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Free Study Guide-Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy-Book Notes Summary
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Jude is the protagonist of the story. Hardy presents the individual pitted against a rigid and conservative social system. Jude, a working-class boy, pursues his ideal of a university education. His meeting with Arabella and subsequent marriage is a major setback. The marriage fails, and Jude moves to Christminster and attempts to enter the university. Despite his hard work and earnest effort, his dream is never realized. He falls in love with his cousin, Sue. But Sue knows that Jude is not free to marry, so she gets engaged to Phillotson and later marries him. Sue's marriage does not last, and she returns to live with Jude. Both Jude and Sue get their divorces and are free to marry, but they delay and are never able to unite.


There is no single character who consistently fits the role of antagonist. Jude and Sue are seen struggling against an unjust and snobbish society which punishes those who do not conform to its rules, and thus society itself may be viewed as the antagonist of this novel. Fate, also, can be said to function as a sort of antagonist.


Jude and Sue begin to face financial difficulties. They are forced to lead a wandering life due to the gossip and criticism which they face everywhere because of their unmarried state. Jude's illness and Sue's pregnancy add further to their misfortunes. They begin to wonder if the path they have chosen is really worth pursuing. Against this backdrop, the suicide of Little Father Time and the death of the two children in Christminster is a turning point in the novel. Sue is overcome with grief and shock, and her child is stillborn.


Events now move rapidly to an unhappy ending. The tragedy leaves Sue scarred and broken. Tormented by guilt, she now turns to religion, becoming fanatical and obsessed. She returns to Phillotson and remarries him. Jude, who is now past caring, allows himself to be cornered into a second marriage with Arabella. Both marriages result in greater misery and suffering, and Jude, broken physically and emotionally, finally dies. The novel ends in tragedy, with the death of Jude.


The story begins with a young boy, Jude Fawley, who is an eleven- year-old orphan. He lives with his aunt, Drusilla Fawley, in the village of Marygreen. The village schoolmaster, Richard Phillotson, is leaving the village and going to Christminster University to get a degree and eventually to be ordained. Jude, inspired by the schoolmaster's example, also wants to go to Christminster to become a scholar and a famous clergyman. While helping his aunt in the bakery, Jude studies on his own in his spare time, reading Greek and Latin classics. Jude is poor, but intelligent and hardworking and he manages to make considerable progress in his studies even though he is without a teacher. As he grows up, he realizes he needs a trade to support himself when he gets to Christminster. He gets apprenticed to a stonemason in Alfredston and learns the basics of free-stone working and restoring churches. At the age of nineteen, he meets and falls in love with Arabella Donn, whose father is a pig-farmer. Arabella traps Jude into marriage by claiming to be pregnant. But soon they realize that they do not have much in common. After frequent quarrels, the marriage ends, and Arabella leaves Jude and moves off to Australia.

Jude is now free to pursue his old ambition of going to Christminster. On reaching the city he earns his living by doing ecclesiastical stonework, repairing the masonry of churches and colleges. In Christminster Jude meets his pretty young cousin, Sue Bridehead. Almost immediately he falls in love with her. She is a contrast to Arabella: she is delicate and refined, with intellectual interests. Jude introduces Sue to Phillotson, his teacher, who is still a schoolmaster, having given up his plan of getting a degree. Very soon Sue becomes an apprentice teacher under Phillotson. Jude is extremely upset when he finds out that Phillotson is interested in Sue. Jude himself is in love with Sue, and the fact that he is still legally married to Arabella does not permit him to pursue his cousin.

Meanwhile, Jude is refused entrance to any of the colleges in Christminster and is extremely disheartened. He decides to give up his dream of pursuing academic and theological studies. Sue by now has enrolled at a teachers' training college in Melchester and has promised to marry Phillotson when she gets her certificate in two years.

Sue and Jude go out on an excursion, and they are delayed when they miss their train. Sue is punished by the college authorities for staying out all night with Jude. She impulsively leaves the college and rushes to Jude for assistance. Although he is warm towards her, Jude does not receive any demonstrations of affection from Sue. This leaves him thoroughly confused.

Sue goes to Shaston to stay with a friend when she learns that the training college has expelled her and will not take her back. Jude meets Sue and tells her of his earlier marriage to Arabella. Sue is very surprised at the news, and impulsively gets married to Phillotson, even asking Jude to give her away at the church. Jude is terribly depressed after the wedding and tries to drown his sorrows in drink. In the bar he runs into Arabella again. She has returned from Australia and has entered into a bigamous marriage with a man called Cartlett.

Jude and Sue keep in touch with each other. It is obvious that Sue's marriage to Phillotson is a disaster, and she admits to Jude that she is unhappy. When Aunt Drusilla dies, Sue comes to the funeral in Marygreen. When they part, Sue and Jude exchange a kiss, which makes Jude realize that his continuing passion for Sue is incompatible with his aspirations for a church career.

Sue returns to Shaston but asks Phillotson to let her live separately from him in the house. However, though he is a considerate husband, Sue finds his company increasingly distasteful and begs him for her freedom. Phillotson, realizing her aversion to him, allows her to go, even though his friend, Gillingham, advises him against it. As a result of the scandal, Phillotson's professional life is ruined, and he is later forced to resign from his teaching post.

Sue and Jude go off together, living as companions (at Sue's insistence), and not as lovers. After some time both their divorces come through. When Arabella returns, Sue becomes insecure about Jude's attachment to herself. It is under such circumstances that she consents to a more intimate relationship with him. Jude and Sue continue living in Aldbrickham, and though now both are free to remarry, they never do so, always postponing the decision. Arabella, now free of Jude, marries Cartlett and writes to Jude, claiming she has a son by him. She writes that he was born eight months after their marriage, when she was in Australia. She sends the child, Little Father Time, to Jude and Sue. Both of them agree to accept him and extend their care to him. The child is a strange, anxious and withdrawn boy with a morose temperament. Although Jude and Sue again plan to marry for the sake of Little Father Time, the wedding is put off.

Sue and Jude are now expecting a child of their own, but because of their unmarried status, they are tormented by gossip. Jude loses a job and is forced to resign from a local artisans' committee. Ultimately they decide to leave Aldbrickham. They lead a nomadic life for over two years, stopping at small towns and villages wherever work is available. Jude's health begins to fail due to the demands of his trade, until the couple is finally reduced to baking and selling cakes. By now they have two children of their own and a third is expected. One day Arabella sees Sue in the town of Kennetbridge, and being a widow now, her interest in Jude is renewed.

Jude meanwhile is not well, and so Jude and Sue decide to return to Christminster. It is Remembrance Day and Jude is depressed and bitter. They find it difficult to secure accommodations, partly because of Sue's condition. Sue's despairing words make a deep impact on Little Father Time, who kills himself along with the other two children. This event is a turning point for Sue, who blames herself for the tragedy. She loses her unborn child and begins to be tormented by feelings of guilt. She considers the deaths of her children as a punishment and finally decides to remarry Phillotson as an act of atonement. She returns to Marygreen, and she and Phillotson are once again married.

Jude is desolate and ill and takes to drinking, and Arabella tricks him into marrying her again. Jude's health begins to deteriorate severely, and he goes to Marygreen to pay Sue a last visit. Sue, though astonished at Jude's visit, confesses that she still loves him, but she asks him to leave. As an act of mortification, from that day onwards she begins to share Phillotson's bed. Jude's condition worsens steadily, and finally he hears from Arabella that Sue and Phillotson are now living as husband and wife. It is Remembrance Day and also the anniversary of the deaths of his children. While Arabella is out enjoying the festival, Jude dies, alone and unattended.

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