18 July 2007

Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

Date: July 18, 2007
Recommendation: Definite must read for anyone considering marriage to their cousin

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Hardy weaves a complicated love triangle centered around the novel's self-titled protagonist, Jude Fawley. Jude is initially manipulated into marrying Arabella, who prevaricates by stating that she is pregnant with his child. Meanwhile, Jude's dream is go to university, in hopes of studying to become a professor or a learned theologian. When Arabella leaves him, he moves to a nearby town to study, but instead, meets and falls in love with his cousin Sue. From here, the plot takes on more twists than in Days of our lives and WWE Wrestling put together. Present day readers of Victorian novels often are disappointed by the lack of action in the plot; Hardy can hardly be said to be guilty of producing a lethargic pace.

The novel's social commentary was such that it was widely criticized and even sold in brown paper bags when it was first published. Attacking the sanctity of marriage, the role of education in society, and the values of society's class structure, Hardy's critics had plenty to write about. Even by today's standards, marrying your cousin is still not considered acceptable behavior (except maybe in Manitoba). If divorce and childbearing out of wedlock are still considered uncouth by many today, you can imagine how Victorian England would have responded to a novelist seeming to justify such actions 100 years ago.

What Arabella has been saying to me has made me feel more than ever how hopelessly vulgar an institution legal marriage is--a sort of trap to catch a man--

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