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Free Study Guide-Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy-Book Notes Summary
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JUDE THE OBSCURE - CHAPTER NOTES

CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

PART I

CHAPTER 1

Summary

The novel opens with the departure of Mr. Phillotson, the schoolmaster, from the village of Marygreen in Wessex. He is packing his things onto a small cart and heading for the city of Christminster, twenty miles away. He is helped by his young, earnest student, eleven-year-old Jude Fawley, who admires him tremendously. Phillotson gives Jude a book as a farewell present and explains that he is going to Christminster to enter the university and eventually to be ordained. Jude is quite grieved as he watches him leave. His great aunt Drusilla, who is bringing up the orphaned Jude, orders him to fetch two buckets of water from the well. As Jude draws the water, he thinks about his schoolmaster.

Notes

The opening scene itself offers a clue as to what Jude's motivation will be throughout his life. Phillotson inspires him to seek a better life at Christminster (which incidentally stands for Oxford). Intelligent and perceptive beyond his years, Jude makes a significant observation about Phillotson, saying, "He was too clever to bide here any longer-a small sleepy place like this." Jude's dissatisfaction with life at Marygreen is evident. His reaction to his schoolmaster's departure will bring about many changes in his life. Jude begins to aspire to attain similar goals. He will spend most of his life pursuing his dream of the university and the clergy.

In a few skillful words, Hardy presents the young Jude as an affectionate and sensitive child. He is also very contemplative. Leaning against the well, he is portrayed as "a thoughtful child who has felt the pricks of life somewhat before his time." The sentence gives a subtle hint of the tragic developments in store for Jude.

The village well becomes a sort of symbol of permanence and stability. It is one of the few original structures left in a village that is rapidly changing. Hardy describes the well as "the only relic of the local history that remained absolutely unchanged." The church building, in contrast, is a new one of "modern Gothic design."


CHAPTER 2

Summary

Jude returns to his aunt's house with the buckets full of water and finds his aunt talking with her friends. She is explaining his origins; that he is an orphan and has been with her for a year. She reveals that his parents' marriage was an unhappy one, and that Jude has a great love for books, like his cousin Sue. Aunt Drusilla considers him quite useless and wonders why the schoolmaster did not take Jude with him to Christminster to make a scholar of him. She also warns Jude never to marry as she believes the Fawleys have bad luck in marriage.

Jude goes off to the fields, where he is working for Farmer Troutham, scaring the rooks off the corn with a clacker. Feeling sorry for the birds after some time, he allows them to feed on the corn. But soon he is caught by Troutham, who is outraged. He gives Jude a good beating and dismisses him from his job. As Jude returns home, he weeps in pain and disgrace. His aunt scolds him and again wishes he had gone with Phillotson to Christminster; that way, he would have been off her hands. In a miserable mood, Jude goes off to a high point in the village, hoping to catch a glimpse of Christminster from a distance.

Notes

The reader is told a little more about Jude in this chapter: that he loves books and that his cousin Sue, mentioned for the first time, also shares this passion. Aunt Drusilla's warning that the Fawleys are cursed in marriage sounds a note of foreboding. It is also clear that Aunt Drusilla considers the boy a nuisance.

Feeling a sense of rejection, the little boy identifies with the rooks, unwanted as he is unwanted: "They seemed like himself to be living in a world which did not want them. Why should he frighten them away?" Because of his kindly sensitivity in allowing the birds to eat, he loses his job. This sensitivity is further underlined when he returns home through the fields and the reader is told that he walks on his tiptoes to avoid crushing the worms. "Though farmer Troutham had just hurt him, he was a boy who could not himself bear to hurt anything." He "cannot bear to see trees cut down or lopped," imagining that it hurts them. It is this gentleness and inability to hurt any living thing that will cause him a great deal of suffering later in life: "he was the sort of man who was born to ache a good deal."

CHAPTER 3

Summary

Jude goes to a high point outside the village and finally climbs the roof of a barn, the Brown House. From there he strains his eyes to search for Christminster, but he sees nothing. Later in the evening, just before sunset, he returns to the barn and sees Christminster, radiant in the light of the setting sun. After this, he returns often to this vantagepoint to look at Christminster, sometimes by night. One time he meets a carter carrying a wagon of coal. The carter describes Christminster in glowing terms, as a center of learning and culture, although he himself has never been there. Jude is enchanted and concludes that Christminster is the place for him.

Notes

In this chapter the reader witnesses Jude's growing fascination with Christminster. "The city acquired a tangibility, a permanence, a hold on his life..." It becomes the object of his quest. He tries to keep a close watch on the city, though from a distance, and asks everyone he knows questions about it.

The university becomes the symbol of all his unfulfilled aspirations. It represents, of course, an escape from his present unsatisfactory life, as well as a substitute religion for Jude. The carter's description of college life is an uneducated man's awe at the mysteries of learning and scholarship, and it whets Jude's appetite for study at Christminster. The city becomes for him a distant goal, all the more tempting because of its inaccessibility. "It is a city of light," where "the tree of knowledge grows" and "a castle manned by scholarship and religion."

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