Sue Bridehead: Character Analysis in - Jude The Obscure

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      The elegance of figure despite lack of beauty. Hardy introduces Sue Bridehead to Jude as well as to the readers through a photograph of this bright-eyed vivacious girl with a broad forehead and a pile of dark hair above it. The face was pretty and girlish and Jude immediately gives her the epithet "Sweet-faced cousin." There is no rustic simplicity nor statuesque grandeur in her. A painter of the orthodox type may not see much of handsomeness or beauty in her despite the elegance of her figure. There is no doubt a magic charm and thereby the heart and soul of poor Jude is bewitchingly influenced and completely taken possession of.

      The saleswoman of ecclesiastical goods. Miss Fontover runs a shop dealing in ecclesiastical goods such as crosses, pictures of saints, prayer books, etc. It is here that Sue is introduced to us and Jude by the author. It is evident from the narrative that her mental outlook is not congenitally disposed to the environment here. She is interested in pagan deities, and two statues thereof she buys and takes into her room where her roommate is none other than her employer herself. Naturally, Miss Font dislikes it and throws them on the ground. The row over this incident costs Sue her job. Such is the unconventional and unorthodox lady we are going to see fully in the course of the story.

      Volunteers to marry Phillotson of an age that could have been her own father's. She becomes a pupil-teacher in Phillotson's school and herself offers to marry the middle-aged Principal after two years but does not wait for the full period. Her love for the youthful Jude does not prevent her from marrying this elderly gentleman, a completely irrational step the only meaning of which can be that she never minds becoming arbitrary and perverse in certain circumstances.

      Marrying in haste and repenting later. Sue had stipulated as her condition that she would not be having any sexual connection with Phillotson which the elderly gentleman accepted without a demur. Despite all these things Sue was not happy in the company of Phillotson. She admits to Jude that even though she loves Phillotson as a friend she feels it torture to live with him as her husband, albeit it is only legally and nominally. She even sobs after saying this. Her dilemma was regarding her being responsive to the gestures of the man. The matter is one wherein voluntary behaviour constitutes its essence she becomes very miserable indeed. Now Jude tries to comfort her after caressing her which she forbids, because she is not inclined to enter into an illicit relationship with Jude so soon after marriage. Her aversion to Phillotson surpasses even her fear for spiders. Once she has a suspicion that Phillotson has entered her bedroom stealthily. She suddenly jumps out through the window. After these incidents, she frankly tells Phillotson about her wish to live with Jude. He permits her willy nilly. The poor fellow was able to understand how her mind was working. The scandal in the training school was not the sole season for her to marry Phillotson. As she says - a woman's love of being loved gets the better of her conscience and though she has agonized at the thought of treating a man cruelly she encourages him to love her despite her not loving him in return." Thus, though intelligent, Sue commits a serious blunder and repents for it.

      Good scholastic antecedents. Being very intelligent Sue has read many books and has become a very good scholar. Jude calls her "a creature of civilization, but Sue denies it by averring that she is a "negation of civilization". It was through English translations that she became acquainted with Greek and Latin classics. She has read the works of several well-known writers between the 16th and 19th centuries. She has so thoroughly read Mill and other authors that she does not find any difficulty in quoting from some of them offhand.

      Causes misery to an undergraduate. Sue was not out of her teens when she had a friendly intimacy with an undergraduate of Christminster. This boy lent her books for reading. Both of them had shared a sitting room for nearly fifteen months. The boy had requested her to be his mistress but Sue had declined. Her refusal affected him so much that the boy was taken ill resulting in his premature death. The belief that she had been too cruel towards him made Sue very remorseful.

      Heterodox views do not conform to general conventions. Often expressed openly and generally implied by her behaviour Sue held very unconventional and unorthodox views until the premature death of her children upset her too much to continue her life of carefree materialistic disbelief. Once Jude wanted her to accompany him to the cathedral to sit there for a while to have a mutual conversation. Sue replies that she would rather go to the railway station which has by that time become the center of town life. This provokes the remark of Jude that she is very modern in outlook though, as usual, Sue denies it by saying that she is more ancient than a medieval person. Sue also takes pride in calling herself an Ishmaelite (one who fights the society). There is a wide divergence of views between Jude and Sue although some sort of emotional affinity brings them and keeps them together. Phillotson describes this emotional affinity as Shelleyan. Sue has a very critical opinion about Christminster and its intellectualism. She has no respect for the University town and remarks that its medievalism will have to be discarded lest Christminster itself should be forced to go. She even vehemently says that it is an ignorant place abounding in snobs. People like Jude were kept out of its portals while sons of millionaires were always welcome. She does not believe in prayer also. These views and attitudes make Jude call her a "Voltairean". For a long time, she held a non-conventional attitude.

      Too forward and unabashedly daring. While she was an inmate of the Training School hostel she was ready to go for an excursion and sightseeing expedition. As they could not return before nightfall they spent a night in a shepherd's cottage in the village. This violation of the rules of the school hostel is punished by the authorities. They confine her to a solitary room but Sue is daring and forward. She jumps out of the window, wades through water, and goes to Jude's room with the readiness to stay there for the night. All her clothes had become wet. She took them off and did not feel any embarrassment in wearing Jude's clothes. She unabashedly observes referring to her clothes "They are only a woman's clothes - sexless cloth and linen."

      Unreasonably capricious and illogically arbitrary. In the case of Jude love for Sue began to take root ever since he heard about her and saw her photo. But as soon as he got acquainted with her he was taken by Surprise at her unreasonable capriciousness. In the earlier period of her acquaintance with Jude she never frankly admitted her love for Jude although she gave some vague indications of her amiable feelings for him. Again by hastily marrying the elderly Phillotson, she gave him the shock of his life. Her subsequent capriciousness together with the remark that she was, unfortunately, a woman tossed about all alone with "aberrant passions and unaccountable antipathies" provided him with a sort of encouragement to love though her idea was not couched in intelligible words and terms. Whenever they are alone she is unusually gay and familiar with him. On one or two occasions their fingers are clasped together lovingly. Jude once saw her looking at his photograph lovingly and pressing it against her bosom. Hardy in this context refers to the "elusiveness of her curious double nature." Jude even remarks with apparent frustration that she is as slippery as an eel. After the funeral of Jude's aunt there happens the tantalizingly encouraging behaviour of Sue in as much as she allows Jude to embrace and kiss her passionately and responds to it warmly. It is a different matter that after this fond eagerness she behaves as though she regrets having permitted him to do so. This illogical capricious manner of behaviour is not only for Jude but for Phillotson too whom she had married. She takes it into her head to sleep in the clothes closet So that she can avoid any physical proximity to him. This unusual behaviour provokes Phillotson to remark: "I hate such eccentricities, Sue. There is no order or regularity in your sentiments."

      Occupying the same house with a man out of wedlock. Sue's love for Jude was of a very peculiar type. She used to call it to love on a spiritual level because she was not passionate like the average woman. This accounts for her starting to live with Jude after stipulating that he should not expect to have physical contact with her. Even when Phillotson divorced her and Arabella divorced Jude both of them could not marry because Sue was adamant in her view that legal marriage was good for nothing. She simply wanted to be with him without belonging to him. There is no wonder in Jude's remark that she was a tantalizing phantom, hardly flesh at all and admitting himself to be a poor unfortunate wretch of grosser substance. Soon the advent of Arabella made Sue jealous like any other woman and Sue surrenders herself physically also though she is not prepared for a legal marriage. Sue wants Jude to dread the attitude that insensibly arises out of legal obligation. The essence of the passion of love is its gratuitousness Which becomes naturally destroyed by the legal obligation. She warns Jude that the future generations, say, after fifty or hundred years, will find all these ties and taboos worse and worthless.

      Sue's volte-face. We find a thorough change in Sue's attitude to life in general and to the various individuals she has had contacts with, in particular after the unhappy interlude of Father Time's murder of his stepbrothers and his suicide. In this volte-face, she becomes convinced that her marriage with Phillotson still holds good because it is a sacrament. Jude becomes convinced that he and Sue have traveled in diametrically opposite directions mentally. These incidents had the effect of narrowing the mental outlook of Sue whereas his views of life have become enlarged. She openly avows that their life had been a futile attempt at self-delight utterly forgetting the fact that self-abnegation is the highest road that can be traversed by people of noble ideals. She further says that they just mortify the flesh. The fact that Arabella's child killed their children was significant is as much as it symbolized the triumph of the right over the wring. In her altered view, Jude and Sue do not stand to each other in the relationship of man and wife in the eyes of Heaven. Jude argues in various ways but Sue's obsession continues to hold sway. Jude becomes utterly frustrated and disgusted and says Sue who had been poetical in her emotions, a woman seer in her super-visions, and a diamond-like sparkling woman of great charm had degraded herself and deteriorated.

      Mortification of the flesh. In his letter to Sue Phillotson offers his readiness to accept her into his guardianship and protection without any claim to her physical proximity. Despite Mrs. Edlin's dissuading remarks, Sue goes back to Phillotson. The ailing Jude visits her and pleads with her to love him. For a few moments, Sue could not resist the temptation and there ensues a passionate love scene although Sue regrets it later. This momentary disloyalty so shakes Sue that she confesses to Phillotson everything and makes amends by physically surrendering to Phillotson. Sue does not feel any thrill or delight in this act but allows it to continue as a necessary ancillary to her life of mortification of the flesh.

      The nature and the why and wherefore of Sue's tragedy. Sue is the tragic heroine in this novel because of the utter wreckage that had befallen her life. The tragedy regarding Jude culminates in his death but regarding Sue, it is a protracted living death. Arabella exhibits her common sense in affirming that Sue will never find peace till her death. There is no doubt in this that the major cause of her tragedy is her waywardness and utter disregard of conventions. She voluntarily marries Phillotson without any coercion from any quarter. Hence her capriciousness should be blamed for the misery that follows this step. Her deep love for Jude prompts her to go and live with Jude. The fact that she does not legalize her marriage with Jude is a product of her own independent and arbitrary thinking. Her return to Phillotson is also her own decision though the reason behind was her abject remorse due to the death of her children. The rational part in her accounts for her unconventional life. What society in its rigidity adds to her tragedy is also worth noting.

      Misnomers and misguiding inconsistencies. Why did Hardy choose the second name of Sue as Bridehead and did not allow her head not to worry about being a "Bride"? Sue starts with two obsessions: one is denying her male companions the thrill of sex and the other peculiar, notion about legal marriages. Since she calls into question the very institution of marriage it is a misnomer to give her any name with a "bride" in it. At the outset, she does marry Phillotson but soon decides not to be a regular bride to him. Her scrupulous clinging to the idea of bodily purity till she, at last, succumbs to Jude and then to Phillotson too late is something worth observing.

      Her unconsciousness of gender regarding her undergraduate friend is also a curious factor beyond the comprehension of Jude in the story and the average reader onside. No one can deny her charm, authenticity, and Sympathy. Neither Jude nor Phillotson for entirely different reasons can be a matching husband and companion for her because one lacks in grace and the other does not rise to a proper level of inspiration. It is a different matter if someone were to avow that even the best human being available under the sun cannot and will not be able to effect any material change in the course of the mental development and behaviour pattern of Sue. One thing we must regretfully admit, that is her intellectual attainments and moral courage have been lifted high up by the author who so undeservedly makes her suffer a terrible burden concerning both. With her impoverished status in life and a strange life without a firm foundation. These calamities that befall her toss her about mercilessly.

      As for inconsistencies they are many: the most glaring one is her marriage with Phillotson. The unworldly capriciousness that might have prompted her to enter this peculiar wedlock, makes her regret this step later, and later on, the death of her children makes her reverse the entire procedure. Whatever step she has taken is taken with serious conviction at that time. Hence we cannot accuse her of hypocrisy in the matter of emotional reactions. She openly confesses to Jude that she likes Phillotson only as a friend but thinks it torture to live with him as a husband.

      Utterly defeated in life. Despite her chastity, renunciation, and authenticity Sue becomes incapable of living out completely the deep innermost stirrings of her heart. Tragedy comes to Sue not as a challenge to her life or property, but as a challenge to her principle. She moves far away from her old way of life because she begins to visit churches. Hers is an act of self-immolation. Her passion for an examined life of adequate thoroughness keeps her faithful to it although her defeat is utterly total. By seeking consolation of soul in reverting to the religion she unhappily falls lifelessly into Phillotson's bed without the expected compensation of the thrill of sex.

      The new woman of pioneering temperament. For all practical purposes, Hardy's delineation of a "new woman" who revolts against society is the first one in English fiction. She is a woman who does not see the necessity of the following marriage as a profession. She is intellectualized and emancipated Ike the many "women's lib" rebels of the twentieth century.

      Absence of pervertedness and depravity. Hardy himself has said that though there is an abnormalism in her sexual behaviour and attitude we cannot call her sexually perverted or depraved. "The abnormalism consists in disproportion, not in inversion, her sexual instinct being healthy as far as is goes but unusually weak and fastidious." The painful alertness of sensibility is natural in the case of women like her. This accounts for the fact that although Sue has borne children to Jude, her intimacies with Jude have never been more than occasional. The curious attitude towards sexual intimacies that Sue evinces can or cannot be scientifically explained, but one thing is certain that the main reason for Sue's anti-marriage-ceremony stance is her fear that if she were to subject herself to the ceremony she cannot withhold herself at pleasure or all together as she, later on, may choose to do. In the state of having no marriage contract as such, she is at liberty to yield herself as seldom as she chooses. What is the result of this abnormal behavior? It has tended to keep Jude's passion as hot at the end as at the beginning and helps, to break his heart. To sum up, Jude has never really possessed her freely as he desired.

      Asexuality in Sue. Can this abnormal asexuality in Sue be innate? Is it the product of her peculiar upbringing? Can it be the result of some early shocking sexual experience? Before answering these questions we will do well to observe that Hardy has sufficiently made himself clear that the social pressures have operated on Sue as well as Jude. But being a woman the pressure of social conventions and institutions is felt with greater force and rigor by Sue.

      The New Woman's three-pronged attack. Whether Hardy did it consciously or not we cannot say, but Sue has attacked male members of the society in three different ways. The first one to be attacked by. She was her undergraduate who taught a great deal to Sue who undertook walking tours, reading tours, etc., along with Sue. But when he wanted Sue to be his mistress Sue refused. On his undertaking to agree to her plan, she stayed with him for fifteen months. The poor fellow died of consumption. Sue consoles herself that she was not the sole cause of his death. But there is no doubt that the poor fellow has pined himself to death.

      The second person to be attacked is Phillotson. Sue resolved the awkwardness of the situation she found herself in after her expulsion from the hostel by marrying Phillotson in haste. The physical revoltingness about Phillotson may be the cause. But she did attack him in her particular way. Phillotson was tough-skinned enough and utilizing several magnanimous gestures ultimately got Sue onto his bed but unfortunately, she had become a living corpse by that time.

      The third person she attacks is Jude. She did not give him a physical thrill because her nature was not as passionate as his. Her jealousy for Arabella forced her to yield physically to Jude and bear forth children too. The unreasonable "dog in the manger" attitude she had to shed but here also the attack was sufficiently fatal to Jude.

      Sue's dreadful spiritual end. Despite her vanity self-regard and abnormal attitudes etc., all the three men she attacked never felt her repellant or repulsive. The readers who follow her appalling story also do not find her lacking in attractive features. She achieved a sort of purification spiritually but in effect, this achievement proved to be a dire instrument to destroy both Jude and Sue. Clinging to her vanity and self-regard she brings about Jude's destruction and her self immolation. Hardy's gift to English fiction in the form of this novel of Sue's dynamic self-centered anti-conventional stance is superb.

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