Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Part 3, Chapters 8–10 (At Melchester) | Summary

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Summary

Part 3, Chapter 8

A dejected Jude's decision to leave Melchester, which he finds disagreeable with Sue gone, coincides with news Miss Fawley is very ill and his old employer in Christminster wants him back. He first visits his great-aunt and then returns to his old lodgings in Christminster. Later he invites Sue to Marygreen to visit their dying relative and says he will meet her on the Alfredston Road. While waiting he goes into a tavern and is surprised to meet Arabella, recently returned from Australia and working as a barmaid. Jude agrees to pick her up after work so they can talk, even though the meeting means missing his appointment with Sue. He accompanies Arabella to an inn in Aldbrickham for a late supper.

Part 3, Chapter 9

The married couple returns to Christminster the next day by train after having spent the night together. Before parting, she tells Jude she married an Australian man in church. Jude is upset at this news because he has slept with her. She has something else to tell him but holds it back for the present.

After she leaves Jude runs into Sue, who has come looking for him because he didn't show up. Both are full of emotion, and Jude feels even more ashamed of spending the night with Arabella. Together Jude and Sue travel to Marygreen, and Miss Fawley tells her she will "rue this marrying as well as he [Jude]" regretted his marriage. Their great-aunt says Phillotson is an honorable man but one "no woman of niceness can stomach." Some days later Jude gets a letter from Arabella saying she has reconciled with her second "husband" and will run a tavern with him in Lambeth.

Part 3, Chapter 10

Jude returns to Melchester because it is closer to Shaston, where Sue lives, and takes up his religious studies. Profoundly moved by a new hymn he hears in church, Jude decides to visit the composer. Expecting to find a man of deep sympathy and religious understanding, Jude finds the musician quite ordinary and concerned mostly about not making money on the unpublished song. Jude misses Sue's letter of invitation as a result of his visiting the musician but ends up making an appointment to see her the following week.

Analysis

Jude is heartbroken when Sue leaves Melchester and once again is unsure of what to do and where to go. Given his vulnerable state, it is not surprising he falls into bed with Arabella, assuming they are married as they have been and their sexual activity is not off limits. Despite her coarseness and Jude's sensibilities, a strong sexual attraction has always existed between them, and at this point Jude can't imagine that he and Sue might be together. When Jude learns Arabella has remarried, he is upset to have slept with her, partly because she has married another man in the interim, albeit illegally, and partly because she is now married to another and thus has implicated him in the sin of adultery. As a believer, theology student, and morally upright man of his time, Jude takes such situations seriously and feels humiliated for having succumbed to desire. When Sue turns up he is even more humiliated: "Looking at his loved one ... so ethereal a creature that her spirit could be seen trembling through her limbs, he felt heartily ashamed of his earthliness in spending the hours he had spent in Arabella's company."

Sue, too, is facing the unhappiness of marriage. At first she claims to be happy with Phillotson, who is kind and gives her "perfect liberty," which is not common in elderly husbands she says. But Sue admits to Jude their great-aunt is right: Sue's husband is repulsive to her and perhaps she should never have married. Jude now returns to Melchester, no doubt thinking there is some small hope for him in having a place in Sue's life, since Melchester is only about a dozen miles from Shaston, where the Phillotsons live.

Jude's desire to meet the man who wrote the hymn is an indication of his deep desire to connect with his religious feelings and find solace in his faith during this time of trouble in which he feels caught between Arabella and Sue. He can't help but think the man who wrote "The Foot of the Cross" can offer him spiritual or practical guidance. Once again, however, Jude is deeply disappointed in his assessment of human nature: the situational irony in the encounter is that the composer is neither religious nor wise; his interest lies in how he can best make money from the hymn. Furthermore, in his loneliness Jude is making an attempt to connect with someone and is yet again thwarted by forces unknown and beyond his control. Other than Sue he has no close friends or family, no confidants, and nowhere to turn. And once again a compassionate, benevolent God remains absent from Jude's life. Yet he never questions his faith.

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