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JUDE THE OBSCURE BY THOMAS HARDY - FREE BOOK NOTES
Phillotson has resumed his interest in Roman antiquities and late one night, lost in his thoughts, he absentmindedly enters Sue's bedroom. In terror Sue goes to the window and jumps out, injuring herself. Phillotson, horrified, rushes to help, but Sue is not seriously hurt. The incident convinces Phillotson that he should grant Sue her freedom. He cannot bear to watch her suffering. The next evening, he pays a visit to his old friend and schoolmate, Gillingham. He tells him of his plans. Gillingham tries to reason with him and warns him of the scandal such a separation will result in, but Phillotson is determined. He tells Sue of his decision. Sue is grateful for his kindness, and Phillotson even sees her onto the coach that will take her to the station. After Sue has left, Gillingham calls on him and helps him to pack up the things Sue has left behind.
In this chapter Phillotson's charity is noteworthy. Gillingham is amazed that such a "sedate, plodding fellow" as he is, should think of setting Sue free. Phillotson is generally conservative on such matters, as he himself admits--he calls himself "the most old fashioned man in the world on the question of marriage"--yet when he realizes the misery Sue endures, his love for her will not allow him to keep her against her will: "If a person who has blindly walked into a quagmire cries for help, I am inclined to give it." In his magnanimity, he even blames himself for hurrying her into marriage when she was too young and inexperienced to know her mind. His sensitivity and understanding allow him to see the intimate bond between Sue and Jude, and he comments to Gillingham on the "extraordinary affinity or sympathy" between the pair. He says they seem to be "one person split in two." They appear to him to be a Shelleyan couple or even like Laon and Cythna. (Shelley was an important Romantic poet). There is something noble in their relationship which "took away all flavor of grossness." There is certainly no such affinity between Sue and Phillotson, who struggle to communicate with each other when their marriage is in crisis.
Gillingham represents the conventional voice of society. He feels Phillotson ought to have agreed only to a separation. He knows society will make Sue, as well as Phillotson, suffer for this unconventional resolution of their marital problems.
Sue takes the train to Melchester where Jude is waiting. He enters the compartment and tells her that they are going on to Aldbrickham, which is a large town where they will not be recognized. He has given up his cathedral work in Melchester. Jude tells Sue that Arabella has asked him for a divorce so that she can marry her Australian husband legally. When he tells Sue that he has booked them a single room at the Temperance Hotel in Aldbrickham, she is alarmed. She explains that she is not ready for that level of intimacy. Jude gives in but wonders if she is more "conventional" than she seems or if she simply does not love him. They continue to argue, and Jude is puzzled by Sue's attitude. When they reach Aldbrickham, they are forced to look for another hotel, and the one they find turns out to be the inn where Jude spent the night with Arabella a month earlier. Sue learns this from the maid and becomes upset and jealous. Jude points out that it is unreasonable for her to be jealous when it was she who decided that they should remain only friends. Jude argues further that she asks for everything of him but gives nothing. Sue is reassured when he tells her that at the time, he did not know that Arabella was already married to someone else. They finally make peace after Sue quotes some lines from Shelley.
The coincidence of Sue and Jude staying at the same inn where Jude and Arabella had spent the night seems a bit contrived. Even the room Sue is given is the same one Jude and Arabella had occupied. The reader learns more about Sue's character here. She has caused an upheaval in the lives of two men, yet she seems unaware of the tremendous sacrifices both Jude and Phillotson have made for her. She seems rather self-centered, taking Jude's adoration for granted: "I resolved to trust you to set my wishes above your gratification." Nevertheless, Sue's protest against intimacy is a reminder of how much a woman in Victorian society has to lose in a situation of this nature.
Jude is puzzled at her strange refusal to be lovers. But while becoming a little exasperated with her, he is beginning to understand her strange aversion to sex. He thinks of the Christminster undergraduate and scholar (with whom Sue was not intimate), and wonders if his fate is to be the same. Sue, when accused of being conventional, defends herself by ascribing her reluctance to being part of a "woman's natural timidity when the crisis comes." "My nature is not so passionate as yours," she tells Jude. The lines she quotes from Shelley are revealing and significant:
There was a Being whom my spirit oft Met on its visioned wanderings far aloft
A seraph of Heaven, too gentle to be human Veiling beneath that radiant form of woman
She identifies herself with the ethereal Being in the poem; she wants Jude to be an ideal soul mate, and she shrinks from a physical relationship, which she condemns as vulgar. Jude perceives this, but he loves her so much that he is ready to abide by any conditions she puts forth.
Sue's absence is not immediately noticed, but when a month goes by and Sue does not return, rumors spread in Shaston about her having eloped. Phillotson admits the truth that he has consented to her living with her lover. The school committee is shocked and demands his resignation. Phillotson refuses, saying it is a personal matter, and the authorities dismiss him. Phillotson calls for a public meeting and it ends in a violent brawl. Phillotson then falls ill and takes to his bed. Gillingham informs Sue anonymously that Phillotson is ill, and Sue comes to visit him, although she is unaware of the actual reason for his dismissal. She spends some time with Phillotson, talks to him as a friend and tells him of Jude's plan to divorce Arabella. When Phillotson offers to forgive her and make up, Sue is alarmed and allows Phillotson to assume she is Jude's mistress. She leaves, and Phillotson later tells Gillingham of his intention to divorce Sue and thus give her back her freedom.
Phillotson is a man who has the courage of his convictions. He tries to be fair and honest. "I was not her gaoler (jailer)," he tells the chairman of the school regarding Sue. But the consequences are disastrous for him. His career as a teacher is ruined and he becomes a figure of public scorn. Like Jude, Phillotson suffers for his kindness and his inability to hurt others; he himself is hurt instead. It is indeed ironic that although he has highly noble intentions of liberating his wife, he has instead brought upon himself unexpected problems.
Sue, of course, is unaware of all the suffering she has caused him or that his career is in ruins because of her. The chapter ends with a hint that both Jude and Sue will soon be liberated from the bonds of their unsuitable marriages.