This Day In Literary History
On November 1st, 1895, Jude the Obscure, the classic novel by the legendary English writer Thomas Hardy, was published in book form. Like most novels of the time, it originally appeared in a serialized format.
The semi-autobiographical novel would cause a huge controversy with its themes of sexuality, marriage, class prejudice, and the destructive influence of religion.
A bleak, haunting drama, Jude the Obscure tells the story of Jude Fawley, a poor, working class youth who dreams of becoming a scholar and studying at the university in Christminister, a fictional city based on Oxford.
Unable to afford a proper primary education, Jude educates himself and soon becomes fluent in Latin and Greek. Unfortunately, his plans for Christminster are derailed when he becomes involved with Arabella Donn, the daughter of a local pig farmer.
Although intelligent, the kindly, naive Jude is no match for the vulgar, manipulative Arabella, who seduces him, then traps him in a hasty marriage to avoid scandal.
The loveless marriage doesn't last long, not because Jude wants out, but because Arabella deserts him. Jude moves to Christminster and supports himself as a mason while he studies alone, hoping to enter university sometime in the future.
He meets Sue Bridehead, a cousin of his. As Victorian women go, Sue is a rarity - she's a free-spirited, idealistic intellectual, a symbol of the waning power of Victorian values.
Although Sue has her flaws, Jude falls madly in love with her. She marries his former teacher, Mr. Philloston, and at first, she's satisfied with the normalcy and respectability of married life.
But she and her husband sleep in separate rooms, as she finds him physically repugnant. Her religious beliefs have led her to view sex as something disgusting and sinful. She's also in love with Jude.
An unhappy Sue finally leaves her husband. She and Jude decide to live together in a platonic relationship. As much as she loves Jude, Sue still can't bring herself to consummate that love.
Knowing their family history of unhappy marriages, they fear that if they marry, being legally bound to each other will destroy their love. The unmarried couple live as man and wife, and have two children together.
A child from Jude's previous marriage is bestowed on him; apparently, Arabella was pregnant when she deserted him. Their child is a boy who possesses his father's intelligence. But unlike Dad, he is intensely serious and morose.
Although Jude, Sue, and the children are a happy family, they are condemned and ostracized by society because Jude and Sue are unmarried. Whenever Jude's employers discover this, he's promptly sacked.
When his landlords find out, the family is evicted; this greatly disturbs Jude's son. One day, the boy murders his half-siblings and hangs himself, leaving behind a note that reads "Done because we are too menny."
The shock of the tragedy causes Sue to miscarry her unborn child. She turns to the Church that had cast her out and becomes convinced that the children's deaths were divine retribution for living in sin with Jude.
When Arabella learns of this, she tells Sue's ex-husband Mr. Philloston, who then proposes remarriage. Sue accepts. Jude is devastated, and the scheming Arabella takes advantage of his vulnerable mental state.
She gets him drunk and manipulates him into marrying her yet again. Later, Jude makes a final visit to Sue one frigid night. Although respectable and without sin in the eyes of society and the Church, Sue is absolutely miserable.
Exposure to the freezing weather causes Jude to get sick and his health begins to deteriorate. After he dies, his wife Arabella feels no sorrow. Instead of mourning Jude's passing, she sets out to snare another husband.
Jude the Obscure originally appeared in a serialized format in European and American literary magazines under the titles The Simpletons and Hearts Insurgent.
The serialized version was considerably different from the novel, as the magazine publishers insisted on a heavily sanitized version of the story.
When it was published in book form, in Thomas Hardy's original, unexpurgated version, Jude the Obscure caused a furor in Victorian England.
Critics trashed it as immoral, with one reviewer calling it Jude the Obscene. William Walsham How, England's Bishop of Wakefield, set the novel alight in a public burning.
Hardy was venomously denounced, accused of attacking the Church and the sanctity of marriage. Today, Jude the Obscure is considered a classic work of 19th century English literature - one of Hardy's finest novels.
It would also be his last. Disgusted by the public's reaction to Jude the Obscure, Hardy gave up writing fiction and devoted the rest of his literary career to writing plays and poetry.
Quote Of The Day
"The business of the poet and the novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things." - Thomas Hardy
Today's video features a complete reading of Thomas Hardy's classic novel, Jude the Obscure. Enjoy!