Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy
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?