Monday, September 2, 2019

203. Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure
Thomas Hardy
1895
Around 500 pages









Look, I love Thomas Hardy as much as the next dead English guy does. But it's a bit hard to justify having seven of his books on the List, when he isn't the most versatile author. This List has a tendency to favor male British authors, at the expense of the rest of the planet.

But...

I love Thomas Hardy and will probably read all his works at some point after my 44th birthday, which is when the 1001 Book app says I will finish with the List. I have a sneaking suspicion though that Jude the Obscure will always be my favorite.

Jude Fawley yearns to be a scholar and teaches himself Latin and Greek in his spare time. He even reads while steering his carriage, which is the nineteenth century equivalent of texting and driving. But his dreams come crashing to a halt when he is seduced by Arabella Donn. She uses the oldest trick in the book to get him to marry her. Jude is really in love with his cousin Sue (we have a good fifteen years to go before that gets creepy). But Sue is being courted by a schoolmaster twenty years her senior.

Much like The Kreutzer Sonata, this is less of a novel and more of a giant bitchfest about marriage. From everything I have read about Emma Hardy it sounds like she almost deserved it, although I guess there is no question about who had control of that narrative. I could spend hours gossiping about Thomas Hardy's love life, and probably will to my next unsuspecting date, but let's get back to talking about the novel.

There are certain literary scenes that stick with us for awhile, whether or not we love the novel. Sometimes this is because they were just super gross (the skinning scene in The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, for instance), or disturbing (the end of The Yellow Wallpaper). But some are just striking, in the description or the truth displayed there, beneath the fugacious plot.  Jude the Obscure contains two such scenes for me. One is super disturbing and is a spoiler, but the other is the moment when Jude can't bring himself to slaughter a pig, despite Arabella's cruel urgings. How many protagonists would be unable to do this? Jude is a special character and the subject of my literary crush.

I've blabbered enough, I suppose, but since this is the last Hardy on the List, I should give it a proper send off. Thank you Thomas Hardy, for the wonderful books. You are my second favorite long-winded Englishman. Sorry, but Dickens.

RATING: *****

Interesting Facts:

Critics were scandalized by the novel, with one dubbing the novel "Jude the Obscene." Nobody tell him about Fanny Hill.

Official Ranking of Thomas Hardy Novels, from best to worst:
1. Jude the Obscure
2. Far From a Madding Crowd
3. The Mayor of Casterbridge
4. Return of the Native
5. The Hand of Ethelberta
6. The Woodlanders
7. Tess of the D'urbervilles

UP NEXT: Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane. According to The Book, this one is going to have me crying my eyes out. It will be The Elegance of the Hedgehog breakdown all over again. Gird your loins.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to read this because of your review. I, however, would put Tess of the D'urbervilles higher on the list. Sorry, Amanda

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