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Literature Study GuidesJude The ObscurePart 2 Chapters 1 4 Summary

Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Part 2, Chapters 1–4 (At Christminster) | Summary



Part 2, Chapter 1

Having completed his apprenticeship and having the skill of a stone mason, Jude—now a man with a strong and earnest face and dark, neatly trimmed beard—is on the road to Christminster, three years after the breakup of his marriage. The immediate spur to his move is seeing a picture of his cousin, Sue Bridehead, in his aunt's house, and he feels drawn to her as well as to the city where she lives. Walking through the city for the first time, Jude feels awe as looks up at the ancient college buildings, and he holds imaginary conversations with the venerable people of varying professions who have passed through.

Part 2, Chapter 2

On his first morning as he starts searching for work as a stone mason, Jude's initial awe diminishes when he sees Christminster and its colleges in daylight, the spirits of its great men replaced by disappointing ordinariness at best. His plan is to find a job; save money, which marriage and Arabella's disposal of their furniture prevented him from doing; and eventually begin his studies. He asks his aunt to send Sue's picture, and she does, with the stipulation he not contact her. But Jude is drawn to her; in fact, he actually and childishly kisses her image.

Sue is a designer in an "ecclesiastical warehouse" in which she creates religious objects used mostly in churches. After obtaining work in the stone yard, Jude goes to the shop where she works to see her, though he doesn't identify himself. Jude recognizes his diminutive, pretty cousin and feels a strong sexual attraction to her, but he immediately admonishes himself: he is married; they are cousins; and marrying a blood relation in a family like his, in which marriage brought "tragic sadness," could result in inbred "tragic horror."

Part 2, Chapter 3

Jude continues to watch his cousin from afar. He goes to the cathedral where she attends services, debasing himself and lamenting his "animal passion" that so quickly saddled him with a wife and led him to attempted suicide and drink.

The narrator switches to Sue to reveal shortly before this scene in church, Sue took a walk in the country nearby and encountered a man selling statuary. She bought two small statues of Venus and Apollo from him and carried them back to the rooms she rents from the overly devout Miss Fontover, also her employer. Sue's lodgings are full of Christian images and knowing Miss Fontover would disapprove of the purchases, Sue tells Miss Fontover the statues are of St. Peter and St. Mary Magdalen and hides them from her landlady. The saints she names foreshadow events. St. Peter holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven from which she and Jude will be barred. St. Mary Magdalen is said to have been a repentant prostitute, which is how Sue sees herself later in the story.

Part 2, Chapter 4

Jude is an "all-round" man and can work on many types of projects, so he has no trouble getting work. He continues to think about Sue, who shows up unexpectedly at his place of business and leaves a note. She's just heard he's in town and would like to meet him before she goes away.

That evening they meet, and Jude mentions his old schoolmaster. Sue actually knows of Phillotson because her warehouse has sent him books. Jude decides to call on him and takes Sue along. At first the schoolteacher neither remembers Jude nor telling Jude about his plan to become "a university man and enter the Church," two aspirations he has not fulfilled and will never do so. In fact Phillotson has become something of a recluse. On the walk home Sue explains why she is leaving Christminster: Miss Fontover entered her room and broke her statues, but she does not say they were pagan and not Christian deities.

Because Sue has some experience teaching, Jude suggests she go to a training college and become certified. She can make more money as a teacher, and Jude asks Mr. Phillotson to take her on as student teacher, and he agrees.


In these chapters the ill-fated relationships among Jude, Sue, and Phillotson are put into motion, as chance and circumstance conspire to create outcomes beyond the characters' control. Jude's aunt has warned him to stay away from his cousin, perhaps because she sees the similarities in their natures and knows they will be attracted to each other. Her cynicism and sense of doom and her own decision not to marry inform her caution. Before Jude can disobey his aunt, however, Sue seeks him out, and it seems fated they should be drawn to each other.

Jude is responsible for introducing Sue to Phillotson and bringing them into closer proximity with his idea that she become his apprentice, so he inadvertently brings his teacher back into his life as a rival. In doing so he unknowingly works against his own interests. In another instance of situational irony—and one that may arouse deep sympathy from readers—Phillotson neither recognizes Jude nor remembers him, nor recalls having shared his plans with the boy. Yet Jude has based his dream and lived his life emulating the schoolmaster's. The lack of Jude's significance in Phillotson's life further indicates the meaning of his "obscurity in an unfeeling world."

With attention on Jude up to this point, the narrator now focuses on Sue, presented from the start as a proto-feminist. She supports herself as a designer of religious objects, and she lives alone in the city with no relatives nearby. The reader immediately gets a hint she may have some unorthodox views when she buys statues of Venus and Apollo, lies about them, and sneaks them into her room. Like Jude, who earlier in the novel was moved by the poetry of Horace addressed to non-Christian deities, Sue also feels an affinity for these sacrilegious mythological figures. Later she is revealed as skeptical of Christian belief and appears to be an agnostic or atheist. Sue does not tell Jude the whole story about the statues because she realizes he has orthodox views of Christianity.

With the introduction of Sue, it is only natural to view her in comparison to Arabella. Sue is small, soft-spoken, and delicate; Arabella is well endowed, loud, and coarse. Sue is straightforward and principled, and Arabella is devious and scheming. Sue is sensitive to surroundings; Arabella indifferent. Sue's movements are natural and nonchalant, while Arabella's are studied and false. Sue is alone with no family and few congenial friends; Arabella has obliging parents and abetting companions. At this point in the story Sue creates, and Arabella destroys.

Both Jude and Sue are alone in the city, so it is inevitable they would seek each other out, especially because they are related. But Jude has both a poetic and sensual nature and is already in love with her, even before he meets her. He intuits they are kindred souls, and he is a lonely man who seeks a human being sympathetic to his nature. The narrator explains "the emotion which had been accumulating in his breast as the bottled up effect of solitude and the poetized locality he dwelt in, insensibly began to precipitate itself on this half visionary form." When Jude catalogs the reasons he should not fall in love with his cousin, he counts the exponential effect of a combined, unfavorable heredity. Nonetheless, his heart overrules his head, as it has done before.

When he first mentions Phillotson to Sue as the only other person he knows in the city, Jude is disappointed to learn the schoolmaster has not become a clergyman. In fact Phillotson's failure foreshadows his own. "[H]ow could he succeed in an enterprise where the great Phillotson had failed?" he thinks. Even before he learns of his teacher's failure, he suspects his dream may be too far removed from reality. "It was not till now, when he found himself actually on the spot of his enthusiasm, that Jude perceived how far away from the object of that enthusiasm he really was. Only a wall divided him from those happy young contemporaries of his with whom he shared a common mental life ... but what a wall!" Jude is able to postpone disappointment because he is distracted by his new relationship with Sue, but in a short while the truth of his predicament will be revealed to him.

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