Victorian & Early Modernist Literature

Tutor Student Question David Jenkins Handy David Jones Discuss the manner in which conventions and traditional certainties were undermined and subverted by the new ideas and practices which authors of the period supported or resisted "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's Relationship to a Changing World

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David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world November/December 2001

“We are a little beforehand”: Jude The Obscure's Relationship To A Changing World

It is unsurprising that Jude The Obscure, the work of one of the most popular novelists of its time, caused enormous controversy in 1895. Taking as priorities ‘novelty of position and view in relation to known subjects’ and ‘absolute novelty of subject’ (Casagrande 1994, 16) Hardy undermines the fundamentals of his society to a far broader audience than those who consumed the equally controversial ‘seditious plays’. Countless critics identify Jude as a ‘prophetic’ text, a link between late Victorian England and the rise of modernism. It exemplifies the Marxist ideal of presenting ‘typical characters in typical circumstances’ in a revolutionary way, drawing attention to two great marginalised archetypes of its time – the working man desiring education and the woman desiring something beyond a traditional female role. This essay broadly divides Jude into form and content. It contends that much of the content is subversive, examining its depiction of the rural, the distinction between town and city, education, marriage and religion. In terms of form, however, it remains overwhelmingly conventional, and the essay subsequently investigates its use of third person omniscient narration and genre appropriation. In Jude Hardy undermines the idyllic depiction of the countryside, of man at one with nature, found in much of his earlier work and throughout Victorian fiction. The Marygreen of Jude’s childhood is not a retreat from industrialisation as in Dickens rural excursions where ‘everything was at peace’ (1998, 352). It is instead closely tied to high-speed travel and urbanisation; its ancient buildings have been pulled down by the almost Dickensian caricature of ‘a certain obliterator of historic records who had run down from London and back in a day’. The image of Clym Yeobright working surrounded by Egdon Heath wildlife is replaced with brutally realistic pig-slaughter, snared rabbits and desperately mating earthworms. The connection between man and nature is relegated to mutual misery; young Jude takes pity on the hungry birds because ‘they seemed, like himself, to be living in a world which did not want them’. While the countryside is damaged by negative aspects of the changing world (‘The fresh harrow-lines seemed to stretch like the channellings in


David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world

a piece of new corduroy, lending a meanly utilitarian air to the expanse’) it is also ‘a lonely place’, initially presented as remote from education and liberalisation of thought. This bleak portrait is more than the product of a changing world however. Hardy initially presents rural communities as inherently ignorant of anything other than physical work. Farmer Troutham describes Jude’s study as ‘idling at the schoolmasters’, while even the main protagonists are taken in at some point by ‘the quack’ Physician Vilbert. The customs and conventions to which they adhere are restrictive, especially for a nonconformist such as Jude. Hardy stresses this by appearing to embark on his traditional romanticisation of bygone ages: To every clod and stone there really attached associations enough and to spare -echoes of songs from ancient harvest-days, of spoken words, and of sturdy deeds. Every inch of ground had been the site, first or last, of energy, gaiety, horse-play, bickerings, weariness. At the end of this series of comfortable images he shifts the tone by adding that this is also a tradition in which girls give themselves to lovers ‘who would not turn their heads to look at them by the next harvest’ and of ‘love-promises’ leading to unhappy lives. These early scenes are not merely illustrative but use unconventional rural bleakness to establish the novel’s pessimistic tone towards Jude’s aspirations. The pig slaughter is a device establishing the disparity between dream and reality, Jude’s fundamental tragedy. Phillotson’s parting words to the young Jude are “be kind to animals and birds, and read all you can”. Being kind to animals proves impossible in the real world. However diligently Jude adheres to his mentor’s words “Pigs must be killed”; Dohney notes the ironic use of ‘mercifully’ to describe the killing (?66). Hardy attacks the ‘flaw in the terrestrial scheme, by which what was good for God’s birds was bad for God’s gardener’ attacking religion ambiguously inbetween Jude’s thought and the narrator’s commentary. The hopelessness of Phillotson’s first piece of advice creates the impression that the second, the basis of Jude’s educational ambitions, is equally unlikely to translate to the real world. Jude's rural portrait not only subverts traditional romance but also challenges ideas of a homogenous rural class, and of the urban and rural being in binary opposition. Jude is clearly out of place among his class, but some rural folk actually prove less prejudiced than those encountered in the city. The local policeman quietly

David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world

allows Jude to read while driving a cart, reasoning that in his nonconformity ‘the chief danger was to Jude himself’. Widow Edlin at first seems archaic, ‘honestly saying the Lord’s Prayer in a loud voice, as the Rubric directed’ while Jude and Sue reappraise both religious dogma and the marriage ceremony. Her maxim ‘marry in haste and repent at leisure’ describes a major element of Sue and Jude’s tragedy. However, as Dohney notes (??, 65) she simply has a more pragmatic view of marriage because she can distinguish it as a practical partnership beyond and detached from the conventions that straightjacket Jude and Sue: ‘Nobody thought o’ being afeard o’ matrimony in my time . . . we thought no more o’t than of a game o’ dibs!’. Jude is contrastingly obsessesed with convention: There was not the least doubt that from his own orthodox point of view the situation was growing immoral. For Sue to be the loved one of a man who was licensed by the laws of his country to love Arabella and none other unto his life's end, was a pretty bad second beginning Widow Edlin implicitly understands the unspoken remainder of the epigraph overshadowing the various tragedies, that ‘the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life’ (Dennis Taylor identifies the idea that 'the letter killeth' may be 'not so much formal laws as social conventions [1998, xviii]). It takes Jude almost the entire story to realise this. Consequently this uneducated exemplar of the conventional, steeped in religious rhetoric, is the only one to stand up for Sue when she cannot stand up for herself. She presents the radical stance of the novel in franker terms than the narrator can afford: I was never much for religion nor against it, but it can’t be right to let her do this . . . Of course everybody will say it was very good and forgiving of [Phillotson] to take her to ‘ee again. But for my part I don't . . . She’s [Jude’s] wife if anybody’s. She’s had three children by him, and he loves her dearly . . .She's got nobody on her side . . . I knowed you’d be affronted at what I had to say; but I don’t mind that. The truth’s the truth. Conventional distinctions between country and town are destroyed in Jude. Hardy to some extent attributes Sue’s emotional deficiencies to her reliance on the modern; when ‘vexed’ she answers Jude’s suggestion of going to a Cathedral: ‘I think I’d rather sit in the railway station’. Arabella embodies the breakdown of the rural/urban distinction. At first she seems the archetypal rough country girl – washing pigs’ chitterlings and using a bantam egg in her bosom as a seduction tool. It is

David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world

difficult to ascertain whether the presumptuous statement ‘His wife was absolutely useless in a town-lodging’ belongs to Jude’s free indirect thought or the narrator. Either way, this creates a huge turning point when Arabella mentions that she was a bar-maid at Aldbrickham. She later demonstrates her aptitude for the job when Jude rediscovers her, flirting with customers in a bar in Christminster. The narrator aligns himself with Jude, in the feeling that the town produces in some women ‘an instinct towards artificiality in their very blood, and [they] became adepts at counterfeiting at the first glimpse of it’. It is one of the falsehoods she entraps Jude with, alongside her hair extensions and constructed dimples. However Dohney feels that Arabella ‘introduces into the novel . . . not only a different set of values to Jude and Sue but a commentary on theirs which changes our view of the various manifestations of their dilemma” (??, 65). This is clearly reading against the text, against a narrator who places Arabella in the role of villain because she leaves the eponym ‘enshrouded in darkness’ detracted from his aspirations. Even so, Arabella has crafted herself to function in the world in a way that Jude has not, adamant that “Poor folks must live”. Jude is both a product of the changing world and entirely incompatible with it. His agony is a full understanding of the horrors of the conventions of his time, alongside a complete inability to change anything. The logical progression of his predicament is Little Father Time, one of the boys of a sort unknown in the last generation - the outcome of new views of life. They seem to see all its terrors before they are old enough to have staying power to resist them [they are] the beginning of the coming universal wish not to live. Arabella prevents this kind of self-destruction by living within existing conventions but holding them in low regard, putting herself first. Her polygamy is a means of survival: 'I can’t pick and choose now as I could when I was younger. Hardy is hypocritical in implicitly condemning her, regarding her according to conventional opinion - ‘the letter’ that ‘killeth’ – that condemns Jude through life. Under a different narrator the novel could easily have become Arabella The Pragmatist. When Arabella disrupts Jude’s aspirations, she unconsciously places herself against a major aspect of the novel, the virtue of education. The narrator is at pains to demonstrate how much Jude needs and deserves a university degree, he devotes pages to describing Jude's reading and the tribulations of self learning, such as his young endurance to get hold of Latin and Greek grammars. Jude and Sue are kindred spirits,


David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world

‘one person split in two’ as both are aspiring intellectuals, though society forces Jude into a working life, preventing him from reading as much as her. Tragedy again arises from the impossibility of translating the dream into the reality of the late Victorian period. The young Jude gazing from the Brown House at far away Christminster, in his mind ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’, mirrors Eustacia’s aspirations to escape to Budmouth or Paris in The Return Of The Native. Her tragedy was that she did not get there, she never becomes what she could have been. By Jude Hardy’s use of tragedy in the modern world has become even more pessimistic. Jude’s does ‘get there’, only to realise that his dream is not simply unobtainable but diseased by social convention. Hardy is clearly against the conventional organisation of education. The educated in Jude invariably take learning for granted, from the regular day scholars who stand ‘afar off’ rather than help the schoolmaster’s packing in the opening chapter onwards. Jude ironically encounters ‘devil-may-care . . . gownless undergraduates’ in the bar he frequents immediately after being deemed unworthy for university admission. When Jude drunkenly recites the Articles of the Creed one of them applauds though he ‘had not the slightest conception of a single word’ (121). Jude’s rejection letter from Biblioll College ties education resolutely to class: ‘you will have a much better chance of success in life by remaining in your own sphere and sticking to your trade than by adopting any other course’. The narrator sarcastically opines that this is ‘terribly sensible advice’. This is the way the world is, the implication is that it is wrong. Though too controversial for the narrator to declare, a drunken Jude sums up the failure of an education system that works on money rather than merit, condemning academics: “What I know is that I’d lick ‘em on their own ground if they’d give me a chance, and show ‘em a few things they are not up to yet!”. Sue is similarly prevented from making full use of her extensive education, the prescriptive limitations of the training school leave her feeling that she has ‘lived so much in the Middle Ages . . . these last few years!’ The world does shift during the novel’s chronology however. Jude refers to the Oxbridge extension movement of the 1870s: “I hear that soon there is going to be a better chance for such helpless students as I was. There are schemes afoot for making the university less exclusive, and extending its influence. I don’t know much about it. And it is too late, too late for me! Ah – and for how many worthier ones before me!” In terms of education then, Jude is not universally pessimistic, but represents the tragedy of one man and his predecessors through the ages.

David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world

This is not the case in its representation of marriage and religion. Characters’ marrying the wrong person under duress, with tragic consequences, is a staple of Hardy’s fiction and an archetype of melodrama. In Jude however Hardy attacks the very concept of marriage as a piece of institutionalised rhetoric. He repeatedly ‘zooms out’ on Jude and Arabella’s early relationship to situate it in part of a constant cycle of tragic matrimony: People were going along the road, dressed in their holiday clothes; they were mainly lovers –such pairs as Jude and Arabella had been when they sported along the same track some months earlier. These pedestrians turned to stare at the extraordinary spectacle [Arabella] now presented (I.xi, 69) Gillingham comes to represents the voice of public opinion and convention here. Phillotson is initially swayed by Sue’s anti-marriage argument, proved true by to the morality of the novel. When he tries to bring the remarriage in line with convention he takes Gillingham’s advice and determines to be stricter and more cruel. The series of caricature weddings, Jude and Sue’s ‘object lesson’, also support the idea of matrimony as an administrative convention (‘Law-books in musty calf covered one wall, and elsewhere were post-office directories, and other books of reference). Hence the pregnant and beaten woman marries the soldier, while another woman tries to attach herself to a man straight out of gaol ‘her mouth shaping itself like that of a child about to give way to grief’. Tony Davis feels that Sue’s conviction that marriage is merely a ‘business contract’ to enforce monogamy has been born out by the tide of feeling of the following century. Her declaration is utterly prophetic: ‘Everybody is getting to feel as we do. We are a little beforehand, that's all. In fifty, a hundred, years the descendants of these two will act and feel worse than we. They will see weltering humanity still more vividly than we do now’. The remarriages towards Jude's close, under Sue’s delusion that they are the only moral option, challenge the very concept of a universal, conventionalised morality, the idea of an unbending ‘respectability’ and ‘the proper’, and as such challenge Victorianism itself. The vignette of a broken Sue, ‘prostrate on the paving’ of a church, sobbing in the shadow of a swaying Latin cross is a powerful image of religion’s capacity for corrupting genuine humanity. She has not been destroyed for breaking religious rhetoric but the ‘irony of fate, and the curious trick in Sue’s nature of tempting Providence at critical times’. Traditional religious fervour only

David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world

compounds her tragedy by detaching her from the one object she loves. Arabella’s closing comment powerfully debunks traditional religious sacrifice, judging Sue’s declaration to have found forgiveness and peace: ‘she may swear that on her knees to the holy cross upon her necklace till she’s hoarse, but it won't be true!’ As with Jude’s educational aspirations, Sue’s marriage tragedy is described not as a tragedy of the modern world but a universal one. As she puts it herself, ‘I am not modern . . . I am more ancient than mediaevalism’. Jude’s great rite of passage is the loss of his faith in ‘the letter’ of Christian law, to rediscover ‘the spirit’ that he attempted to condition away in his early life, when curiously pagan instincts led him to worship the moon ‘the shiny goddess, who seemed to look so softly and critically at his doings’. Jude again articulates a truth too controversial for the narrator: ‘It is monstrous and unnatural for you to be so remorseful when you have done no wrong . . . You make me hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism, or whatever it may be called’. Jude’s remarriage to Arabella has the blessing of every aspect of Victorian convention and is clearly absurd – Jude descends quickly from alcholism to death. It is, he remarks sarcastically to himself, ‘true religion’. Nonetheless, the content of Jude is not entirely subversive. Although the narrator treats Sue’s frigidity as a bizarre deficiency, it holds a similarly dark view of sexual intercourse and its implications. Jude’s physical desire for Arabella is twice his undoing. Firstly she detracts him from his Christminster scheme, arousing the typical ambiguity between pure narrative and Jude's thought: 'What a wicked worthless fellow he had been to give vent as he had done to an animal passion for a woman'. Secondly, Jude neglects Sue’s trip to Alfredstone when Arabella reappears and they spend the night in ‘a third-rate inn’. Phillotson's desire to get Sue back is a shamefully sexual. Sex as the great evil of marriage culminates in Sue’s discussion with Father Time, in which the information that marriage has lead to too many children proves the impetus for Jude’s most powerful tragic set piece. The hints of misogyny in the epigraph from Esdras ‘many also have perished, have erred, and sinned, for women’ extend to Hardy’s basic mistrust of female friendship. Arabella’s friends contruct the scheme by which she seduces Jude, the age-old female trick of getting oneself pregnant to keep a man. Jude’s integrity is damaged by their gossip: ‘he would have felt not a little surprised at learning how very few of his sayings and doings on the previous evening were private’. As Casagrande claims (32) this is a novel that places

David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world

women in positions of power, but power is only ever used there as a tool that represses Jude and causes him pain. Finally, the overarching motif that ‘the letter killeth’ is self-defeating, for while it condemns religious rhetoric it is a piece of religious rhetoric itself. For all its radical content, Jude remains a 'classic realist novel' (Macabe, 1979, 34) with a third person omniscient narrator atop its discourse hierarchy. As has been shown, Hardy sometimes softens his most controversial opinions by degrading them inside the 'perverted commas' of a character's discourse, taking advantage of ambiguity between pure narrative and characters' thought. It also adheres to David Lodge's revisionist view of Victorian novels (Correa, 2000, 190), appropriating generic forms from very traditional sources rather than inventing new ones. There are elements of the gothic to Sue's extreme violence – leaping from a window as a 'white heap' – when terrified of sexual intercourse (interestingly, she becomes a 'black heap of clothes' when she is falling under the dark shadow of religion). Phillotson has elements of the archetypal cuckold, and Arabella's first scene, in which she seduces Jude alongside two maidens, is strongly reminiscent of medieval romance. In Sir Launfal the eponym is similarly accosted by three maidens in fine weather, the main female fulfilling his sexual desire. Hardy corrupts this – the medieval maidens bear riches rather than the severed penis of a catrated pig, but is essentially using this archetypal situations to evoke the implications of male sexual desire as a means to self-destruction. Finally, the entire novel is tied into the tragic power of Fate found throughout Hardy's writing, for ‘it always ended badly with us Fawleys’. This force accounts for more tragedy than all the wrongs of social convention. In conclusion, Jude The Obscure undermines several conventions and traditional certainties of its time, supporting new ideas such as education regardless of class. Its forward-looking implications mark it out as a 'transitional' text. Its outlook on sexual activity is conservative however, and its form is that of the typical Victorian novel. Several areas here have the potential for hugely expanded investigation – Hardy's dismissal but reliance on religious rhetoric, and the relationship between radical content and non-radical form (especially in relation to characterisation). A full investigation of Jude's revolutionary qualities could only be carried out on a linguistic level, investigating its multitude of first OED citations.


David Jones English II "We are a little beforehand": Jude The Obscure's relationship to a changing world

Sources Cited
Casagrande, Peter J. 'Something More To Be Said: Hardy's Creative Process & The Case Of Tess & Jude' in Pettit, Charles ed. 1994 New Perspectives On Thomas Hardy, Ipswitch: Macmillan Dickens, Charles 1998 Hard Times (1854), Schlicke, Paul ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ.Press Dohney, John 'Characterisation in Hardy's Jude The Obscure: The Function of Arabella' in Pettit, Charles P.C. ??? Reading Thomas Hardy [book unavailable – taken from photocopies Hardy, Thomas Jude The Obscure (1895) Taylor, Dennis ed. Suffolk: Penguin Macabe, Colin 1979 James Joyce & The Revolution Of The Word: Language Discourse, Society London & Basingstoke: Macmillan Taylor, Dennis 'The Letter Of What Law?' in Hardy, Thomas Jude The Obscure (1895) Taylor, Dennis ed. Suffolk: Penguin


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