Friday, July 3, 2009

Book Review: Jude the Obscure

Having just (this morning) finished Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy, I thought it pertinent to share my thoughts and reflections on it while it's still fresh in my mind. Also, I have today off and therefore have no excuses.

This novel is the story of one man whose life is ridden with small tragedies, any one of which could potentially have broken a person completely.

As a young boy whose parents have both died, Jude lived with his Aunt Drusilla in a small farm town, where he dreamed of growing up to become a scholar at Christminster (Hardy's version of Oxford). Attaining various old and used Greek and Latin schoolbooks, he taught himself to read in the old languages by studying day and night. As life often goes, Jude is never able to realize his dream, the tragedy of which lies in the fact that he both wants it more and is more worthy of a degree than most graduates.

Picture is of Christopher Eccleston, actor in the movie representation of the novel.

He is first detained from Christminster by falling most unfortunately in love with a girl who aimed to entrap him from the start. Arabella is one of the most realistic characters in literature, in that she's exceedingly false. All that appears positive about her (her adorable dimples, her shining hair, her sweetness and innocence) is fake, a lie, or an act. Dimples? She's learned to suck in her cheek just right. Voluminous, shining hair? She wears a hair piece, which she pins onto her existing hair each day, taking it off each night before bed. Innocence? Jude soon learns that she has had other male partners before him and has worked in a tavern as a barmaid. She and Jude as a couple are a tragedy in themselves, and they unsurprisingly do not last long.

The other major relationship of Jude's life is with his cousin, Sue, whom he is head over heels in love with. Sue leads him along for the majority of his life, the dangling carrot just out of reach. While they do manage to have two children together, the tragedy that befalls them is too shocking and too important to the plot to describe here.

Perhaps most ironic for me is that despite all of his well-meaning efforts, Jude dies alone and in pain, with only the distant church bells of Christminster to keep him company in his last moments. Most painful is that at that moment, the university was granting an honorary doctorate to some likely undeserving fellow, while its most staidfast supporter lied in bed, taking his final breaths.

While a bit slow-moving, the novel is an excellent representation of how life can be if you let it get away from you. Without perspective, life can be seen as nothing more than a series of small and large tragedies with a few joys sprinkled in between. If we don't enjoy the little moments that constitute the majority of our existence, we'll have as much to show for ourselves as poor Jude. We won't always get what we want out of life, but to only keep our eyes on the horizon and never on what is before us, we'll miss what's happening right here, right now.