Sunday, October 28, 2007

Jude the Obscure: Chapters 1-8 Discussion

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.

The Setting

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.

Your thoughts?


calistaemig said...

My comments may be scattered, but as I told my sister Sam, it will be WAY less intimidating to comment after you read my ramblings.

Setting-I too, love England. It makes the story better.

Old Miss Fawley- I think having this mean aunt included in the story gives insight to Jude's character as well. I feel sorry for him in a way, and wonder how the disfunction of not being wanted will affect his life. Maybe this is why he idealizes Christminster....somewhere to belong and be special maybe?

Arabella-wow, she makes women look bad, the way she tricks him into the "captivity" of a relationship. But the book makes Jude look weak, how can he give up all of his studies, his dreams for a future, just for hormones? Its wierd how they bring up sex in a book this old. I guess some things never change.

ps-I loved the way she threw those pig privates at him. I guess Hardy has a sense of humor.

Christminster-well, "the captain" (we all know who that is right?) about said it all with the town. We will see if it is everything Jude hopes for, or a real bust! Prediction....these old classics always seem to have irony and tragedy, it doesn't look well for Jude.

Samantha said...

It took me a couple of tries to start this book, mostly because I couldn't decide whether to read the introduction or not. The intro basically outlines the entire book, and I couldn't decide if I wanted to know the whole story line along with the themes of the book (which might help me come off looking smarter), or start the book with NO knowledge of the story line nor biases about what i'm supposed to be thinking or noticing. I decided to skip the intro.

Anyway, I am thankful for the picture that was posted of Christminster; I've been in the desert too long and was picturing brown fields instead of green.

I agree that Jude is a compelling character. I love how ambitious he was, and how certain he was that he would become someone so great, evening coming from nothing.

I also wonder what it was about Arabella that so captivated him, especially since Hardy made a point to say that she wasn't very pretty. But I guess I can believe how being on a hill in the dark with anyone slightly attractive could be exciting for someone if it was their first time noticing the opposite sex. Not enough to completely distract him from all of his life goals though.

I like both of your comments on Old Miss Fawley. I hadn't really stopped to think of their relationship or of what she symbolized, and I like both of your ideas.

Samantha said...

I also am really curious about why it was so important to Arabella to marry Jude, to the point that she felt like she had to trick him. Was it to secure a husband just for the sake of having husband? It couldn't be for love. Did she just want to conquer something? Or so that she could be taken care of by someone? Or was it for money that he would someday earn?

Kacey Nielsen said...

I am in a lot of agreement with what has been said. Especially with your comment Samantha, I totally imagined brown fields as well. We gotta get out of this city...

I feel like I have known some Judes in my life. People who don't realized they are starved for attention until someone gives them some. I don't think he was aware of how truly lonely he was and how much he needed someone to care for him. He only knew the school teacher for a limited amount of time but he was so attached because the man gave him some attention and caring that he found himself almost addicted to the town he moved to. Through that it doesn't really surprise me at all how quickly he could grow to love the immediate and unlimited attention and love given instantly from Arabella.

As far as her desperation to be married, I almost find it comical that something that is still used in dramas/sitcoms today has been a story line for ages! The girl tricking the guy into marriage, it's a classic. I also think it was a little bit of a sign of the times though too. It didn't sound like they lived in a city with many available young men. It was probably all a girl could do to get one that could give her a life equal or better to the one she had.

I'll have to pass the pig trick along to my younger sisters. "hey girls just toss some pig privates at them, that'll get their attention."

gramyflys said...

Well, I have been debating for a few weeks as to my contribution to this book club. I have never been in a book club before, and my hesitance was not in doing the reading, but in having the Captain's own mother become an integral part of it...that could prove to be embarrassing! After I saw Cali's post, I decided it was ok, so here I am!
I have really liked reading the book. It is different from books I have read in the near past...I read some old English literature in the 80's and 90's and picking up Jude the Obscure reminded me of how much I have missed good writing. I do appreciate one who has mastered the language and his thoughts in such an enjoyable way...SO, having said that, let me muse about Jude. Poor guy. He is struggling beyond reality to escape his drugerous life. I was saddened when Phillotson forgot all about the books he promised to bring to Jude. It minimized his hopes and pointed out that the person he had pinned his hopes and dreams on was unreliable and fickle.

I am pretty sure that it is symbolic that the name of the city he aspires to flee to is CHRISTminster, as many of us reach to God or Christ (who seems far away at times) for a better view and outcome for our own lives. It seems that the carnal part of Jude's life interferes with his reach for godliness and changes his pathway...I guess that was pretty obvious.

As to Arabella, she is a mess. She is also a phony..she has false hair, she was once a barmaid, and the dimples in her cheeks are artificially made. Again, the symbolism of "that which glitters is not always gold." She wants to escape her own pathetic life situation, even if it means ruining the life of another. I believe that in that time period, it was unthinkable to be unmarried at a certain age. To be in a "family way" and single would have been disaterous for her reputation; therefore, Jude's courage in stepping up, knowing his own dreams might certainly be dashed forever, was more than admirable.
I tend to think that there wasn't a whole lot of passion that remained in the marriages of those hard-working lower class folks, but I may be stereotyping.
Arabella most assuredly hoped Jude would face reality and put aside his "silly ambitions" of making it big in Christminster.When that didn't happen, she needed to bring him back down to her level. Don't we all know people who would like to kill our dreams and hold us back--and DO! I am sad for Jude, because I think Arabella was a major setback in his life...and he is such a decent fellow. He is learning that life isn't fair...I think that could become a major theme here...

Captain Emus said...

Lots of great comments here.

I like Cali's comment about the "captivity" of a relationship. Jude must have determined a long time ago that pursuing an education is mutually exclusive to pursuing a family life. Obviously, those were different times than the ones we live in.

Arabella, I don't get her. Maybe you're right Sam - was she just into the conquest? I didn't get the sense that she had falled in love with Jude, necessarily.

Gramy, I'm glad you're in our club! Everyone is welcome. As this book progresses I think we'll definitely see that theme of "life is not fair" developing. You know, the whole time I'm reading this I'm drawing comparisons between what I think of the circumstances compared to what the characters would be thinking in that period. Was there even a concept of "life is not fair" back then? We live in such an age of entitlement and comfort. The way Jude has dealt with all of his "hardships" so far, I'm starting to get the impression that "hardships" to us are mere happenstance to Jude. He's rolling with the punches so far.

Lindsay said...

Sorry my comments are delayed, but here they are nonetheless.
I am amazed at Jude's desires to obtain something greater than life's circumstances had given him. Commenting on what the captain touched on, he was placed in a less than pleasurable circumstance having to live with his nasty Aunt, and maybe realized at this young age that the only way to escape those kinds of circumstances were to DO something about it. Rather than complain, he seems to engage his disappointments by striving harder to obtain his ultimate goal.

For some reason, I was struck by the fact that he had a hard time hurting people/things. In the chapter where he was fired from the farm for feeding the birds, and not wanting to step on the earthworms maybe forshadows his adult character. It will be interesting to see what happens with his relationship with Arabella, seeming to be the deceiving woman she is, how he will handle that which such a tender spirit and heart.

I love how Hardy tells of Christminster, and Jude's desires to "reach" that place. It makes me think of something in our lives we all strive for, and things we all think about as children. Marriage, going to a specific college, meeting the right person, etc. Christminister to me represents that 'ultimate' goal we all strive for.
That's all my comments for now!

ashleyboice said...

So I picked up the book this morning and read the first eight chapters so I can be in the club.

I totally agree with Kacey, when she said that Jude was starved for attention. I kept thinking it was strange how obsessed he was with his short term teacher. Other than that I think you all summed up what I was thinking. It drives me crazy that he doesn't just go to Christminster. Just go and check it out...then see if it is what you want. Ahhh I guess that isn't the way books go...but I would have checked it out the first night I saw it in the distance.

allison said...

I know it's way past the deadline for comments, but i just wanted to state that I'm reading the book and caught up and moving on to the next reading assignment.

I have always felt like a literary weakling and can only say that I will read and will try to comment from time to time. I'm hoping that by participating I will grow in what I consider a weak area.

Thanks for letting any and all join in!