Thursday, January 20, 2011

61. Treatise on the Social Contract of Marriage and on Social Class in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

Jude the Obscure is a novel that challenges the social settings and structure of its time. Jude could not enter the university, Christminster, because he was self-taught and poor. He couldn't maintain Sue as his wife, without formal marriage contract from the Church and registry, consequently he was sacked from work and couldn't find any proper work until they pretended to be married. Sue and Jude were kindred spirit who wanted to live their lives without complicating it with laws and contracts that are meaningless. They hate social structures, especially one that deals with marriage. But how could two individuals with diametrically opposing views of society live in a society that is intolerable to people of varied views?

In Jude the Obscure (1895), Thomas Hardy provides compelling arguments against the common thoughts of the time as they relate to marriage. Several themes run through this beautiful novel. One quote I fell in love with is
No average man—no man short of a sensual savage—will molest a woman by day or night, at home or abroad, unless she invites him. Until she says by a look 'Come on' he is always afraid to, and if you never say it, or look it, he never comes.
When Jude's child, from his first marriage, killed their common children, Sue decided to do penance for her sins by going back to Mr. Phillotson, the husband she had earlier been divorced from. It was this tragedy that made Sue succumb to societal laws and Jude to death.
Do not do an immoral thing for moral reasons!
For those who are interested in Classical fiction and one that writes against or challenges the dictates of the times, this is a good novel. Like every book that was written on issues far advanced of its time, this book was highly criticised and according to Hardy, this criticisms
silenced him as a novelist
The book was burnt by a bishop and for its criticisms on Christianity and marriage as an institution.

6 comments:

  1. Nana, thanks for this. I have this book hidden somewhere on my old shelves. I would have to search for it.

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  2. @Geosi, it is a book you should read. Definitely a classic. People believe that d'Umbervilles is his best, having not read that I would cling to this as an excellent treatise on marriage, class and religion.

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  3. I'm unsure on this book... is the quote you love saying that average men are nice, or that women are asking for it? I hope the first and not the second!

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  4. I am always torn between a deep appreciation of Hardy's prose and the soul-crushing sadness of some of his work that makes it personally difficult for me to enjoy. I sail through other even more difficult circumstance in other novels, but there is something about Hardy's world views that is incompatible with my own sensibilities.

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  5. @Amy, this is a great book. It was the former. He (Jude) was convincing his best friend, cousin and love (Sue) that he is a good man. It is really interesting and pathetic. The characters you would love and hate and pity and detest and love again.

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  6. @Frances, I might understand what you mean. Hardy's characters are difficult to hate in one stretch or through out. His views on issues turns and twists at every turn of the page. This being my first reading of him, I can't say of his other works but he seems to do well in distancing himself from his characters. For instance, I thought Sue would not leave Jude in the end or even breakdown like she did. And besides, Jude died. I was sad in all these.

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