Hardy’s Jude the Obscure
Thomas Hardy is often identified as a transitional figure between the Victorian and Modern eras, and, as Gossin has said, Hardy’s 1895 novel Jude the Obscure, “fashioned a fictional narrative mode that closely resonates with what Alan Velie has identified as, ‘perhaps the most common form of narrative in modern fiction’— ironedy” (Gossin 224). In synthesizing this new style of ironic comedy, Hardy simultaneously transformed both the gothic and bildungsroman genres of literature, giving English literature a remarkably influential addition to the canon.
Jude ’s status as a gothic novel is assured by the many conventions of the genre it adheres to, including the incestuousness of cousins Jude and Sue’s relationship and the presence of a doppelganger in the person of Little Father Time, Jude’s son with Arabella. Jude is a suitably Gothic hero in the Promethean mold, albeit a failed one in his deeper quest to, “extricate himself from the labyrinth of 19th century thought and courageously open the door to a new millennium” (Adelman 19). Though Christminster’s walls exclude Jude, they are a conventionally Gothic locale, as are the various churches that Jude restores as a stonemason. Kraft argues that, “the gothic revival is represented as an ideologically motivated phenomenon used in service of exclusionary social hierarchy and religious dogma, and Jude and Sue’s work as Victorian artisans fueling this medievalism makes them, finally, complicit in their own tragedy” (Kraft 129). Though the chronic, escalating nightmare of both Jude and Sue’s lives fit well within the terror gothic genre, the event that causes their ultimate fall—the murder-suicide of Little Father Time of his half-siblings—adds an exceptionally violent instance of horror gothic to the proceedings. This innovative blending of the two genres demonstrates how incremental accumulation of psychological terror over time results in physical horror.
Jude Fawley was himself sui generis for a story that was predominately one of terror gothic, for the genre had long been associated with female writers and lead characters. Though male authors and lead characters became prominent in gothic’s second wave in the 1880s, the male characters were usually depicted in effeminate ways— Stevenson’s home-bound Dr. Jekyll, for instance, or Wilde’s aesthetic Dorian Gray—and female characters were almost completely absent from the narratives. Jude, on the other hand, was the first convincingly heterosexual man in the genre to explicitly fall victim to a patriarchal society. “The two large social groups excluded from the educational advantages of middle- and upper-class men—men and women of the laboring classes and women of the middle and upper classes—rarely perceived themselves, and were rarely represented, as sharing either a class interest or a common symbolic significance within the culture. In Jude the Obscure, however, intellectual and educational aspiration form the first link between the male and female protagonists” (Green 540). Considerations of society’s rigid gender expectations suffuse the story. Though he displays some rather feminine traits in childhood, by adulthood Jude is more conventionally masculine than most prior leading male characters in gothic literature: he has a laboring occupation associated with men, is married, and has children. His life’s ambition, inspired by Phillotson, the closest thing to a father figure he had, is to matriculate at Christminster, “an idealized vision of a society of men… specifically imaged as a fortress of male achievement” (Devereux 122). Though much of his relationship with Sue Bridehead is an effort to synthesize a new, more equal paradigm in male-female interactions, the catalyst for the ruin of both is Jude’s desire to return the family to Christminster, which, “spells a rejection of Sue and a remembrance of the patriarchal discourse that originally attracted him… by returning to Christminster, Jude privileges a hierarchic order in opposition to the more egalitarian relationship with Sue” (Higonnet 42-43).
- Quote paper
- Mark Schauer (Author), 2012, Hardy's "Jude the Obscure". Crawling into Modern Times, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/230275