Richard Phillotson: Character Analysis in - Jude The Obscure

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      A general glimpse. Hardy's elderly friend Horace Moule is introduced into the novel Jude the Obscure as the sober schoolmaster Phillotson. It is to him that Hardy's niece Tryphena turns when still involved with himself thereby creating a complicated tangle. Later Tryphena died and Horace Moule committed suicide. In the novel, only a general glimpse of his elderly friend is given by Hardy. In the very opening chapter, we meet with Phillotson on the eve of his departure from Jude's native village, when Jude was hardly a boy of eleven. Phillotson had programmed to proceed to Christminster to become a graduate and then get initiated as a bishop or a priest. Our story which is in the main tragedy of Sue and Jude has very much to do with Phillotson too. In fact, had it not been for Phillotson the story of Jude and Sue might not have become so acute a story as it turned out to be.

      The shattering of his intellectual aspirations. The poor fellow had left Marygreen with the ambition of acquiring a University degree and some ecclesiastical diploma or license. But unfortunately, his hopes had been shattered. So he was running a school himself in the rural outskirts of Christminster. Then he was in his middle age. His face manifested his thoughtful nature. His figure was lean and thin without affecting the maturity of his thinking power or reasoning ability. Jude visits him in the company of his cousin Sue and suggests to his former schoolmaster the desirability of engaging Sue as a pupil-teacher in his school. The elderly schoolmaster engages her and becomes successful to achieve a place for himself in the heart of the girl who probably had a father fixation in the innermost depths of her unconscious mind. Sue promises to marry him after two years by which time she hopes to get the teachers' diploma from the Training School. Although Jude did not relish the turn of events he could not do anything to prevent it.

      A long-time bachelor compelled to prepare for wedded life. At this time Phillotson was past forty-five. Why did he not enter a life of matrimonial bliss so long? The author answers this question. The schoolmaster could not be accused of having any distaste for women. The schoolmaster no doubt had no attractive features to stunning women. The style of his shaving rendered his unhealthy-looking face very old-fashioned. The native gentlemanliness in his face was not obliterated by any extraneous features. His eagerness and wish to do rightly by all was suggested by this gentlemanliness. The slight hesitation in his speech did not affect the sincerity of his tones and the faltering tones hence did not appear defective. Thus he had no innate ability to attract women towards him. His pursuit of an academic career could not but force upon him something akin to renunciation and it was this attitude that compelled him to be a bachelor so long. Now that an attractive girl had volunteered to marry him he began to dream of a happy wedded life and set upon himself the task of making a suitable domestic environment for that happy occasion. He changed the venue of his activity to his native town of Shaston and began to save money too. Maintaining a wife is no easy task.

      Filial affection straying into a matrimonial domain. Phillotson marries Sue. She could have been his daughter if only Phillotson had entered matrimony at the suitable age. The scholar in pursuit of Roman-Brittanic antiquities could have given only a father's love to Sue. Still, she volunteered to marry him. There is no doubt about Phillotson's attachment to Sue. Once he even says that he would have died for her sake. Was there any sensual passion in Phillotson? Possibly there was. Yet there was no animal craving in him as was evidenced by his acceptance without any demur the peculiar position of living in the same house with his legally wedded wife without any sexual contact with her. Sue had stipulated that as a condition and Phillotson accepted it since he wanted her more as a companion than as a wife.

      Unconventional and unusually liberal-minded. Hardy has painted Phillotson in his later as a man of extremely liberal ideas and unbelievable regardless of social conventions and customs. Sue's denial to him of the natural right of sexual contact does not make him unduly agitated. He permits her to sleep in a separate room. When Sue wants to live with Jude, he suppresses his natural reluctance and finds her strong aversion to him staring him in the face he seriously ponders over the situation. Despite his friend's dissuading remarks he decides to permit Sue to go over to Jude as his emotional feelings override his reasoning power. He takes an extremely revolutionary step of allowing his wife to go to her lover making financial and traveling arrangements for her comfortable journey. He is of the view that the fact he had led her to the Church and put a ring around her finger does not give him the right to torture her physically and emotionally. He admits that he is the most old-fashioned man in the world on the question of marriage and still he does not want to critically examine the problem of matrimonial ethics. In this peculiarly personal question, he acts more by instinct than by strict adherence to the principles of the conventional public. Although his standpoint cannot be logically or religiously defended. Phillotson does not prevent Sue from breaking the marriage bond and matrimonial fidelity. He feels sorry for the fact that he had taken advantage of Sue's inexperience during the tenure of Sue as a pupil-teacher under hum and as an expiatory measure thereof he permits her to go to Jude.

      Intelligent ability to judge other people's likes and dislikes. Judging other people's character is not at all difficult for Phillotson. He does not shit his eyes to realities or problems affecting him. He views the relationship between Sue and Jude not as one affected adversely thereby but as an impartial third party. He does not see any ignoble or animal passion in the love affair between Sue and Jude. The abundance of sympathy and exceptionally genuine affinity in their mutual attachment has, in Phillotson's opinion, swept off all flavor of grossness therein. Sharing each other's emotions, fancies, and dreams by living together is desired by all classical lovers, and Sue and Jude rank among them as in the case of Loan and Cythna in a Shelleyan poem.

      One man against the multitude. The fact that he constituted a minority of one does not make him dispirited. He was so steadfast in the decision he arrived at and the opinion he held that he was prepared to fight against all who opposed him. The revolutionary step of allowing his legally wedded wife to live with a lover provokes the School Committee to ask him to tender his resignation. On his refusal to do so they dismiss him. He does not bow down his head but calls a public meeting for a thorough discussion of the affair. He thought that he might get some support from the general public. But understandably he was reduced to a minority of one and the unusual step brought in its wake a general commotion and consequent damage to property and injuries to many persons. This sad affair was only the beginning of his calamities and Phillotson falls ill.

      Another revolutionary step. When Phillotson lay ill, Sue called on him for human consideration. Phillotson had an emotional disturbance then and desired to possess her. He offered his readiness to welcome her to his house once again condoning all the moral lapses that had occurred in the meantime. As could be expected Sue naturally declined this large-hearted proposal and went away. Undaunted by this adverse decision of Sue, Phillotson took another revolutionary step. He expressed his readiness to divorce Sue to facilitate a legal marriage between Jude and Sue. This decision was not at all prompted by any ill will that Phillotson might have nurtured against Sue or Jude but by a genuine desire that both of them should put a stamp of legality on their relationship. Phillotson's friends and well-wishers were against the proposal too but Phillotson was adamant.

      Sue comes back to Phillotson. The premature death of her children upsets Sue very much. She genuinely feels that Providence has meted out this punishment for her sacrilege and lives away from Jude. When Phillotson comes to know of this the dormant craving in his heart of hearts prompts him to approach Sue with the offer of taking her back provided of course there is the willingness on her part. This was also a step that his friends did not approve of. Yet Phillotson went ahead in his way. He wrote a letter to her accordingly and Sue accepted his proposal. Phillotson made her understand that his offer did not mean that he was reestablishing his claim for physical contact with her. But in a surprisingly welcome move, Sue Surrenders to him completely which is gladly accepted by Phillotson. It is a different matter that by this time Sue has become a living corpse and she is not in a position to offer him full sexual satisfaction with adequate physical and mental thrill. Phillotson would have been very liberal-hearted if only he had abstained from the physical side of the whole affair but it is a matter on which many have divergent views. On the whole, Phillotson strikes us as a man with genuine nobility of character.

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