Hardy’s Vision of the Place Wessex in Jude The Obscure

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      Real nature novelist. Hardy is the only novelist in English fiction who has tied himself to a particular tract of territory with amazingly many strings. Hardy has surpassed many other nature-novelists by following a method peculiarly his own. His method is to combine breath with intimacy. The towns, the villages, the hills, nay even many of the houses can be identified by one who is familiar with the topography of Wessex. Hardy's imagination does not run riot. Probably he found it difficult to portray what he conceived in his imagination without some solid ground beneath it. He seemed to have found solid objects around the things of his concept.

      Characters versus topography. No reader of Hardy will doubt that many of his characters do remain elements drawn purely from imagination or from the accumulated layers of experience. But with the topography of the scenes of his story, Hardy seems to have determined within himself to have one-to-one identity between the real thing and the fictional one presented by him.

      Place names altered. Much of the popularity Hardy enjoyed during the days when his novels were serialized in the magazines of his days is due to the interest of the places written about and more so concerning those places of more picturesque details. The ingenuous reader will of course lose himself or herself in what can be termed deputed adventures. The altered names may keep him in the dark about the identity of those places, but not so concerning those who have lived and worked in those places. They find many clues as to the identity of the real places. The famous University town is named Christminster and it plays a very large role in Jude the Obscure. Hardy’s care in transposing the names will not fool those who have lived in Oxford. They will find their High Street named Chief Street in the novel and Carfax with which they are very familiar can be seen named Fourways. But these alterations cannot prevent them from identifying them easily.

      Tiresome series of parallels. Colleges described in the novel or merely referred to have been thinly disguised. Christchurch is represented as Cardinal College. Oriel hides behind the name of Crozier, Balliol becomes Biblioll, etc. In all these cases the excessive care of Hardy to change the names is ineffective in the case of those who are familiar with these places. They can recognise that St. Silas is none other than St. Barnabas Church, the Jericho district of Oxford will not fail to be identified with the name Beersheba as given in the novel. The localities Bournemouth, Basingstoke, and Winchester are given the name of Sandbourne, Stokebarehills, and Wintoncester. It can be observed that Hardy has retained part of their original names. The special quality of a daydream is granted to the novels of Hardy, and especially to Jude the Obscure because the landscape is identifiable even though the details of Hardy's topographical nomenclature may be tiresome. Half-real figures moving over a real-world cannot but excite the thrill of a real romance.

      The surname of Jude, Hardy characteristically indulges in certain twists and thereby leaves around ample clues for the identification of the places described. Mary Green is the name of the village where the scene of the story opens but the real name of the village is Fawley and Hardy gives that as the surname of Jude. Fawley village has a personal connection with Hardy because his maternal grandmother had lived in that village as a child. Jude himself hailed from Mellstock in South Wessex which really stands for Stinsford as well as Lower and Higher Bockhamptons in Dorset. It may be interesting to note that this is the precise area in which Hardy was born and brought up.

      Some other prominent places. There are many other prominent places from Berkshire which play some part in Hardy's novels. Hardy calls Reading by the name Aldbrickham, Wantage by the name Alfredston because King Alfred was born there and Newbury by the name Kennetbridge after the river on banks of which Newbury stands. Hardy's description of Melchester makes it possible to recognize it as Salisbury in Wiltshire. Curiously there is a training college at this place. Its situation is such as to make the escapade of Sue intelligible to us. A person who has read the novel thoroughly can discover the school where Sue and Phillotson taught by walking around the town of Shaftesbury (named Shaston in the novel) because the topographical identifications are precise.

      Jude the Obscure the peak of Hardy’s performance. By the side of the Mayor of Casterbridge, this novel also can be placed with the safe assertion that it is one of the peaks of Hardy’s performance. It is a uniquely personal work and it is enigmatically connected with his own story. It does not mean that it stops at being a work of reminiscence. This novel has a peculiar tone that outlives all mere reminiscence. Hardy himself has said that no book he had ever written contained less of his own life. But we can safely add that no prose work contains more of himself Jude the Obscure belongs to that class of works where personal utterances are voicing a matured and deliberate judgment on life. It is a different matter if Hardy's morbid retrospective temperament has something less than a deliberate judgment on life. Of all the Wessex novels of Hardy Jude, the Obscure stands out as a stark and intense book thanks to the relative speed of its movement and the integrity of its complex action. Hardy’s twenty-five years of practice in novel writing has enabled him to put all that he knew about novel writing into it. Few English novels of the nineteenth century have such faultless construction as Jude the Obscure where there is no imposing of a dead structure of plot on which the characters have to hang. The ebb and flow of the tensions between Jude, Sue, Arabella, and Phillotson have been utilized thoroughly in the construction of this novel. Both in prose and verse Hardy has certainly left something of awkwardness and clumsiness but all these deficiencies are insignificant in the face of the superb skill exhibited in the narrative and portrayal of the character.

      Hardy took his county of Dorset, expanded it into some of the outlying territories, and created his famous ‘Wessex’, a fictional landscape of unusual vividness. The geography of Jude is poetic in its symbolism, the different towns, and villages representing stages in the world's evolution out of dying medievalism. What makes ‘Wessex’ so powerful a force in Jude is Hardy’s insistence on the weight of history. In their daily lives, Sue and Jude crossroads once highways but now no longer used; the Roman way outside Marygreen is now only a footpath, and the Land's End highroad is bypassed by the Great Western Railway. Hardy's grand view of human history sweeps the individual life into poignant oblivion.

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