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Jude the Obscure (Vintage Classics) Paperback – 1974

4.1 out of 5 stars 228 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"The greatest tragic writer among English novelists."
--Virginia Woolf

About the Author

Rosellen Brown is the author of Half a Heart, The Autobiography of My Mother, Tender Mercies and Before and After. She lives in Chicago.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Classics
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (1974)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034580399X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345803993
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
Ready for four hundred pages of sparkle and sunshine? "Jude the Obscure" is about a group of people whose every hope and dream is gradually crushed to a fine powder and blown away by the winds of despair. Hardy is his usual unforgiving self in this grim, discomforting tale of educational goals thwarted, marital bliss destroyed, childhood innocence corrupted, and spiritual redemption viciously mocked. Those who might suspect that this is a recent example of the current cultural debasement of family values would be amazed to know that this novel was written not in 1995 but in 1895. Upon its publication, Hardy was criticized for his pessimism when all he was did was herald the arrival of the pessimistic twentieth century.

"Jude the Obscure" is not an indictment of education, marriage, family, or religion, but rather Hardy's bitter commentary on how society misuses these institutions to defend its shaky beliefs and practices. Jude Fawley, the title character and society's puppet, is a young man trying in vain to transcend his environment. A stonemason by trade, he dauntlessly studies Latin and Greek with the rigorous mind of a classical scholar in preparation for entering the ivy-covered Gothic halls of Christminster, a college town supposed to evoke Oxford. Two things stand in his way: He is too poor to afford the tuition, and he marries an ignorant farm girl named Arabella who discourages his academic aspirations.

Separated from Arabella but still legally married, Jude begins a relationship with his pretty cousin, Sue Bridehead, after he moves to Christminster to be nearer his goal, supporting himself with various stonemasonry jobs. Sue marries Jude's former teacher, Richard Phillotson, many years her senior, also rejected by Christminster and now a local schoolmaster.
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Format: Paperback
Supposedly, this book was burned by the Bishop of Wakefield when it was first released, and Hardy's wife was furious at him because people would think it was autobiographical. The response to the book was the final nail in the coffin that caused Hardy to stop writing novels.
Jude Hawley is born into a changing world-- a world that's changed enough that a poor boy can dream about a university eduction and a professional future. However, it hadn't changed enough for that dream to yet be realizable. Hawley instead is entrapped into a hasty marriage and sacrifices his dreams of further education. Even after the marriage is dissolved by the wife removing herself to Australia, Jude continues to be haunted for the rest of his life by his early mistake-- dooming himself and his true love to a lifetime of misery.
The book is bleak. The characters (Jude and Sue, primarily) can't live with the choices that law and religion demands, but they can't live outside them either and their attempts to do so only drive them down deeper. The central thesis of the book, and the one that was so shocking a the time, was that these moral and legal strictures prevented people from fulfilling their dreams and living happy lives. Jude the Obscure challenges the sanctity of marriage by building a tragedy about people trapped by its convention.
An important and challenging book. It continues to be relevant today.
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By A Customer on August 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
As are Hardy's other books, Jude the Obscure is not an "easy read." Appreciating Hardy's work requires a little work and the ability to pay attention and to think a little along the way. But the effort pays off. Jude the Obscure is a great book about the human condition, at least as it exists for many people. Like other Hardy characters, Jude Fawley makes a mistake early in his life and continues to pay the price until the day he dies. He commits an act of folly that seals his doom, and nothing he can do can make it right. This would be merely sad or melodramatic were if not for the fact that Jude is a truly good man with truly good intentions. It is this that makes his story truly tragic. Not only is he trapped by the consequences of his early act of foolishness, but he is also trapped and eventually dragged down by the conventions of a society that is more concerned with status and class than with character and ability and more devoted to mindless tradition than to a considered morality. Most of what can be said of Jude also be said of his love, Sue Bridehead, although I found her to be a less believable and sympathetic character. I was surprised by the frankness with which Hardy deals with sexuality in 1895, and I can understand now the furor this book apparently caused in Britain and America upon publication. Hardy is a writer of great power and insight. He also knows how to build a great story. And he is a novelist of ideas. He has his faults, of course. At his worst, he is wordy, obscure, and pedantic. But at his best, he is one of the most emotionally moving of writers. At times his books flash briliantly with passion. At times, he is heartbreaking. Jude the Obscure is a novel that no lover of fine writing and a great story can afford to miss. The novel has haunted me for weeks since I read it, and it probably will for a long time.
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Format: Paperback
Jude wants to get ahead in the world. Starting at a young age he studies the Classics; learns Latin and Greek, and opens his mind wide to knowledge in general. He is preparing himself for Oxford, but Oxford won't have him, nor undoubtedly will any other university. You see he is poor, and poor people aren't admitted to college in Victorian times.

After exiting a short-lived dismal marriage Jude then meets and falls in love with his cousin who ultimately leaves her husband and moves in with him. There is no "happily ever after" in this novel. Sue, his lover, has sexual problems that need the ministrations of Dr. Ruth, who unfortunately was not available at the time. Sex is repellent to her, and so she and Jude live fairly platonic lives; lives that are not made easier by society's negative reaction to their living in "sin".
Jude and Sue are nice, if not psychologically whole, individuals. You wish them well, but Thomas Hardy has decided to sacrifice them to his philosophical views. He burdens the poor couple with society's repressive attitudes toward women, the lower classes, and marital nonconformity. A novel that begins with the hope of springtime, ends in a winter of despair.
It is a pessimistic, depressing story that examines Victorian sexual and societal mores, and for this it was condemned by many critics. Hardy was so affected by this criticism that he never wrote another novel. Instead he successfully turned to poetry, although his pessimism was again apparent in some of his verses (Read for instance his elegant poem "God's Funeral"). Some of the novel is a bit melodramatic, but that is a common trait of many works of the period. My credulity is strained somewhat by the basically non-sexual relationship of Jude and Sue.
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