Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Part 3, Chapters 1–3 (At Melchester) | Summary

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Summary

Part 3, Chapter 1

Jude realizes his Christminster aspirations were "mundane ambition masquerading in a surplice" and now wants to take up religious life as an altruistic calling. He continues to work as a stonemason in Marygreen with a plan of studying divinity in preparation to become a licentiate.

Sue sends him a letter saying she obtained a scholarship to attend a teacher-training college in Melchester; then a second letter arrives, asking him to come because she is lonely and miserable. Jude had already been thinking about moving to Melchester under the pretext of eventually entering the theological college there, but with the second letter he immediately sets out for that town.

Sue seems much subdued as a resident at the women's college, and during their first visit Jude presses her for information about what is between her and Phillotson, even though he has determined to love her only as a cousin. She admits she has promised to marry Phillotson in two years, after completing her education, and the two will take a double school for boys and girls as married teachers. Jude gets work and lodgings in Melchester and begins reading Christian divinity texts.

Part 3, Chapter 2

Jude and Sue have a day off, and Sue can stay out until nine. Their outing is to a castle at some distance, where they look at architecture—the castle is classic, to Jude's taste, rather than Gothic—and at paintings, Jude's preference being religious works. After lunch they take a long walk and must rest at a cottage, resulting in their missing the train and taking the cottagers' hospitality to stay the night. When Sue gets back to her college, she fears she is in trouble with the authorities. She gives Jude a new picture of herself.

Part 3, Chapter 3

Sue is severely punished for breaking curfew. She must stay for a week in a solitary room away from her dormitory and eat her meals alone; the other young women are forbidden to speak to her. The students silently protest, refusing to do their work; as a result of their actions one of the teachers informs them Jude is not Sue's cousin. The school has been told of his drunken and blasphemous conduct at the tavern in Christminster and that he has come to town to be near Sue. Shortly after her punishment begins, Sue escapes from her confinement through a window and walks through the river to get away. A sodden Sue now shows up at Jude's window, and he sneaks her into his lodgings. She changes into some of his clothes falls asleep in an armchair after she tells him what happened.

Analysis

Jude's realization that his religious aspirations have been, up until now, "mundane ambition" points to the custom, taken for granted in his society, that men went into the clerical profession to advance themselves in the world. The choice represents one of the various types of religious hypocrisy that surface in the novel. Jude's desire to become a priest may have originated in noble instincts, but he recognizes it has degenerated into religious materialism. "There were thousands of young men on the same self-seeking track at the present moment," but most of them do not admit, as Jude does, the sensual man who enjoys himself is "a more likeable being" than such hypocrites. Thus Jude reaches for "true religion," which he envisions as a "humble curate wearing his life out in an obscure village or city slum—that might have a touch of goodness and greatness in it." Jude has determined to reconcile himself to obscurity, even as he still longs for greatness. Jude's plan to study divinity in preparation for theological college and begin his ministry at age 30, as Jesus did, is sad and dramatically ironic when viewed from the end point of his story, since he dies young, shortly before that birthday.

Sue's letter to Jude asking him to come to Melchester seems presumptuous, but perhaps she already realizes the degree to which he is attached to her and she to him—although Sue seems less conscious of her feelings. Interestingly, she does not write to Phillotson, even though she has already promised herself to him. Sue is unreasonable in her treatment of Jude, telling him they better not see each other and ought to correspond only on business matters after Jude becomes angry about her engagement. Yet as soon as Jude insists he has a right to see her as his cousin, she immediately drops the previous idea.

Her running to Jude after she is punished is an action that mirrors his behavior at Christminster when she put him up for the night. Sue wears Jude's clothes while hers are drying. The wearing of his clothes reinforces the connection between the two; they seem to be two sides of the same coin, one half of the whole. They are spiritual twins, with similar sensibilities. Sue is Jude's alter ego, but the downside of being soulmates is that they compound their errors by reinforcing both their best and worse qualities.

The events in these chapters continue the story of Jude and the obstacles he cannot surmount. Perhaps his ambitions are too great, his aims too high. As a child he faced obstacles but seemed to ignore them. As a young man awakening to sexual desires, he did what he had to and entered into a disastrous marriage. With his wife's departure, he picked up where he left off, but faced complete rejection from established forces. Now once again he is trying to fulfill noble goals, or at least trying to give his life meaning, and once again his actions cause damage as untruths and insignificant past actions come back to haunt him as they would not haunt others.
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