Title: Jude the Obscure
Author: Thomas Hardy
Source: Personal copy
Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge
First Sentence: "The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry."
Summary (From back of book):
Jude Fawley, the stone-mason, whose academic ambitions are thwarted by poverty and the indifference of the authorities at Christminster, appears to find fulfillment in his relationship with Sue Bridehead. Both of them have fled from previous marriages, and together they share a 'two-in-oneness' rarely matched. Ironically, when tragedy strikes it is Sue, the modern, emancipated thinker -- the last and greatest of Hardy's heroines, ranking with Emma Bovary and Anna Karenin -- who is unequal to the challenge.
Its literary qualities apart, Jude the Obscure is also a rich source of social history, accurately reflecting within its pages the encroachment of the modern, developing world on the rural traditions of England.
My Two Cents:
While this book was still good, it is my least-favorite Hardy to-date (I've read all the major Hardy's except The Mayor of Casterbridge). I think a lot of the problem I had with this was that it was so meandering most of the time -- It covered such a HUGE span of time and it took forever for Hardy to really get down to the meat of the matter. I think it would have been better if he had just focused on Jude's bid for Christminster and then showed a little of what happened after his rejection or something.
I really liked Jude as a character. I felt sorry for him through the entire book, mostly because I knew that his big dreams could come to no positive end. You have to expect, when reading Hardy, that anyone who has a dream but no money will come within sight of achieving that goal, but never quite make it. And Jude works hard, independently, to gain entry to Christminster (A fictionalized Oxford), but fails because he has neither the money or the social standing to recommend him to the dons.
I wasn't, actually, terribly fond of Sue, nor was I really impressed with her as the heroine. Sure, she bucks the tradition of rural England and runs off with Jude while she's still technically married -- One source of all the "scandal" when this book was first published -- but she just seemed kind of blah to me. She had no real spark or life that I could grab onto and say, "Yes, this is a great heroine."
Even though Hardy was a pretty critical social writer in his time and often dealt with the plight of the lower classes, this is his most socially critical work that I've read. This book, although slow at times, never failed to provide me with a rich commentary on the social mores of Jude's world. If nothing else, this book is important for that picture of a world gone by.