This picture is a view of Christminster (Oxford) as seen from Marygreen, as Jude Fawley would have seen it.
So hopefully you've all had a chance to finish the first eight chapters of the book. I've made a few notes during my reading so I'll get the ball rolling here. Remember, nobody is required to do a book report; we're just sharing thoughts, exploring ideas, and looking for some literary depth as we progress throughout the book. It's up to each of you to comment on my thoughts, each other's thoughts, and your own thoughts as we go throughout the process. Each discussion period will be open for two days (you can always return and add comments to older discussion threads) and then we'll move on to the next block of chapters.
Everything seems more sophisticated if it happens in England. So much so, that for me the converse had actually become true in real life; in my travels in England I over-idealize and over-romanticize the scenery, people, and places because I'm superimposing the effects of the literature onto the landscape. In a way it's all silly, but I don't think I'd have it any other way. Whether it's true or not, my England is Thomas Hardy's England, Jude Fawley's England.
Old Miss Fawley
Jude's great aunt factors as a background character so far, but I'm struck by the meaning of her role in Jude's life. He's obviously a burden to her; he's obviously got no better options, so they're stuck together for the time being. I feel like that fact is a symbolic statement about the circumstances we're all stuck with in life. She represents the inheritance of circumstance that applies to all of us, and in truth, ends up defining most of us. Jude is an immediately compelling character because he seems determined to push himself to become more than the strictures of his class and circumstance would seem to allow.
Kacey commented a week or so ago that the development of the Jude/Arabella romance happened pretty fast in comparison to other books of this period. Jude's world with Arabella in it is about to be turned upside down in the coming chapters. For now, it's interesting to think about why Jude so quickly abandoned his long-term plans to pursue Arabella. She wasn't particularly comely or educated. She didn't come from money. She was clever, but what else? I can't think it is all simply Jude's desire to get with a woman. Do we blame Arabella for her wiles or Jude for his shortsightedness? As noble as his pursuits were before he met Arabella, he now seems like mere simpleton and he's setting himself up to live the life of a simpleton, at best.
It is the city on the hill. It symbolizes everything there is to hope for. It cannot possibly live up to the expectations that Jude has created in his mind. Or can it? It will be interesting to watch the evolution of Christminster from mysterious place of wonder, to far-off place of dreams, to literal streets, structures, and people who may or may not deliver the impact that Jude awaits. So far, I like the way Hardy creates this city; not mythical but with a drawing power that appeals to the goodness within Jude. I think we must all have our own Christminster, too.