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Free Study Guide-Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy-Book Notes Summary
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Hardy presents the classic problem of the modern literary hero; that of the individual engaged in a conflict with society. Both Jude and Sue, because of their freedom of thought and defiance of social conventions, are alienated from society. This modern spirit leads them to question and reject old institutions and values and to seek new ones. Jude and Sue attempt to create a code of ethics, or an interpretation of reality, to suit themselves, having abandoned the old conventions presented by religion and the state. Throughout the novel there is much discussion of marriage, social class, religion and the university system.

In his Preface, Hardy calls Jude the Obscure a "tragedy of unfulfilled aims." In the first part he presents the theme of a working-class boy attempting to pursue his goal of a university education and failing. But as the novel unravels, the second important theme, that of marriage and sexual relationships acquires prominence, with Jude attempting to find fulfillment in love and again failing. Jude comes close to the Greek tragic hero. He has extraordinary abilities and potential, as well as self-knowledge, but he is doomed to face defeat and frustration due to external factors.

The theme of Christminster as Jude's guiding light is never entirely dropped. In Part VI of the novel the hero returns to the city of his dreams to spend his last days there.


Since the story is one of shattered illusions and crushed aspirations, Hardy tries to inject a note of inevitable doom. There are small but significant signs that Hardy introduces to foreshadow coming events. For instance, Aunt Drusilla repeatedly tells Jude that the Fawleys have been unlucky in marriage. Later, Jude learns that his parents had separated on a hill by the Brown House near the gallows, and that his mother had subsequently drowned herself. Sue's parents also had differences and had separated. The gallows on Brown House Hill is introduced into the story again in Part V, where Mrs. Edlin narrates how a Fawley ancestor was hanged there after separating from his wife, and that the wife later went mad. The effect on Sue's sensitive nerves is immediate, and she remarks that a tragic doom, like that of the House of Atreus, hangs over the family. Hardy is preparing the reader for the tragedy that is to overtake the principal characters.

Again, in Part VI on Remembrance Day, the atmosphere in Christminster is one of impending disaster. The city is threatened with stormy weather. The mood is one of gloom; Little Father Time remarks that it seems like Judgment Day. The gathering storm is a portent of the crisis that is about to break.

When Sue leaves Jude (in Part VI), there is a fog hanging over Christminster. Jude, disheartened and dejected, wanders about in the damp fog. The day Sue and Phillotson remarry in Marygreen, there is a damp fog shrouding the countryside (Part VI, Chapter 5). The damp, dismal weather on their wedding day mirrors the misery this mockery of a marriage will bring. When Jude visits Sue for the last time, it is raining and extremely cold.



Thomas Hardy was born on June 2nd, 1840 in the village of Upper Backhampton in Dorchester. His father was a mason. He developed a love for music from his father and a love for reading from his mother. The impressions of his childhood became the subject matter of his "Wessex" novels. In fact, the town of Casterbridge has been modeled after Dorchester.

Hardy first studied at a village school and then in Dorchester. In 1856 he was apprenticed to John Hicks, an ecclesiastical architect in Dorchester. After work he would study advanced Latin and would teach himself Greek.

In 1862 he went to London and became the assistant to A.W. Blomfield, an architect. He had also started writing verse and essays in 1857. He returned to Dorchester in 1867 and began to devote more time to writing. From 1867-1895 he started writing novels and poems. However, he devoted more time to the novels until 1895. His major novels are:
Desperate Remedies (1871)
Under the Greenwood Tree (1872)
A Pair of Blue Eyes (1873)
Far from the Madding Crowd (1874)
The Hand of Ethelberta (1876)
The Return of the Native (1878)
The Trumpet Mayor (1880)
A Laodrecan (1881)
Two On A Tower (1882)
The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886)
The Woodlanders (1887)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1891)
The Well-Beloved (1892)
Jude the Obscure (1895)

From 1895 to 1928 he devoted himself to poetry. He wrote over 800 poems and a long epic drama, The Dynasts (1903-1908).

Hardy married twice. In 1874 he married Emma Lavinia Crifford. It was not a happy marriage. Emma died in 1912. In 1914 he married Florence Emily Dugdale. Hardy became the undisputed holder of the title of greatest living man of letters. His house, Max Gate, became a place of pilgrimage for young writers like Edmund Blunden, Robert Graves, and Siegfried Sassoon. In 1910 he was awarded the Order of Merit.

He died at the age of 87 on January 11, 1928.

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