Is this a hearty welcome, or a Hardy welcome?

Blogging seems to be all the rage these days, so I’ve decided to jump on board the band wagon. After all, who doesn’t enjoy talking about themselves? I’m not so vain as to think many people will be particularly interested in my chattering away about nothing though – I do think blogs are more interesting when they are about something, rather than everything. My ‘something’ will be the books I read. I like to read, but I am by no means a connoisseur of fine literature. I will blog about the books I feel like reading, rather than reading books purely for the sake of blogging about them, so I’m terribly sorry if my reviews are grossly behind the time and irrelevant. Furthermore I refuse to rate anything out of ten, the idea that all my thoughts and emotions relating to a book can be summed up in such a small scale is, frankly, ridiculous.

So on to the first book of many.

Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

Jude The ObscureI will admit that I have never really given Hardy the time of day before now ― due to a very bad experience of far too many hours spent listening to the audio book of ‘Return of the Native’ read by Alan Rickman, thanks to the incompetence of my sixth form English literature teacher. A friend of mine recently read Jude and told me it was “the most depressing book ever” naturally I was intrigued so thought I would give Hardy a second chance – I’m glad I did, although I can’t really say I enjoyed reading it.

I have never come across a character in my reading quite as unlucky as Jude Fawley, and that is to put it lightly. Poor Jude has from a young age, dreamt of travelling to the nearby town of Christminster and pursuing the life on an academic, but Hardy places so many road blocks along the way that Jude’s journey seems doomed to fail. Hardy goes far beyond making Jude’s character merely unfortunate, gifting to him a life filled with little other than misery and pain.  The chronicle of Jude’s life seems to me so depressing that it becomes almost completely farcical. While I am fully aware that Jude’s life is one to be pitied, I find myself more inclined to have a laugh at his expense, as his life gets ever more ridiculous.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this book I will elaborate.  Jude has a very humble background, and was raised for the most part by his elderly Aunt, a bitter, cynical old lady, who tried in vain to convince Jude that the Fawley family are not meant for marriage.  Despite this Jude is quickly trapped by local girl Arabella, who tricks him into marriage, which seemingly makes Jude’s dreams of becoming a scholar a distant memory. However, when the marriage inevitably falls apart and Arabella leaves the country it seems almost possible that Jude may have a second chance at happiness. I was too easily fooled by this first part of the book, Hardy continually lays these traps, luring the reader into thinking that things could be ok for Jude after all.

Eventually Jude does find himself in Christminster and once again has high hopes of somehow securing a place in the colleges; however he is inevitably rejected by all the institutions, and somehow find the time to fall hopelessly in love with his cousin Susan Brideshead in the process, whom of course he cannot marry being already wed to another. In true Jude style, Arabella asks for a divorce, just in time for Sue to get married. When Sue finally decides she wants to be with Jude and asks to be released from her marriage it seems just a bit too good to be true.

Of course it really would be asking too much for Jude to have any sort of luck, and so he soon finds out he has a son from his first marriage. Refusing to let this dampen their spirits the couple decide to raise the child – known as ‘Little Father Time’- as their own. This inevitably leads to their being shunned by society for living together out of wedlock. Jude and Sue decide to leave the area completely, in order to avoid the gossip.

When Jude and Sue return to Christminster a few years later, after pretending to tie the knot, and having a further two children of their own they find things little improved and are continually turned away from lodgings. Noticing the tension in the air Little Father Time speaks with Sue and quickly gathers that his parents are suffering because they have children, he then throws a tantrum and promises to never forgive Sue upon finding out that there is another child on the way. The next morning Jude and Sue find all three children hanging dead in their bedroom, Little Father Time having killed both his younger siblings and then himself – leaving behind the note ‘because we were too menny’. The devastation of losing her children leads Sue to lose the baby she is carrying. Sue then leaves Jude, returning to her first husband, as she feels that the death of her children was a punishment for her having done wrong in her first marriage.

Alone and miserable Jude is somehow once again tricked into marrying Arabella. By this stages Jude’s health is declining rapidly, he soon becomes bed ridden and is of little interest to Arabella. When Jude inevitably dies, he is on his own, pleading for a glass of water. Once discovered by Arabella the death is temporarily covered up, so as to not inconvenience Arabella’s social plans. Jude’s funeral is a dismal event, of which Sue does not attend.

My thoughts upon finishing this book are mixed. I am satisfied that what started out as an incredibly depressing story did not somehow end up having a fantastical and unbelievable happy ending. However as I have said before the extent to which Hardy attempts to make the story one of woe does seem to go a bit too far. The idea that any one person could be quite as unlucky as Jude Fawley does make me laugh (Hardy ha ha), it seems so detached from reality.  I also found myself really disliking most of the characters, which I feel in some ways made the book more enjoyable. Sue is the most annoying creature I have ever experienced. Sue’s character has moments of such fantastic clarity and insight, expressing her thoughts so brilliantly, but for every one of these there are at least a dozen irritating sessions in which she is seen to cry, continually change her point of view and attitude, and ultimately behave like a complete swine to her husband Mr Phillotson –who is in turn annoyingly accepting and far too nice for his own good. Jude’s character is not only unlucky, but also so intolerably needy, and so incredibly weak willed (what sort of a man gets tricked into a marriage, twice?!). Despite being quite an unpleasant character, it seems to me that the only one of group with an ounce of strength in her is Arabella, she is manipulative and cruel, but ultimately she gets what she wants, and is the only person who ends up being anything close to happy.