Literature Study GuidesJude The ObscurePart 3 Chapters 4 7 Summary

Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Part 3, Chapters 4–7 (At Melchester) | Summary



Part 3, Chapter 4

Jude's landlady sees Sue sleeping and thinks a young man is visiting. When Sue awakens, she and Jude begin talking about her education, which is wide-ranging for a woman. She tells him about a university undergraduate who was in love with her, taught her, and loaned her books. She agreed to live with him as platonic friends. He eventually became a journalist but died, probably of a broken heart, and left her some money, which she invested and lost. After the man's death, her father refused to take her back home. Jude tells her he cares very much for her and is disappointed when she says she cares for him as much as for anybody she has ever met.

When the conversation turns to religion, Sue expresses animosity toward both religion and Christminster, as well as her anger at Jude's treatment at the hands of the university establishment. Eventually she falls asleep again.

Part 3, Chapter 5

In the morning Sue prepares to go to Shaston, where a friend has invited her to visit. She hopes to return to the training college when the scandal blows over. Before leaving she tells Jude not to love her but then writes to him, giving him permission to do so. He answers her, but when she doesn't write back, he goes to Shaston and finds her ill in bed. She scolds him for looking upon her as a sweetheart but never mentions his feelings. On leaving he thinks about practicing renunciation in preparation for his religious calling.

Part 3, Chapter 6

Phillotson has returned to his hometown of Shaston to run a large school for boys. He learns of Sue's departure and subsequent expulsion from the college only when he goes to visit her in Melchester and finds her gone. In his distress he happens to enter the cathedral where Jude is working. Coincidentally, Jude is waiting for Sue, who has promised to visit that day. Jude explains that, despite the gossip, nothing sexual has gone on between them. Nonetheless, he wishes he were in the position to marry someone like Sue—but does not actually admit his feelings to Phillotson. When Sue arrives Jude finally tells her he is married to Arabella. Sue is angry at first but then relents. She notes they would have remained apart in any case for these reasons: she doesn't necessarily love him, they are cousins, and she is engaged to someone else. They part pretending they can simply be friends and cousins.

Part 3, Chapter 7

Sue writes to Jude to inform him of her impending wedding, which will take place in a month, and asks him to give her away. Jude is distraught once again and thinks Sue is taking this step ahead of schedule because of the "secret sprung upon her"—his own marriage—and the unfounded suspicions of the school authorities. He invites her to stay in his lodgings—much larger now—for the duration of the 10 days needed to establish residency. The two live on separate floors. On the morning of the wedding she convinces him to go with her to the church ahead of time, and they stroll up and down the aisle, rehearsing. During the service Jude reflects on Sue's seeming cruelty toward both of them in asking him to stand in for her father as well as making him rehearse with her.


These chapters reflect the main themes of the novel. Sue's unconventional views on marriage and decorum make her a pariah to the extent that her father refuses to take her back after her relationship with the undergraduate. Her marriage to Phillotson seems more a "career" move on her part; she is not a believer in marriage and its rules that subjugate women and tie people together unnecessarily. She rails against religious hypocrisy, focusing on religious and non-sexual interpretations of the Song of Songs in particular—an explicitly erotic section of Old Testament. In addition she reminds Jude of his ill fortune in being a victim of the rigid class system in force at Christminster, where a poor man who loves learning is denied it in favor of rich men's sons.

Jude now learns the extent of Sue's unconventional and unfortunate intellectual adventures and religious apostasy. She reveals she is more learned than most girls, having been schooled by a platonic lover who died of heartbreak, according to him. Sue claims his death caused "a terrible remorse in me for my cruelty," but she doesn't seem particularly moved beyond her words. Jude feels "much depressed" by her "curious unconsciousness of gender." Sue is definitely not like most women, as she lives out her unconventional views of gender equality, mostly by ignoring the constraints of being a woman. And she is cruel in ways, whether consciously or not.

At this point Sue actively begins playing with Jude's heart, saying only she cares for him as much as for anybody she ever met, which would seem to confer little distinction on her feelings. By revealing her disdain for Christminster, based on the assessment of her platonic lover who was both highly moral and equally irreligious, she confirms the author's stance that morality and religion are not necessarily synonymous. Equally important in her feelings about Christminster, Sue acknowledges Jude's scholarly vocation, which has been thwarted by the brutality of the entrenched class system that excludes the worthy in favor of the monied: "You are one of the very men Christminster was intended for when the colleges were founded; a man with a passion for learning, but no money, or opportunities, or friends ... [Y]ou were elbowed off the pavement by the millionaires' sons," she astutely observes. In fact, Sue is referring to an interesting irony, since in the 13th century, when the real university (Oxford) on which the fictional portrayal of Christminister is based was coming into its own, the colleges were endowed boarding houses for poor scholars who wished to continue their educations.

Sue wants Jude to love her, as evidenced in her giving him permission to do so, but she doesn't want to take responsibility for initiating or arousing love in him or, more to the point, acting on that love in the sexual realm. She tells Jude she wants to "ennoble some man to higher aims" but refuses to acknowledge that, for the most part, men will resist molding except if it takes place in the context of a sexual relationship. Sue is disingenuous in scolding Jude for not telling her he looks upon her as a sweetheart when she is very well aware of it.

The extent to which the characters involved in this emotional triangle are willing to lie to themselves seems remarkable. Phillotson learns Jude and Sue have done nothing improper, in society's view; this state of affairs satisfies him, even though Jude clearly is in love with Sue. Jude says he wishes with all his soul he could marry Sue, were he in the position to marry her or anyone else. It is hard to see how Phillotson could miss Jude's feelings in such a statement. Meanwhile, Sue cries when Jude tells her he's married but explains the reason for her reaction is not that she loves him but that he did not confide in her. When she recovers, she torments him by saying he couldn't have married her anyway because she doesn't love him. Further, she faults the town for recognizing relations between men and women as only those based on "animal desire," refusing to acknowledge a man rarely, if ever, has an intense attachment to a woman who is not his close relative (i.e., mother, sister) without a corresponding sexual interest. The degree to which these three are either lying or fooling themselves is a realistic portrayal of the way men and women often act in matters of the heart, when what the heart wants is not aligned with what the mind or with what is possible in a given situation.

Jude is not wrong to think Sue marries Phillotson partly out of perverse spite, perhaps to get even with Jude for falling in love with him before knowing he was married and belonged to another. She is cruel to both him and herself by asking him to stand in for her father and to act out the marital scene with him in the church. Throughout the novel she victimizes both herself and others with a kind of perverse masochism in which she tries to rebalance the moral scales in some way when she feels remorse for having done something wrong. In this instance she is punishing herself for falling in love with Jude and punishing him for lying to her by omission and for being out of reach.

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