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Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy

with 10 comments

I’ll be upfront and say I didn’t like this book much.

Jude grows up in southern England dreaming of Christminster University; a future among the learned and prestigious. His academic plans are thwarted when, as a young man, he meets Arabella and marries her when she tells him she’s pregnant. Their marriage quickly fizzles, and Jude takes work as a stone-mason near Christminster, again indulging in a dream which is increasingly unlikely to materialize. There, he falls in love with his cousin Sue, who is engaged to her mentor, a professor at Christminster who once inspired Jude. Much drama and dreariness ensues.

This is one of those stories in which each character is constantly making decisions that the reader can clearly see will work against them and everyone else involved from the get-go. Since I didn’t really like or connect with anyone in this book, I didn’t feel any suspense in watching their decisions play out. Instead, it was just annoying to watch them act on their bad ideas. Over and over again. The same things. Getting into bad relationships for all the wrong reasons. Changing their minds. Reverting to old ways. Going back on their words. Frustrating! And most importantly, boring.

The book makes for a searing critique of the institution of marriage and the unrealistic expectations that society imbues it with. This much I did appreciate, as I know it was really controversial when it came out, and the point needed to be made. I also liked Sue’s unconventional take on friendships between men and women (namely, that they can exist without sexual tension). But I was not won over by Hardy, whose every sentence felt stagnant, heavy as a brick that must be lifted before moving on to the next block. Nor was I taken with his characters, who all seemed selfish, wavering, and afraid of their own convictions; willing to disobey themselves at serious risk on a whim. I almost abandoned this book half-way through.

Have you had a different experience with Hardy? Is there another of his books you recommend I try before writing him off completely?

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Written by Emily Jane

August 10, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Novels

Tagged with ,

10 Responses

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  1. maybe his short stories ,not huge fan myself ,all the best stu

    winstonsdad

    August 10, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    • Hmm. Maybe I’ll take a peek at ’em if I run across any. Maybe not…

      Emily Jane

      August 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm

  2. I’ve yet to read Hardy, and every time I decide I should a review like yours makes me wonder again. Hmm… well, only one way to find out if he’s for me, I guess.

    Nymeth

    August 11, 2010 at 7:27 am

    • Yeah, you never know! Take it with a grain of salt, your curiosity will always win in the end anyway.

      Emily Jane

      August 11, 2010 at 4:48 pm

  3. I am currently reading my first Hardy: The Mayor of Casterbridge, but I accidentally left my copy at my parents house this weekend so I’m not really reading it anymore. As for the first 100 pages: it is slow. And I always wonder with such books why there are so many describtions of things that do not matter at all for the story? It works for some, but it is getting a bit too much with Hardy.

    Iris

    August 11, 2010 at 8:00 am

  4. I read The Mayor of Casterbridge. I’m sort of glad I read it, in the sense that Cold Comfort Farm would have been less funny to me if I’d never read anything by Hardy, but mainly it was a pretty miserable experience. So I am not surprised that Jude the Obscure was less than awesome.

    Jenny

    August 14, 2010 at 1:53 am

  5. Eh. Forget Hardy. Cold Comfort Farm, now there’s a book I’d like to read!

    Emily Jane

    August 14, 2010 at 1:56 am

  6. I ADORE him. He was my fave when I was 20. By all means read FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (great movie too) and TESS (less great movie).

    Miriam Sagan

    August 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    • A Hardy fan makes her appearance! I was beginning to doubt their existence. Okay Miriam, I will keep those in mind.

      Emily Jane

      August 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm


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