I’ve preached about the joys and wonders of Thomas Hardy before, and I think most people would agree that Hardy is one of the greatest writers of the Victorian period. In his lifetime, he regarded his novels as a supplement to his poetry career. Novel writing was where the money lay, and while he undoubtedly enjoyed and cherished his novels and his characters, poetry was where his heart truly lay.
Jude the Obscure was Hardy’s final novel. Published in 1895, it marked a point in his career when his novels had become progressively more and more controversial. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, perhaps his most successful novel, met controversy for its depiction of rape. Jude the Obscure, a novel about people living out of wedlock, continued in this vain.
In Victorian society, this novel was not greeted by many with enthusiasm. Amongst public burnings and brandings of Jude the Obscene, his novel was rejected by many. He was disappointed by the reception of the novel, and it is widely regarded that it turned him off writing novels forever. It was the last novel he wrote.
Today, most people have less of an issue with the idea of a novel about such a theme, and it has become quite popular indeed.
Jude the Obscure follows the story of a man called Jude, from childhood to adulthood, as he strives for an education, and to be recognised in this elitist world. However his dreams are disrupted in the form of opposites Arabella and Sue. Arabella, a full-figured woman of seeming low-morals, and Sue, slight and intelligent – flawed, but with a deep-rooted sense of right and wrong.
Sue is perhaps the highlight of Jude the Obscure. Strong, showing flourishes of independence, she is a Victorian feminist with new ideas of living a life not entirely ruled by the men around her. From a modern perspective, she is a new woman with invigoration seen in not as many female characters of the day as many would like.
What Hardy really achieves most of all in this novel is highlighting social issues while not letting the plot suffer. It can be argued that this was one of Hardy’s greatest skills in his writing. He raises the issue of divorce, something which was an issue of significant magnitude at the time, and questions, is it right or wrong? The novel is a champion for liberalisation of divorce laws. It shows just how controversial voicing these concerns was at the time, if we consider the fact that divorce was only legalised in Ireland, Britain’s neighbour, in 1995, one hundred years after the publication of Jude the Obscure.
The novel succeeds in so many ways; it is emotive and gripping to the last, and highlights the social consequences of elitist and religious dominated society. Coupled with Hardy’s beautiful and lyrical writing style, this is sure to be a novel enjoyed for many years to come. Plus the Kindle edition is free for all of you Kindle folk!