My my, Hardy does it again. What an excellent novel, all the more so because of the personal price it cost him.
In dealing with the subject of marriage and infidelity, in questioning what exactly these constitute, Hardy reaped the whirwind and, allegedly, decided never to write novels again. Certainly, after the publication of Jude, he wrote only poetry for the next 32 years until his death.
Like the Mayor of Casterbridge and Tess of the Durbervilles, Hardy is at his best when he can pour all of his literary energy into one major character. Jude is no exception and it is a shame that this novel is far less known that those other two classics.
Jude is young when the book opens and not all that old when it closes. Like pretty much all of Hardy’s protagonists, you sense he is doomed from the start. And so it proves.
Dogged by not one relationship but two, his life is one of simply making the wrong decisions at the wrong time.
With this device, Hardy places Jude in moral dilemmas that force him to decide what is important in relationships between man and woman. Loyalty, love, commitment and desire are all challenged. In the late 19th century when it was published, it was a scandalous subversion of accepted norms.
I found Jude to be perhaps the most forlorn and lovable of all Hardy’s characters. He’s genuine and you just know that, were it not for one or two major errors, his life would have turned out remarkably differently. Thus, despite his mistakes, you can’t help but feel sympathy for him.
This is incredibly skillful characterisation. Had Hardy produced someone you did not relate so closely to, it is likely that you would not empathise with the ethical dilemmas that Jude faces. As it is, you are yourself torn and find your own views challenged even over 100 years after the words were first written.
That’s the secret of excellent writing.
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