Modernism Element in Thomas Hardy's Jude The Obscure

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      Trends of traditionalism and modernity. Hardy started his literary career as a true Victorian and ended it as a typical modern writer. We can find excellent specimens of both these trends in his extant works. His archaic characteristics do not prevent him from being minutely observant. His biblical simplicity in penning his long narratives cannot make us blind to his complex psychological insight. The traditional trait in him has made him a timeless teller of tales through the very fact that they are “literary” has made his novels, The Hand of Ethelberta (1876) and A Laodicean (1881) his weakest. The sense of modernity that Hardy possessed adequately has enabled him to described tensions. Ambiguities, frustration, disharmony, disillusion, revolt against orthodox viewpoints and taboos, etc.

      A Victorian novelist and a modern poet. Hardy ceased to write novels a few years before the death of Victoria and continued to write poems more than two decades after her death. This chronological fact does not reflect the nature of the novelist or the poet. His “Victorian” novels usher us into the dark dismal world of the modem period and many of “post-Victorian” poems are mere verses about unhappy lovers and fair maidens.

      Thematic modernity in Jude the Obscure. Struggles of the underdogs and the have-nots have been supposed to be the modern themes for novels and we have them here in this novel although Hardy himself knew perfectly that the social purpose side of the novel was relatively exterior to its main theme. He writes—“Christminster is, of course, the tragic influence of Jude’s drama in one sense but innocently so and merely as cross obstruction”. Some of his contemporaries thought that when Ruskin College was subsequently founded, it should have been called “the college of Jude the Obscure” because the college was designed to provide opportunities at the University for working-class men who for one reason or another had not had a chance to go to a University after leaving school, and it has since been supplemented by a wide system of government and local grants.

      Lively social concerns. Many of the underlying themes of Hardy’s novels seem more characteristic of the twentieth century than of the nineteenth. The economic well-being of the underprivileged sections of the society is a lively social concern as depicted by Hardy. In modern Indian society, this aspect of Jude the Obscure has a relevant bearing. As for the attitude of the society to sex and sexual life Jude and Sue had been more than a century ahead of their times.

      Loneliness and isolation. Jude had been a dreamer ever since his childhood. His dreams and aspirations were continuously shattered and he was compelled to remain in isolation and loneliness. He had no close affinity with anyone else in the world. As a child, he had no good fortune to play with boys and girls of his age. He had no friends and comrades during his youth for a frank exchange of opinion and sharing of the travails or ups and downs in worldly matters, economical, emotional, and intellectual. He had to bear the brunt of defeat and failure in his ambitious plans. These and other adverse circumstances form part of a modern novel and Jude the Obscure has been a pioneer in that field.

      Words and phrases, that Hardy used in criticizing the authorities or social leaders never went beyond the propriety of a Victorian writer but the problems that he raised did dramatize the psychological insight of a social reformer with a life’s mission and therefore they continue to disturb people of complacency.

      Modern spirit. We can find the spirit of a modern age pervading Hardy’s later novels. The hero he has chosen for the present novel hails from the working class and not from the aristocracy or the elite of the society. The social prohibitions and restrictions have an inhibiting effect on modern man and Jude has been described as suffering from it too much. The search for self-definition, self-knowledge, and self-sufficiency has been the special prerogative of the modern thinker and Hardy has sown the seeds thereof in his novel. The primary appetites for life should not be endangered by a lopsided over-development of the intellect and this modern viewpoint has been stressed upon by the author by implications rather than by expressed statements.

      Getting involved in complications. Jude is spurred into activity employing two dominant passions, one of sensuous weakness for women and the other an indefatigable ambition for intellectual progress. In both of them, he faces failure no doubt and succumbs to them ultimately. But, apart from the non-realization of his aims, his getting involved in complications and complex situations is modern in theme. Facing troubles is encouraged and the defeatist mentality of running from danger is discouraged. The personal relationship is a pervasive theme of the twentieth century novel and Jude the Obscure gives the hint thereof. Another aspect of modernism pertains to persons of thoughtful and reflective nature. They become excessively absorbed by their own experiences and hence they do not have the patience to live out their experiences in full. This intolerance involves the wastage of spirit and human potential. The inner torments of the thinking man are inevitable in modern society and Jude the Obscure as pointed out his fact adequately.

      Conclusion. In Sue, the author has created a modern woman with self-consciousness, innate uncertainties, and psychological disturbances prompting her and her fellow beings to incessant rebellion. On the whole Jude, the Obscure is more modern than most of the other novels of the time. Significantly, the action of the novel takes place in towns—shifting from town to town—and not in a agricultural or pastoral setting. The very progression from town to town suggests the rootlessness of arid confusion in the lives of the characters.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Jude the Obscure “initiates the modern novel”, according to some critics. In what respects do you feel this to be a true critical evaluation of the novel?


“The last novel Hardy wrote is also his most modern, turning as it does from agriculture setting and pastoral myth to a restless world of cities and psychological insecurities.” Discuss.


“With Jude the Obscure we have entered both the more austere aesthetic of the modern novel, and the dark world in which we live.” Discuss.

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