Hardy’s Prose Style in the Novel Jude The Obscure

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      Perhaps it helps us to read this long and elaborate novel if we recognize that Hardy’s prose style is difficult, dense, clotted with quotations, and sometimes halting in sense. We may feel that Hardy's strength lies in the acuteness of his visual imagination: he manages to suggest all the tragic bravado of Sue in the way she cocks her thumb up the handle of her sunshade and the sad irony of his superimposed descriptions of altered states of mind; the landscape around the Brown House becomes charged with different meanings depending on who is observing it during the courtship and marriage of Jude and Arabella.

      Dialogue in Jude the Obscure is a particularly thorny problem. The private thoughts and feelings of the characters are described with greater sensitivity than their conversations. Sue and Jude address each other as if at a public meeting, even in their most intimate exchanges, and their lovers’ conversations would be more appropriate in the lecture room. The dialogue of moral opposites is a worse problem; Sue and Arabella and Arabella and Phillotson speak together on several occasions and these tend to be stagey and awkward moments. However interesting the material talked about (these are times when the plot is urged forward) we have a ‘dialogue of the deaf with no real communication going on.

      There are exceptions to this general rule of stilted conversation. Phillotson redeems himself by his visit to his old friend Gillingham, where they both lapse back into the comfortable dialect of their boyhood days. Hardy uses language to demonstrate how Phillotson has been robbed of his spontaneity by his professional training, and how he had the potential of a Jude until it was wrung out of him by rules of schoolmasterly behavior. His unpretentious and direct speech prepares us for his uncharacteristic decision to follow his instinct and let Sue go to her lover. Finally, there are times when a halting conversation conveys an unbearable poignancy to the reader. Sue answers little Time's questions about conception abstractedly, her mind on the birth of her child and the difficulty of getting lodgings; in his belief that he is responsible for the family’s plight, the boy kills himself and the children.

      Beautiful speeches: the simplicity of country-folk. There are isolated splendid speeches in Jude; almost romantic lyrics. The aunt and her village gossips talking of Sue as a girl in Part 2, Chapter VI, is a case in point. The image of the children ‘like shapes pointed on glass’ is perfectly in keeping with the old women's limited stock of experience and also conveys the fragility of Sue's moral and emotional balance as an adult. Hardy usually writes best when he writes dialogue for country folk and least well when he attempts the tones of the gentry.

      Hardy may have learned the value of such compensatory earthiness from Shakespeare, who let shrewd simple men set their betters right (Widow Edlin is like the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet), but it is more likely that he remembered the authentic voices of his childhood.

      The failure of much of the dialogue in Jude the Obscure to suggest real communication ends by having a positive effect. Hardy emphasizes the value of feelings that lie beyond verbal expression and in particular the mystical attachment of the cousins. We see why he plays down mere spoken words when he describes with such immediacy the lonely grief of Jude.

      Use of Quotations. Another trait of style in this novel is the frequericy of quotation; not just Jude's habit of filling his conversation and private thoughts with references to his reading, but Hardy’s insistence on his learning as an author. This can often be irritating, but it has a useful deeper meaning. It can be Hardy's way of suggesting a community of feeling between the present and the past; all that the characters suffer in the present has been endured by others. Jude's borrowing from the Agamemnon, a tragedy by Aeschylus shows that Jude has achieved self-mastery: “Things are as they are, and will be brought to their destined issue’’. The quotation is the only way an uncreative man can rise to poetic utterance, and Hardy makes touching use of Jude's borrowings from other men's intellectual riches.

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