I am at the halfway point in Hardy's Jude the Obscure, and I feel like I have been on a trip. Hardy just seems to be meandering along, and I am going with him. Together we have seen the beginnings of his title character, and we have watched as things go awry.
The novel begins with its central focus on Jude. We meet him as young boy saying farewell to a teacher who is leaving town. Jude idolizes this teacher and one day wants to be come a scholar in the town of Christminster. But as someone who will have to work to support himself, it seems as if Jude has a hard road.
The beginnings of the novel paint out Jude's life clearly. He works part-time in his aunt's bakery, and it seems as if the other townspeople mock him. There was a scene where he was harassed for reading while making deliveries. It seems as if his dream to be a scholar is not well-supported. But you do have to admire someone who, at such a young age, sends away for grammar books in Greek and Latin to learn from, and who study every night by candlelight.
And when Arabella Donn has her sights set on Jude, it all seems to fall apart at the seams. I think it is obvious to the reader that Arabella really doesn't love Jude. I mean, I believe she wants to love him, but really, she is just using him because she thinks he is a good fit. Clearly, he is not. And when she wants to speed things up a bit to get him to commit, she does.
*this next little section may contain spoilers, but it is only for the first 100 pages*
I can see why Jude following her upstairs would have outright shocked readers back then. Obviously he doesn't give us details, but we all know why kind of evil shenanigans Arabella is up to when she leads him up. And then she pretends to be in the family way. Reading this as a modern-day reader, I wasn't shocked at all. I had to check myself and remind my 21st century mind that this book came out in the 1800s. Men and women having sex outside of marriage and children born out of wedlock were ostracized. It just didn't happen. There would have been an uproar (today we all seem a bit lax, don't we?).
And of course Jude HAS to marry her to save face, and it is only once they are married that she pulls a "just kidding" card. What a manipulative girl! I was shocked by her manipulations and they only seem to be getting worse as the story progresses.
*end of spoilers*
When his marriage begins to fall apart, we also watch Jude meet Sue, his cousin. I don't want to say more, since I am still in the middle of their little saga. But I know that Hardy is going to throw me for a loop eventually. I know that things will not end well for Jude or Sue, and that manipulative Arabella will be back to ruin everything.
However, before I end this first post on Jude the Obscure, I have to comment on the fact that I really think Hardy is a delightful writer, whether he meanders or not. I love that he is drawing me in slowly to his characters and story. He really takes the time to let me know their true characters before pushing them forward. I miss that kind of skill in many modern-day novels. I think that too often authors are worried that they need to tell rather than show. So I will continue to let Hardy hold my hand and guide me through Jude's life.