Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, September 27, 2013

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)

Thomas Hardy is one of the highest regarded late Victorian writers.  His productive years extended well beyond the reign of Victoria.   Most of his fiction is set in an imaginary county in England he created.  I have previously posted on his The Return of the Native and some of his short stories.  

Jude the Obscure is considered by many to be Hardy's best novel.  I will say it is a very sad book which many will find depressing.   It seems to present a vision of a world not worth living in.   The novel is in many ways about aspects of the reading life.  Jude, born into a lower class family and a stone worker by trade, desperately wanted to go to college at Christchurch (said to be Cambridge).   He learns Greek and Latin and reads deeply in the classics. He educated himself to a very high level.  Part of my pondering in reading the novel was whether or not his very real depth of reading in fact only intensified his misery.  It seems to me it did.   He loved his books and sacrificed to purchase them.   We can see he was, he acknowledges this, that he lets his desire to have sex  helped to ruin him.   Neither of the two women he loved respected or understood his love of the reading life.   He read in near complete isolation and had no one to share his passion.  I can relate.  

There are lots of things in the novel about the nature of marriage and the hypocrisy of sexual and social  standards. There are numerous narrational asides of deep insight.  The characters are very subtly drawn.  Tragic events occur, deeply horrible things.  The close of the novel is shocking.  

Jude the Obscure is a canon status work, high art.  It does, to repeat my warning, have the power to depress.  Hardy saw a bleak world and he depicted it masterfully.  I will next read, once I recover from this one, his The Mayor of Casterbridge.   

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