Symposium of Critics on Jude The Obscure

Also Read

      Hardy: A Major Transitional Figure (Albert J. Guerard): With Jude the Obscure (1895) we have entered both the more austere aesthetic of the modern novel, and the dark world in which we live. The dismal unfaith and rudderless society of Jude, the anxieties of sexual maladjustment and social misemployment, the chronic self-destructiveness of both Jude and Sue, the total vision of weakened vitality and gray despair—all these may give, to the twentieth century reader, a comforting sense of familiarity and home.

      The Finest of Hardy’s Novel (A. Alvarez)'. The work is the finest of Hardy's novels because it is the one in which the complex of emotions is, despite Father Time, least weakened by melodrama, bad plotting, and that odd incidental amateurishness of detail by which, perhaps, Hardy, all through his novel-writing period, showed his dissatisfaction with the form. It is also the finest because it is the novel in which the true Hardy hero is mostfully vindicated, and the apparently fascinating myth of immaculate frigidity is finally exploded.

      Setting and Title (Richard Carpenter)'. The last novel Hardy wrote is also his most modern, turning away as it does from agriculture setting and pastoral myth to a restless world of cities and psychological insecurities. The basic metaphor of the world in Jude the Obscure (1895) is indicated by the titles of the parts of the book; “At Marygreen”, “At Christminster”, “At Christminster Again”. Using the words of Kenneth Burke, we might say that Jude is “dancing an attitude" in this arhythmic, jagged progression from town to town; that the lack of stability and steady rhythms in the setting is equivalent to the rootlessness and confusion in the lives of the characters.

      The novel is well named because Jude is “obscure” both in that he is a mere workingman of no social position and in that he does not understand himself nor the forces at work in his life, h is a gritty book, where the stone dust that is the mark of Jude's trade is a pervasive motif that gets in our teeth and eyes .... it is in many ways the most exciting of Hardy s books because of its social criticism, its presentation of psychological malaise, and its unremitting irony.

      Ironic Symbolism (Richard Carpenter)'. The preeminent ironic symbol of the novel, however, is Christminster itself, the very epitome of what is accurately termed the ‘grimy’ aspect of his novel, “designed to show the contrast between the ideal life a man wished to lead, and the squalid real life he was fated to lead, a Heavenly Jerusalem” of cold stone walls, slums, bar-rooms, and temporary lodgings. Christminster, with Jude dying as the crowd cheers, rounds out the bitter tale that began when a pizzle smacked into Jude's ear “at the supreme moment of his young dream”. Christminster is not merely a society that crushed a foolish young man’s silly dream: it is the symbol for all that reality with which weak and obscure men are forced to contend in an unequal struggle. Jude the Obscure is properly Hardy’s last novel, for in it he distilled the final measure of his irony in fiction. Jude leaves his “unnecessary life” even less noticed than when he entered it, while the careless shouts of the world which never understood him, as he never understood himself, echo and re-echo amid the decaying stone walls of Christminster.

      The Theme of Jude the Obscure (Trevor Johnson): Hardy is also concerned with improving the status of women in society, demanding reform of the divorce laws, criticising the zealous excesses of Anglo-Catholicism, hitting out a provincial prudishness, exposing the weakness of the educational system with especial reference to teacher training, drawing attention to the narrow-mindedness of church-going people, and even with an attack on the gin-trap. It is fair to say the Jude carries altogether too heavy a load of good intentions: at times the framework of the novel creaks and groans a bit with the stresses Hardy puts on it in order to get everything in.

      Modern Themes (Jean R. Brooks)'. Jude initiates the me dern novel with its ambitious working-class hero and its neurotic heroine; city life in the back streets; the problems of adaptation to a rapidly changing world; of the commercial and material values; of sexual and social maladjustment of the ‘abnormal’ variation from the species. It foreshadows the modern themes of failure, frustration, and futility, disharmony, isolation, rootlessness, and absurdity as inescapable conditions of life. It charts rebellion against orthodox labels which inhibit spontaneity and personal growth. It probes the existentialist’s terrible freedom and the burden of unlocalized guilt; the search for self-definition, self-knowledge, self-sufficiency, and purpose without significance, gods, homeland, religious myths, or absolute values. It stresses the importance and self-destructiveness and exclusiveness of personal relationships; the value of doubt and fluidity; the intellectual overdevelopment that endangers the primary appetites for life; the ascendancy of the death-wish: the absurd and tragic predicament of human beings developed to a high degree of sensitivity in an insentient universe bearing all things away: the primacy of suffering.

      The Structure of Jude's Quest (Jean R. Brooks): The structure of Jude's quest for meaning is marked by contrasting ‘epiphanies’ that define his progress fi*om medieval to modern man. At Marygreen the pig's pizzle cutting across his abstract reflections makes him aware of his double nature. His brief marriage with Arabella brings into question the logic of social and natural law which show indifference to his finer aspirations, But the milestone to Christminster still carries his vision. At Christminster he encounters Sue Bridehead and the obstructive physical reality of his vision. His past relationship with Arabella and his growing love fer Sue affect his studies and reflect the complexities of his nature. Arabella frustrates his nobler aspiration, Sue his sexual desires, and Christminster, attuned to a celibate ideal of scholarship, his complete fulfilment as a human being. Sue is closely linked with Christminster and its atmosphere of light. Her intellect promises Jude the freedom which the real Christminster denies him. But she is as ethereal as his vision of the city; emancipated, as he is not, from sexual appetites. His ideal intellectual city and his ideal intellectual woman frustrate his human impulses equally. The Christminster episode balances the vision of Part I—the ideal life frustrated by the physical—with his recognition of the incompleteness of the ideal alone. On the day he awakens from his dream, his vision embraces the reality of Christminster from the heights and the depths. The unattainable Pisgah-panorama from Wren's theatre and the tavern where he drinks steadily and recites the creed in Latin to an uncomprehending rabble express his complex nature in a juxtaposition of the ideal and its negation (a structural concept basic to Hardy's poetry).

      Jude’s Tragedy (Albert Pettigrew Elliott): We feel the pain of this tragedy all the more because we know that Jude did nothing to bring it about. Tess sinned, innocently it is true, but it was sin withal He was kind and tender to all living things. Hardy is heartless in handling Jude. He not only refuses to reward nobility of nature, but he even refuses to let it be its own reward. Jude's ideals are consistently uprooted until in that terrible last scene he gives expression to his resentment by wishing that he had never been born. At times there appears to be much of Job in him. Yes he was, indeed a “predestinate Jude”. “He might battle with his evil stars”, but he must finally submit to “the humours of things.”

      Narrative Structure of ‘Jude tlte Obscure (Irving Howe): With a little trouble one could block out the main lines of a plot in Jude the Obscure: tbe protagonist, spurred by tbe dominant needs of his character, becomes involved in a series of complications, and these, in turn, lead to a climax of defeat and death. Yet the curve of action thus described would not, I think, bring one to what is most valuable and affecting in the novel— as a similar kind of description would in regard to The Mayor of Casterbridge. What is essential in Jude, surviving and deepening in memory, is a series of moments rather than a sequence of actions. These moments—one might also call them panels of representation—tend to resemble snapshots rather than moving pictures, concentrated vignettes rather than worked-up dramatic scenes .... Yet a tragedy in any classical sense Jude is not, for it directs our attention not to the fateful action of a looming protagonist but to the inner torments of familiar contemporaries. In classical tragedy, the hero realises himself through an action. In the modern novel, the central action occurs within the psyche of the hero. And Jude, in the last analysis, is a novel dominated by psychology.

      Jude’s Maturity (A Alvarez)'. Where Jude matures as a man, reconciling himself to the endless tragedies and disappointments until he can accept them more or less without self-pity, Sue remains fixed in her narcissism. She does not change, she simply shapes her other actions to the commonplaces which at heart had always ruled her. Convention - which she calls High Church Sacramentalism—is simply a way of preserving her vanity intact. To break her self^enclosed mould would mean laying herself open to the real tragedy of her relationship with Jude—of which she. not Fate, is the main instrument—and thus giving herself to him completely. Because she is unable to do this, she decides the true marriage between them and perverts it to fit a conventional idea of matrimony. Arabella may occasionally have turned whore for practical ends—that, presumably, is how she raised the money to get Jude drunk before remarrying him—but it is Sue whom he accuses when she turns to Phillotson, of “a fanatic prostitution”. What began as intellectual freedom ends as prostitution to an idea. So when Jude finally turns on her with the cry “Sue, Sue, you are not worth a man’s love!” he is passing judgement not only on her but also, because he never once denies that he loves her, on something in himself. That cry and Arabella’s closing words represent a standard of maturity which Jude only slowly and painfully attains.

      Sue Bridehead (JD. H. Lawrence): Sue is scarcely a woman at all though she is feminine enough. Cassandra submitted to Apollo, and gave him the word of affiance, brought prophecy to him, not children. She received the embrace of the spirit. He breathed His Grace upon her: and she conceived and brought forth a prophecy. It was still a marriage. Not the marriage of the Virgin with the Spirit, but the marriage of the female spirit with the male spirit, bodiless.

      With Sue, however, the marriage was no marriage, but a submission, a service, a slavery. Her female spirit did not wed with the male spirit: she could not prophecy. Her spirit submitted to the male spirit, owned the priority of the male spirit, wished to become the male spirit. That which was female in her, resistant, gave her only her critical faculty. When she sought out the physical quality in the Greeks, that was her effort to make even the unknowable physique a part of knowledge, to contain the body within the mind.

      Allegorical Significance of Sue (Robert B. Heilman): The allegorical content in Hardy’s delineation of Sue has also a historical base: she is made a figure of Shelleyan idealism. When Phillotson describes the rather spiritualised affinity that he perceives between Jude and Sue, Gillingham exclaims ‘platonic!’ and Phillotson qualifies, ‘Well, no. Shelleyan would be nearer to it. They remind of Loan and Cythna’ (IV, 4) the idealised liberators and martyrs in The Revolt of Islam (which is quoted latter in another context—V, 4).

      Sue’s Inconsistency (Robert B. Heilman): (The) initial glimpses of Sue prepare for the remarkable central drama of the novel: her unceasing reversals, apparent changes of mind and heart, acceptances and rejections, alternations of warmth and offishness, of evasiveness and candour, of impulsive acts and later regrets, of commitment and withdrawal, of freedom and constraint, unconventionality and propriety. She is cool about seeing Jude, then very eager, then offish (III, I). She escapes from confinement at school but appears increasingly less up to the exploit already concluded (III, 3-5). She tells Jude, ‘You mustn’t love me’, then writes ‘you may’ quarrels with him, and writes, ‘Forgive my petulance ’(Ill, 5). Before and after marriage she resists talking about Phillotson (‘But I am not going to be cross-examined....’) and then talks about him almost without reserve (III, 6, 9, ; IV, 2). Again she forbids Jude to come to see her (III, 9), then ‘with sweet humility’ revokes the prohibition (III, 10), is changeable when he comes, invites him for the next week (IV, 1) and then cancels the invitation (IV, 2). She ‘tearfully’ refuses to kiss Jude, and then suddenly kisses him (IV, 3). Hardy identifies, as a natural accompaniment of her shifting of attitude and mood, a tendency to shift ground under pressure. Since she dislikes firm reply, argument, or questioning from others, she may simply declare herself ‘hurt’. Another ploy is to make a hyperbolic statement of desolation or self-condemnation. ‘I wish I had a friend here to support me; but nobody is ever on my side!’ (III, 5). ‘I am in the wrong. I always am!’ (IV, 3), ‘I know I am poor, miserable creature’ (IV, 5). Another self- protective situation-controlling move is to fall back directly on her emotional responsiveness to a difficult moment. She will not sleep with Jude but is jealous of Arabella .... For all of her intellectual freedom, she seems to accept ancient dogma of ‘woman’s whims’ (IV, 5) and calls Jude ‘good’ because ‘you give way to all my whims!’

      Father Time (Ian Gregor): From his introduction Father Time stands apart from the narrative, and of course at the level of realistic presentation he is very awkwardly accommodated indeed. But Hardy leaves us in no doubt that his role is to be choric: ‘He was Age masquerading as Juvenility, and doing it so badly that his real self showed through the crevices.’ And as he sits in the railway compartment he ‘seemed to be doubly awake, like an enslaved and dwarfed Divinity, sitting passive and regarding his companions as if he saw their whole rounded lives rather than their immediate figure.’ It would be foolish to deny that the attempt to integrate Father Time into the novel is not a success: Hardy has set aside the conventions of realism too easily .... In a phrase, he is introducing with Father Time the process of history into the lives of Jude and Sue—his sorrowful contemplative eyes become ours as we watch them desperately attempting to cheat time, repudiating the past, evading the social commitments of the present, indifferent with their ever increasing family, to the demands of the future. With Father Time their ‘dreamless paradise’ fades into the light of common day.

      Phillotson (D. H. Laurence): She (Sue) made no mistake in marrying Phillotson. She acted according to the pure logic of her nature. Phillotson was a man who wanted no marriage whatsoever with the female. Sexually, he wanted her as an instrument through which he obtained relief and some gratification: but, really, relief. Spiritually, he wanted her as a thing to be wondered over and delighted in, but quite separately from himself - He knew quite well he could never marry her. He was a human being as near to mechanical function as a human being can be. The whole process of digestion, masticating, swallowing, digesting, excretion, is a sort of super- mechanical process. And Phillotson was like this. He was an organ, a function-fulfilling organ, he had no separate existence. He could not create a single new movement or thought or expression. Everything he did was a repetition of what had been. All his study was a study of what had been. It was a mechanical, functional process. He was a true, if small, form of the Savant. He could understand only the functional laws of living, but these he understood honestly. He was true to himself: he was not overcome by any cant or sentimentalising. So that in this he was splendid. But it is a cruel thing for a complete or a spiritual individuality to be submitted to a functional organism. The widow Edlin said that there are some men no woman of any feeling could touch, and Phillotson was one of them. If the Widow knew this, why was Sue's instinct so short?

      Final concentration of Bitterness into ‘Jude’ (George Wing)’. Hardy puts his final concentration of bitterness into Jude the Obscure. There is no tempering with mercy or compassion, no Chorus of Pieties to say a prayer of alleviation for the chief characters. There must have been a number of years during which Jude and Sue lived together with a certain amount of conjugal bliss, but these years are Actively skipped. Once again it is the story of a lonely individual involved in a personal terrible struggle, but in this case, much of Jude Fawley's fight is with himself: there is a constant conflict between his bright-eyed idealism and his grosser desires. Sue Bridehead, who wavers between the sexual attitudes of a normal childbearing mother and those of the “new woman”, with her bachelor-girl independence and epicene tendencies, has within her own complex makeup an unresolved conflict which has a parallel with Jude’s but is essentially different. With the dry propriety and incompatibility of Phillotson and the fecund amiability of Arabella in the background, Jude and Sue are involved in a sexual struggle during the course of which both are very badly hurt, and during which the whole complexity of moral canons is taken to pieces. And all is written in a spirit of great bitterness as through defiance were being hurled into the teeth of uncompromising hostility. All the country laughter has gone.

      The End of Jude (Patrick Braybrooke)'. The end of Jude is a scene of unrelieved misery. In a little room, this young man who meant to do so much dies alone, while outside the population shouts with merriment at the boisterous merriment of an old English fair. Who cares that an obscure youth has died? Who cares that he has been an absolute failure? Who cares that nature, after being once kind to him has driven him down and down and down?

      The death of Jude is one of the most sorrowful scenes that Hardy has written. It throbs with cold despair, for Hardy does not speculate on a possible compensation beyond the grave.

      Hardy’s craftsmanship in ‘Jude the Obscure, (lam Gregor): Far from the characters in Jude seeming fixed, they are seen in constantly shifting emphases and depths, taking themselves—and us—by surprise; the plot is less a narrative line made up of interlocking events, than a series of significant but isolated moments: the ideas debated seem integral to the characters rather than on loan from the author. Though the novel is structured in terms of places, they hardly seem to matter, and as the characters move restlessly from one place to another, the world of the novel seems to be less in Wessex than at the nerves’ end. Above all, the novel is conceived in terms of rhythm, markedly seen in the elaborate contrasting and counterpointing of character and incident, but even more significantly felt in the rhythm of the whole, where in the evolving relationship of section to section, the central themes gradually reveal themselves. If Jude prompts us to think of ‘the novelist as sage,’ it prompts us no less to think of ‘the novel as process’, and with that description we think of the fiction of our own time, with its multiplicity of techniques, its interior landscapes, its careful irresolutions.

Previous Post Next Post