Hardy's Genius Portrayal of Sue Bridehead

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      A complex psychological invention. In portraying female characters, Hardy usually exhibits a great insight into their psychological makeup; for example, in the novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles the heroine Tess and her sufferings at the hands of the seducer have been narrated with superb skill. Hardy stresses the weaknesses of women such as their coquetry, capriciousness, ultimate submissiveness, frailty, and sweetness. Hardy cannot be called a master of psychology in. the modern sense but his analysis of the motives and mental twists of his characters is very remarkable. Somewhat pessimistic in his view of life, Hardy usually leads his character towards a tragic doom. There are many somber stories of broken lives, frustrated ambitions, and utter futility of human endeavor against the inexorable relentlessness of a hostile fate. Jude the Obscure the last novel of Hardy was written perhaps when despair depressed him to a great extent at the sight of so much pain in the world as he had disclosed. Sue the heroine in this novel is far different from the other heroines of Hardy.

      Primarily intellectual. Sue has been characterized as an intellectual not much inclined to the physical cravings of love. She is a well-versed woman who had read Greek and Latin classics in translation and almost all good literature available to her then. She could quote from J.S. Mill and other writers and conduct an intelligent conversations on major intellectual topics without any difficulty.

      Unconventional and unorthodox. Sue took pride in being unorthodox in matters concerning social behavior. She called herself an Ishmaelite meaning thereby that she would rather fight with society than submit to its relentless restraint or meaningless formalities. She did not believe even in prayer. She did not believe that marriage is a sacrament. Of course, the tragic death of her two children changed her completely in many respects towards the latter part of her life.

      Tantalizing phantom. Jude calls her a tantalizing phantom because she lives with him but denies him the pleasure of sexual contact. The love she says wants to move on a spiritual level and not on a physical level. She avers that she feels a delight in being with Jude, that delight being of a supremely delicate kind. Later on, jealousy of Arabella prompted her to submit her body also to Jude and she begets children as well. All along she refuses to legalize her relationship with Jude by a formal church ceremony of marriage. She is afraid of a change in one's attitude that is likely to arise insensibly out of a legal obligation. She confesses to Jude that it is destructive to a passion the essence of which is gratuitousness where no question of recompense arises.

      The new woman. Hundreds and thousands of women have come up in the society holding aloft the banner of revolt against what they call the tyranny of the male chauvinist. Sue can be called a pioneer in that respect. She behaved like any modern leader of feminist revolt though she did not actually do any fighting for that cause. Of course, her fortunes become molded by the pressures of the society she was in. Being a woman she has far less power to mold her own destiny using her own intrinsic ability.

      Relationship with Phillotson. Sue joins the school run by Phillotson as a pupil-teacher and ultimately agrees to marry him within two years by which time she hopes to get the diploma from the training school. How this young girl of great intellectual achievement decides to marry an elderly man is a question that cannot be answered straight away. As for Sue, her commitment was only to the limit of a formal attachment because she tells Phillotson emphatically that there can be no physical union. He consents to be satisfied with her companionship and does not demand anything further. When she wants to live Jude he acts like the man of liberal ideas that he is and permits her to leave him. He feels that he cannot lay any claim on her merely because he has gone through the marriage ceremony and put a ring around her finger. He feels an aversion to torture her. He even permits her to divorce him. Later on, when Sue lives separately from Jude Phillotson offers to take her back and actually marries her without any precondition as before. Thus Sue's relationship with Phillotson undergoes dramatic changes frequently.

      Self-contradictoriness. Sue's words, views, and actions have no consistency at all. As a critic says she is a psychological paradox of rare interest. There is a trait of Victorian prudery in Sue. She views Jude contemptuously for seeking gratification of sexual lust. She calls Arabella a coarse, low, passionate woman. As Hardy says in a context Sue manifests “the elusiveness of her curious double nature.” She is diffident but becomes reckless. She takes pride in being independent but helplessly lays bare her necessity for support. She behaves severely and soon becomes a personification of kindness. She exhibits readiness for close companionship but soon becomes aloof and stand-offish. She criticizes others freely but does not tolerate their criticism of her. views. She is psychologically unpredictable.

      Revolt within and without. There is a split in the makeup of Sue. Her mind and intellect reject certain things but her emotional self cannot deny them. Her revolt against convention puts a heavy strain on her. Her repeated attempts to thwart her own feelings have a boomerang effect on her when those very feelings take their revenge. Her ideas take a somersault when her children die. She feels she has been punished for her sins. She never prayed before nor believed in any supernatural being. Now she begins to believe in these. She becomes ready to make ample amends by remarrying Phillotson.

      Honest and frank. Though Sue was highly complex in her psychological set up her frankness almost amounting to bluntness was not devoid of any simplicity. Her simplicity did not preclude an extraordinary sense of honesty. She was not at all deceitful in any of her activities nor did she have recourse to any type of trickery.

      Suffering due to blunder. Most of her sufferings were due to her initial blunder of marrying Phillotson impulsively and the subsequent inevitable actions though inconsistent. Her sufferings cannot be considered the direct consequence of her serious blemishes. The cruelty of destiny and the heartlessness of people at the helm of affairs in society make her unhappy. She had no control over these and she began to be convinced that the hereditary curse in the family about married life is true though harsh.

      Integrity and authentic chastity. Sue was a woman of cor conscientious integrity authentic chastity. We cannot but admire her for all the things. Renunciation without a practical motive can be called the keynote of Sue's character for which we do admire her.

      Conclusion. Sue is the most unforgettable character among all the creations of Hardy. She is complex and mysterious, puzzling and perplexing by her investment moods and thoughts. Some personalities in the realm of fiction leave an indelible impression on the minds of the readers. Sue is one such. She is convincingly alive. We cannot forget her eyes a long time after we complete the reading of the book. A sensitive reader is permanently haunted by her.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Critically examine the statement that “Sue Bridehead is Hardy’s supreme female creation”.


“Hardy comes close to genius in his portrayal of Sue Bridehead” Discuss.


Intellectual, unconventional, and utterly non-sexual, Sue Bridehead baffles us and makes us admire her with sympathetic considerations. Discuss.


Unabashedly daring and unmindful of the taboos of society, Sue is “a typical Voltairean” as Jude says. Discuss.

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