Powerful and controversial from its 1895 publication to the present, Jude the Obscure scandalized Victorian critics, who condemned it as decadent, indecent, and degenerate. Between its frank portrayals of sexuality and its indictments of marriage, religion, and England's class system, the novel offended a broad swath of readers. Its heated reception led the embittered author to renounce fiction, turning his considerable talents ever afterward to writing poetry.
Hardy's last novel depicts a changing world, where a poor stonemason can aspire to a university education and a higher place in society — but where in reality such dreams remain unattainable. Thwarted at every turn, Jude Hawley abandons his hopes, is trapped into an unwise marriage, and pursues a doomed relationship with his free-spirited cousin, Sue Bridehead. The lovers find themselves equally incapable of living within the conventions of their era and of transcending its legal and moral strictures.
Hailed by modern critics as a pioneering work of feminism and socialist thought, Hardy's tragic parable continues to resonate with readers.
From Publishers Weekly
The controversial tale of Jude Fawley and his unconventional relationship with his cousin, Sue Bridehead, is as fascinating today as it was when Hardy published the novel in 1895. Beautifully narrated by the gifted Neville Jason, this story of repression, judgment, and true love will appeal to listeners who love the classics. Jason's proper tone and slow pacing is a perfect fit for Hardy's prose. As Jude, Jason shifts his voice to become, by turns, optimistic and lovelorn, while the supporting characters are equally well crafted. The result is a truly memorable literary experience that demands repeated listens. (May) -- This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
From Library Journal
Jude the Obscure created storms of scandal and protest for the author upon its publication. Hardy, disgusted and disappointed, devoted the remainder of his life to poetry and never wrote another novel. Today, the material is far less shocking. Jude Fawley, a poor stone carver with aspirations toward an academic career, is thwarted at every turn and is finally forced to give up his dreams of a university education. He is tricked into an unwise marriage, and when his wife deserts him, he begins a relationship with a free-spirited cousin.
With this begins the descent into bleak tragedy as the couple alternately defy and succumb to the pressures of a deeply disapproving society. Hardy's characters have a fascinating ambiguity: they are victimized by a stern moral code, but they are also selfish and weak-willed creatures who bring on much of their own difficulties through their own vacillations and submissions to impulse. The abridgment speeds Jude's fall to considerable dramatic effect, but it also deletes the author's agonizing logic. Instead of the meticulous weaving of Jude's destiny, we get a somewhat incoherent summary that preserves the major plot points but fails to draw us into the tragedy. Michael Pennington reads resonantly and skillfully, his voice perfectly matching the grim music of Hardy's prose, but this recording can only be recommended for larger public libraries. -- John Owen, Advanced Micro Devices, Sunnyvale, CA
About the Author
Thomas Hardy, OM (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) was an English novelist and poet. A Victorian realist in the tradition of George Eliot, he was influenced both in his novels and in his poetry by Romanticism, especially William Wordsworth. Charles Dickens was another important influence. Like Dickens, he was highly critical of much in Victorian society, though Hardy focused more on a declining rural society.
While Hardy wrote poetry throughout his life and regarded himself primarily as a poet, his first collection was not published until 1898. Initially, therefore, he gained fame as the author of novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891), and Jude the Obscure (1895). However, beginning in the 1950s Hardy has been recognised as a major poet; he had a significant influence on the Movement poets of the 1950s and 1960s, including Philip Larkin.
Most of his fictional works – initially published as serials in magazines – were set in the semi-fictional region of Wessex. They explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances. Hardy's Wessex is based on the medieval Anglo-Saxon kingdom and eventually came to include the counties of Dorset, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Hampshire and much ofBerkshire, in southwest and south central England.
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