I'm reading as fast as I can, and posting here now just so I get the 'ping' if some of you get ahead of me. :)


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments I'm only partway through this section, but the basic theme I'm finding is that things that look wonderful at a distance don't always look so great up close.

His marriage, of course, starts this theme of disappointment, but at least its failure allows him to resurrect his dream. "Thither."

But ... Christminster isn't welcoming Jude with open arms, and the excitement he felt on that first night in the city seems to be turning into, not yet dejection, but moving in that direction.

Phillotson, when Jude finally finds him, hasn't become the scholar and cleric that Jude dreamed he had, but failed to accomplish his dream and is a mundane, unimportant teacher who doesn't even recall Jude.

His infatuation with Sue is, and he knows it, doomed by the fact that he can't forget that he is a married man, and seemingly, at least so far, still has enough integrity not to ruin her.

Nothing seems to be turning out for him, does it?


message 4: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1973 comments Mod
Heheh. I'm starting to expect that from Mr. Hardy.


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments I blow hot and cold on Jude (as a character, not as the book). In one way, he's admirable in his thirst for knowledge and learning, but then he funks it when he totally abandons that interest for sex -- not even for love, because I don't believe he ever really loved Arabella as a person, but only as a sexual companion. Then when she finally leave his life, he seems to get back to his commitment to education, only to once again abandon it because of one discouraging letter and, once again, a woman (though this time maybe it's more love than mere sexual attraction).

The end of this Christminster section seemed very abrupt (not in a literary sense, but in his so abruptly abandoning his dream and funking it back to Marygreen -- a wounded animal retreating back to its lair to lick its wounds.

I want to take him by the collar and shake him, tell him to shape up, really commit to his dream, and go for it full throttle. But then I have to ask, is it truly realistic to think that a village workman, no matter how much private reading he has done, can ever really become an Oxford graduate?


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments The incident in the tavern was interesting. Jude was quite right that none of those people understood a word of the Latin creed, that for all they knew he could have been spouting total nonsense.

And I think he was also right that there are two Christminsters -- the workers and the scholars -- and between them is a barrier that cannot be crossed. It's like upstairs/downstairs; despite Downton Abbey, in Jude's time it really wasn't a crossable barrier, was it?


message 7: by Lily (last edited May 01, 2014 04:09PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1289 comments Everyman wrote: "...But then I have to ask, is it truly realistic to think that a village workman, no matter how much private reading he has done, can ever really become an Oxford graduate?..."

X years of affirmative action in this country these many years later suggest that it is very much possible, but alongside the success stories are many of deep quagmires and dead ends. Also, some mentoring somewhere along the line often does seem to be needed. Our country asks deeply perplexing questions about the probable returns for the costs. One of the conventional "wisdoms" is that it takes three generations to create a "professional family."

Not so drastically perhaps, but Hardy himself experienced some of the barriers to upward mobility with which Jude had to deal. I often find it interesting to compare his career path with that of Henry James. I find Hardy more readable and his great novels truly masterworks, but HJ's oeuvre perhaps has more. While HJ's best deeply challenge the patience of his readers, both men explore some of the same complex moral choices of lives, often in different socioeconomic segments. As you have said, Hardy has a close feel for his "Wessex" country and its inhabitants.

In Jude, we watch many accept conventional wisdom of the time that a young man like Jude could not make the grade -- and then make decisions based on those assumptions. To the extent Hardy is a writer who views his characters as people trapped in certain social conditions and expectations, with those conditions capable of thwarting free will, I find myself wondering what he is commenting upon -- society or his characters -- perhaps a bit of both. Hardy is claimed to have taken some of his dark pessimism from Schopenhauer. The poet Shelley was another influence on Hardy.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Lily wrote: "X years of affirmative action in this country these many years later suggest that it is very much possible, but alongside the success stories are many of deep quagmires and dead ends. "

Today, yes.

But in 1894? As we see from Jude's life, the earnings of a workman were barely enough to support him. How would he pay the fees of university, and what would he live on while studying full time? No financial aid, no Pell grants, none of the support systems we have today. Theoretically possible, perhaps, but realistically possible?


message 9: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Lily wrote: " To the extent Hardy is a writer who views his characters as people trapped in certain social conditions and expectations, with those conditions capable of thwarting free will, I find myself wondering what he is commenting upon -- society or his characters -- perhaps a bit of both. "

Great question.

But despite my previous post, I think the novel, so far at least, is diminished if Jude really had no hope at all of achieving his goal. I see the novel less as a conflict of Jude vs. society, though it is that, as I see it as an internal conflict within Jude between mind and body, spirit and flesh. I find that the novel, at least to this point, works best if we assume that, had Jude not been distracted first by Arabella and second by Sue, he would have had a reasonable chance of achieving his goal, but that it is his internal weakness, if we want to call it that, of letting his dedication to learning be diverted by sexual desire that is the primary conflict set up by the novel. (I agree with Arnold Weinstein that every great novel contains at its heart one or more conflicts, either between the protagonist and some outside person or force, or withing the protagonist, or ideally both. Here, I think, we do have both.)


message 10: by Everyman (last edited May 01, 2014 05:26PM) (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments I'm interested in the way Hardy is structuring the novel, at least so far. Each section starts with something uplifting or seeming to promise a positive, goes through failure, and ends with the promise of a new beginning.

Part 1 starts with Jude's commitment to scholarship and the relationship with his departing teacher, moves through the disastrous marriage, but ends with Arabella leaving, his rediscovering the carving in the milestone and the vision of Christminster in teh distance, and the hope that "he might battle with his evil star, and follow out his original intention."

Part two begins with Jude walking to Christminster as he "with his tools at his back seemed to be in the way of making a new start—the start to which, barring the interruption involved in his intimacy and married experience with Arabella, he had been looking forward for about ten years." But then comes the disappointment of the letter, the failure to find his way into the University, his drunkenness in front of Sue, and his defeat and return to Marygreen. But there is a ray of hope right at the end of the section, with the curate telling him "If you feel a real call to the ministry, and I won't say from your conversation that you do not, for it is that of a thoughtful and educated man, you might enter the Church as a licentiate."

It's like a series of waves trying to reach a sunbather's feet, surging forward in hope (okay, I'm anthropomorphizing, but so what?), only to fall back in failure, but then surging forward again toward the goal.

Will this pattern continue throughout the novel? Or will Jude at some point overcome these adversities and emerge with a happy and successful life at last?

Only time (in our case six more weeks!) will tell.


message 11: by Lily (last edited May 01, 2014 08:42PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1289 comments Everyman wrote: "...Theoretically possible, perhaps, but realistically possible? ..."

I suspect there are some stories -- I don't happen to know them for Victorian England. I quite agree, realistically very difficult. I find it of interest that Hardy apparently did not consider himself ambitious, yet his biographers seem to believe his level of accomplishment, especially given his background, belies his self-myth. I find myself wondering how that personal predisposition spills over onto Jude, if at all.


message 12: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 188 comments Enjoyed this part more.


message 13: by Peter (last edited May 07, 2014 03:11PM) (new)

Peter Everyman wrote: "I'm interested in the way Hardy is structuring the novel, at least so far. Each section starts with something uplifting or seeming to promise a positive, goes through failure, and ends with the pr..."


The structure of the novel as you identify and the use of symbolism are two of Hardy's great strengths as a novelist. As was mentioned earlier, Christminster seemed wonderful and inspiring from afar. It was the promised land of knowledge (I, too, see little of Jude wanting to move up the social ladder.) when Jude goes to Christminster it is with his tools and his books. Here, I think, Hardy's use of symbolism is delightful. As Jude enters Christminster he sees that the town that held an almost celestial promise is crumbling, its churches, walls and structures old, forlorn and even rotting. Hardy comments on the stonework that "their extinct air being accentuated by the rottenness of the stones."

Jude's solitary intellectual world was "as dead as a fern leaf in a lump of coal." Like the stonework that surrounds him, his Latin and Greek books are tattered and soiled. Jude also realizes the literal and symbolic difference between himself and the young scholars of the town and himself as painfully evident. Jude was "a young workman in a white blouse and with stone dust in the creases of his clothes." Jude knows he is still "outside the gates of everything."

In Christminster Jude's stonemason tools are what continue to define his skills while his thirst and desire for a more scholarly life still remain outside his grasp. The irony of his re-connecting with his old teacher Phillotson only to have him not initially recognise Jude and then to have his emotional interest in his cousin Sue seemingly usurped by Phillotson layers yet another level of irony onto Jude's life.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Peter wrote: "when Jude goes to Christminster it is with his tools and his books. Here, I think, Hardy's use of symbolism is delightful. As Jude enters Christminster he sees that the town that held an almost celestial promise is crumbling, its churches, walls and structures old, forlorn and even rotting."

Nice.

Jude is able to be active in repairing and maintaining the physical Christminster. But he is shut out of the intellectual Christminster. There is little or no inter-relationship among those who deal in the one and those who deal in the other.


message 15: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 188 comments I confess I identify deeply with Jude as he stands outside the gates of one of the Oxford colleges. His sense of hopelessness is painful to behold. What an arrogant response from the professor!! I have been in Oxford twice only. I think that aesthetically Cambridge is prettier. I had toyed with the thought of eventually furthering my studies some years back. My husband had said: why not Oxford? Circumstances and lack of self-discipline got in the way of that little dream. I have a particular emotional attachment to Oxford as one of my uncles, many moons ago, studied at Corpus Christi at a time when CS Lewis could be spotted wafting along the corridors in his robes while, for a time, he was a don there. Yes indeed a long time ago! Jude's whole zest for education, his struggling with the NT in Greek and learning off creeds in Latin with no outside help, causes my heart to go out to him. He has worked for too long on these studies to have the gates permanently shut to him; surely!


message 16: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Hilary wrote: "I have a particular emotional attachment to Oxford as one of my uncles, many moons ago, studied at Corpus Christi I have a particular emotional attachment to Oxford as one of my uncles, many moons ago, studied at Corpus Christi ..."

As I have an emotional attachment to Cambridge, since my father is a Kings College honors graduate, and we spent a few days in Cambridge while visiting England way back int he 50s. King's college chapel is magnificent (and we were privileged to be allowed up onto the roof), and his old digs were still in very much the same ancient condition they had been in for hundreds of years. And the plumbing had not been renovated since probably the 1700s.


message 17: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 188 comments Wow, that's wonderful, Everyman. You have trumped me there. Not that we would ever descend to the depths of one-up-man-ship. I had hesitated to mention my uncle as I hate the thought that anything may be construed as being bombastic in any way rather than purely a matter of interest. I have to say that your father made the right choice in Cambridge though. My husband preached in Trinity College Cambridge a few years back, I didn't think that I'd appreciate the service, but the choir was out of this world. My dear husband also had the experience of dining in the erstwhile chambers of the Chancellor at the time of Henry V111 in Oxford. He was at a meeting with the Professor of Theology and something something. Meanwhile I was in a nearby pub, the peasant quaffing her pint of real ale; later to hear stories of the deep sense of history in that old building. Anyhow, I may get into trouble again for getting off-topic, so I shall away!


message 18: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1973 comments Mod
It's so cool the you both have first hand experience of these places. It must make the reading so much richer.


message 19: by Jana (new)

Jana Eichhorn | 26 comments Was anyone else struck by the beautiful contrast between Jude's first meetings with Arabella and Sue? The first time he encounters Arabella, she's vulgar. She's washing out pig entrails, and even goes so far as to chuck a wiener at him to get his attention, whereas the first time we really "meet" Sue, she's engaged in the carving of religious art. You can practically see a halo around her for all of her goodness. I don't know if that's foreshadowing into their respective characters, but I really liked the dramatic difference.


message 20: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Jana wrote: "Was anyone else struck by the beautiful contrast between Jude's first meetings with Arabella and Sue?"

I hadn't attended to that. Nice point. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.


message 21: by Helen_in_the_uk (new)

Helen_in_the_uk | 109 comments Everyman wrote: "I'm interested in the way Hardy is structuring the novel, at least so far. Each section starts with something uplifting or seeming to promise a positive, goes through failure, and ends with the pr..."

I hadn't specifically taken note of this, but it is cleverly done to keep us guessing ... will he make it, won't he!

As someone else mentioned, Jude's departure back to Marygreen was abrupt. However, I think his dreams of becoming a Christminster scholar have proved to be impossible. Today it would be extremely tough to be a self-supporting student, in Victorian times I think it would be impossible. I think his earlier marriage is going to cause problems with the idea of being a Licentiate, as it seems to be church sponsored. More troubles ahead, I'm sure.


message 22: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 188 comments Jana, that's a great contrast between the meetings of the two girls that I hadn't noted.


message 23: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 188 comments Helen-in-the- Uk, I hadn't thought of his marriage potentially messing up his chances of a licentiate. I wonder if it will make any difference that they are not divorced (impossible back then I suppose) or perhaps if he keeps stumm it may be difficult for his secret to be traced . Oh dear, again it doesn't seem to auger well for poor Jude.


message 24: by Renee, Moderator (last edited May 10, 2014 02:09PM) (new)

Renee M | 1973 comments Mod
I think the detail of the statuary is interesting. It makes me wonder if Sue is as "good" as she seems. Well, that and the aunt's story of her hiking up her petticoats and suggesting this was no sight for her modest aunt. So funny. (This shows humor and independence, but perhaps a bit more. At the very least that she has amind of her own.) The statues are, of course, Venus and Apollo, not the saints she claims to her nosy landlady. Pagan images, but also lovers. Adulterous lovers, since Venus was married to Vulcan.

And, the landlady smashes their heads. Which Jude takes to be because Sue's tastes are too holy, in a touch of irony. Oh, and her comments about Jerusalem. All these details lead me to suspect that there's more to Sue than meets the eye.


message 25: by Lily (last edited May 10, 2014 04:35PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 1289 comments Renee wrote: "...All these details lead me to suspect that there's more to Sue than meets the eye...."

Appreciate your observations, Renee. I have always struggled with this story, so have been reading some of the critics this time in an attempt to identify what they have seen that I have missed. One of the views I have encountered is that Hardy keeps the reader seeing Sue from the outside, from an observer's viewpoint. He never takes the reader inside her mind to see/hear how she observes the world. I don't know if I think that critique is valid, but I would be interested in the reactions of readers here. When do we get to see Sue as she sees herself? Is it "only" through external descriptions such as these? (I know that Hardy apparently had some difficulties comprehending the views of some of the women in his life -- reading the critique of Jude, I wondered if that difficulty spilled over into his treatment of Sue -- he could observe what she did, but not translate such into what she thought. My thinking back to his heroines in other novels is vague enough that I am unsure, but my recollection is that I thought Hardy, and I as reader, understood them closely.)


message 26: by Kate (new)

Kate | 18 comments I agree with the comments about Jude's internal struggles and those he has with the outside world. I also noticed the 'waves' - things starting off well at the start of each chapter then things going down hill.

One thing I've noticed, which I'm not sure anyone else has mentioned, is this seeming struggle with religion. Is it just me, or does Jude seem to have a love/hate relationship with it? His characterisation, up to now, has focused strongly on his sexual and intellectual self. To me, he doesn't seem to be pious enough in nature, to be an ideal candidate to rise in the ranks of the church. Even when he is in or near a church, he is more interested in the workmanship of the building than it's symbolic meaning. Therefore, I am thinking it's his struggle between faith and (now) Sue, that is the real reason he is throwing away it all away, rather than losing sight of his academic ambitions.

I'm finding it hard to put into words what I mean, but hopefully someone might get what I'm trying to say. LOL. :)


message 27: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 2507 comments Kate wrote: "One thing I've noticed, which I'm not sure anyone else has mentioned, is this seeming struggle with religion. Is it just me, or does Jude seem to have a love/hate relationship with it?"

Good observation. It's definitely a struggle. Though I think I would call it not love/hate so much as like/indifference. It's not, I think, that he turns against religion so much as that he gets distracted away from it by his sexual self.


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