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JUDE THE OBSCURE BY THOMAS HARDY - FREE NOTES
It is three months after Jude's wedding. Jude has returned to his work, but as winter approaches, he falls ill with consumption (tuberculosis). Arabella is angry at being saddled with a sick husband whom she will now have to support. She quickly becomes tired of him, and their quarrels resume. As Jude's health declines, he asks Arabella to write to Sue to ask her to visit them. Arabella is indignant at his request and they quarrel. Arabella calls Sue a strumpet (a loose woman), and Jude reacts violently. Finally, Arabella agrees to write the letter, but she never sends it. Jude, after waiting a few days, finally decides to visit Sue himself.
He slips out on a cold, rainy day clothed in an overcoat and blanket and takes the train to Alfredston. From there he walks the five miles to Marygreen in the rain. He waits in the church and sends a message to Sue. Sue is not prepared for him and is horrified at his appearance. She congratulates him on having done the right thing in marrying Arabella. Jude pleads and argues with her for the last time. He even kisses her passionately. Sue admits she loves him and confesses that she and Phillotson are married in name only. Sue, however, refuses to run away with him, considering it her duty to remain with Phillotson. Jude leaves her and goes out in the rainy weather to make his journey back to Christminster. In his precarious state of health, the journey is likely to be fatal for him.
Jude's last meeting with Sue is a poignant one. He tells her that this is the last time they will meet and passionately exclaims, "Sue, we are acting by the letter, and the letter killeth." He begs of her, "Where is your reason? . . . You dear, sad, soft, most melancholy wreck of a promising human intellect that it has ever been my lot to behold." But though Sue realizes her love for Jude, her arguments are unchanged. Jude finally makes a last appeal, saying that both their marriages are mistakes: "I was gin-drunk, you were creed-drunk." It is ironic that they both declare their love for each other now that they have remarried others; it is too late for them now. As Jude leaves Marygreen for the last time and looks back at the familiar landscape where he grew up, it is evident that he has lost the will to live. He is almost conscious of the farewell he is bidding these surroundings. All meaning in his life has obviously vanished with the loss of Sue. His walk back in the rain is suicide for a man in his state of health, but in psychological terms he can be considered as a man who is already dead. He is beyond caring about what happens to him now. The weather, the bitter cold and the rain are symbolic of Jude's mental state of despair. Crushed and broken by life, abandoned by the only woman he ever loved, he returns to Christminster.
Arabella waits for Jude at the Christminster railway platform. She helps him home and chides him for the risk he took in going out in the rain. But Jude tells her that he did it deliberately, in the hope that the exposure would kill him. He claims that he had only two wishes: to see Sue and to die. He declares that he has accomplished both at once with his journey to Marygreen. As they walk home, he imagines that he can see the spirits of the great scholars of Christminster: Addison and Gibbon, Johnson, Walter Raleigh and Wycliffe. This vision is similar to the one he had when he first arrived in Christminster, however, this time the scholars seem to mock him. Arabella is impatient with his fantasies.
At Marygreen, Mrs. Edlin has come to help Sue with the housework and finds that Sue has been scrubbing the stairs to punish herself for her sin that afternoon. She tells Mrs. Edlin of Jude's visit and that she still loves him. She declares, however, that she will make amends for what has happened by sleeping with Phillotson. Mrs. Edlin tries to dissuade her, since it is obvious that Sue is forcing herself to do this, but Sue is determined to inflict this penance on herself. She goes to Phillotson's room, wakes him up and confesses to meeting with Jude that afternoon and to the kiss they shared. But she promises she will never see Jude again. Phillotson asks her to swear on the New Testament and she does. Phillotson asks her twice if she is sure she wants to give herself to him. Although at first she recoils, Sue controls her aversion, and Phillotson lifts her up and carries her into his room.
Sue's giving of herself to Phillotson marks the warfare between flesh and spirit. Hardy's description of Sue's horror and revulsion and her determination to discipline herself is remarkably realistic. When Mrs. Edlin tries to reason with her, she replies, "It is my duty. I will drink my cup to the dregs." Marriage to Sue, then, is a self-inflicted punishment; she finally submits to Phillotson not out of love, but as a penance. It does not occur to Sue to ask herself if it was morally right to have married Phillotson at all, since they share no affection, a necessary component of any relationship. Phillotson should be given credit for the many chances he gives Sue to back out.
At this point the reader will notice the complete reversal of the beliefs that Sue and Jude began with. While Jude offers to run away with Sue, she is determined to carry out her penance. This is also an important indication of the nearing end of the novel.
Jude recovers temporarily, but after Christmas, his health begins to decline again. Arabella is irritated at having to nurse him. But once she realizes he is seriously ill, she offers to send for Sue. Jude protests that Sue has chosen her own course and that he does not want to see her again. However, some days later, Mrs. Edlin comes to visit him, and Jude inquires about Sue. Mrs. Edlin reveals that Sue and Phillotson are now living as man and wife, ever since Jude's visit to Marygreen. Jude is horrified. He realizes Sue is doing this as a penance. He recalls the good times they shared and the great changes they have gone through. Then he speaks bitterly of the conventions of society, which have brought this ruin on them. As he grows more and more restless, he is overcome by a fit of coughing. Physician Vilbert calls on him, but Jude is enraged at his appearance and insults him. On his way out Vilbert meets Arabella, who offers him some wine into which she has mixed the "love philter" she bought from him at the agricultural show. She allows Vilbert to kiss her and flirts with him.
In his weak condition, Jude's thoughts take him back to the past as he tries to understand the meaning of his life. He laments his inability to follow his aim of scholarship. He thinks of Sue and how her intellect had dazzled him and how tragedy has broken her mind and will. He wonders if acute suffering affects men and women differently, making woman more submissive and conventional. As he tells Mrs. Edlin, "the time was not ripe for us! Our ideas were fifty years too soon to be any good to us.'
Arabella's overtures to Vilbert are amusing and typical of her calculating nature. As she says, "weak woman must provide for a rainy day . . . one must take the old if one can't get the young." She is obviously thinking of her future once Jude is gone. Time and again she has proved to be an opportunist.
Jude's life has dragged on, and once again it is summer and Remembrance Day in Christminster. The weather is calm and the college festivities have begun. Arabella leaves Jude alone and goes out to see the celebration. The organ notes of the concert outside disturb Jude and he wakes up coughing. He realizes it is Remembrance Day and asks for water, but there is no one to attend to him. He quotes in great bitterness some verses from the Book of Job. Amidst the noise of celebrations outside, Jude dies alone and unattended.
Meanwhile, Arabella is enjoying herself at the festival. She looks in to see how Jude is doing and when she realizes he is dead, she goes back to rejoin the celebrations, as she does not want to miss the fun of the boat races. She meets Vilbert, allows him to flirt with her and finally returns to make the arrangements for the funeral. Two days later, only Arabella and Mrs. Edlin are there to pay their last respects to Jude. Mrs. Edlin wonders if Sue will attend the funeral, since she had promised Phillotson never to see Jude again. Mrs. Edlin tells Arabella that Sue has aged a great deal since living with Phillotson as his wife, although she claims to have "found peace." Arabella declares that Jude never forgave Sue and that Sue will never have any peace until death.
Hardy writes this last chapter with great care and sensitivity to establish the atmosphere. It is ironically fitting that Jude dies on Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the founding of Christminster (where his presence was never acknowledged) and also the anniversary of the death of his children. The sounds of revelry and bells and cheering outside heighten the contrast to Jude's lonely, pathetic death. The contrast is continued up to the day of the funeral. Jude lies pale and statuesque in his coffin with his old books, Virgil and Horace and the "dog-eared Greek Testament" on the shelves. The reverberations of the bells outside travel around the bedroom. While the university is conferring honorary degrees to noblemen outside, Jude passes away unmourned and unhonored. For all those who are victims of a cruel social order, life is a bitter descent into despair.