Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Part 5, Chapters 4–5 (At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere) | Summary

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Summary

Part 5, Chapter 4

Jude's son says people call him Little Father Time, because he looks "so aged." He has never been christened because, according to the boy, "[I]f I died in damnation, 'twould save the expense of a Christian funeral." Jude and Sue decide to baptize the child when they marry and give notice of their intent to wed now at the registry.

On the day of the wedding the Widow Edlin comes as the only guest and tells the tale of the dead child and hanged man in the hope Jude and Sue will not suffer the misfortunes of the Fawleys, kind-hearted but unlucky in marriage. At the registry Sue is repelled by the ambience and the couple who has just married before them, and she backs out again, saying a civil ceremony is unnatural. After leaving Jude and Sue pass the parish church where a wedding is in progress and step quietly in. Sue says it would also be impossible for her to undertake a church service again now that her eyes have been opened. Jude opines that they are too thin-skinned and perhaps should not have been born, much less married. He also says marriage is equally difficult for men and women.

Part 5, Chapter 5

Jude and Sue continue to be happy between their times of sadness. The presence of a child has created "a new and tender interest" and "rather helped than injured their happiness." In early June the Fawley family attends a large agricultural fair, and, unknown to them, Mr. and Mrs. Cartlett, carping at each other, are also in attendance. Arabella spots them and begins following them around the fair, comparing her souring relationship with Mr. Cartlett with the still fresh relations between Jude and Sue. At the fair Arabella also encounters her friend Anny, who accuses her of always wanting a man she doesn't have, and Physician Vilbert, from whom she buys a love potion made from pigeon hearts.

Analysis

From the start Jude has wanted to marry, but, as can happen when couples live together, they take on each other's opinions and perceptions. As a result, Jude also begins to worry marriage will ruin their happy relationship. The Widow Edlin takes on the role of friend and protector in Part 5, Chapter 4 when Jude invites her to the wedding and she actually shows up—something he had not expected. Her positive attitude contrasts with the attitude of their deceased Aunt Fawley. Mrs. Edlin brings gifts to the wedding but does not judge the couple when they back out of matrimony. However, her story of the hanged man, reputed to be a Fawley relation, is ominous and directly foreshadows events that destroy Jude's and Sue's lives, for the tale combines an unhappy marriage, a separation, a child's death, and a hanging near the Brown House, a location important in turning points of Jude's life.

Sue's asserts her basic opposition to marriage. Never wanting to go through with the legal contract and never wanting to relinquish her freedom, she consents reluctantly to do so. Had the registry itself been more welcoming or comfortable, she might have felt less hesitation. However, the grimness of the preceding couple is too much for her. Perhaps marriage outside the church is the problem, but the newly married couple in the registry does nothing but cause her repulsion—a pregnant, pock-marked bride and a "sullen and reluctant" soldier just out of jail. Her delicate sensibilities prevent her from associating herself with the place and the people.

Thus Jude and Sue continue as before, and when Arabella spies them at the agricultural fair and sees how happy they are, she feels envy and somewhat comically follows them around, at one point calling them "Silly fools—like two children." Arabella's continuing presence hovers over the family as a constant threat of doom. Readers will certainly suspect she is or will be doing something to spoil Jude's happiness, especially in her whimsical purchase of the love potion—one of its ingredients is pigeons' hearts. The symbol of birds appears as a form of entrapment rather than freedom, perhaps because the birds have been sacrificed and their freedom therefore nonexistent.

The contentment Jude and Sue now experience will soon be over and is foreshadowed again at the end of Part 5, Chapter 5 when Sue says, "I feel that we have returned to Greek joyousness, and have blinded ourselves to sickness and sorrow." But Father Time, characteristically unchildlike, has the last word and echoes Sue's sentiment with innocent foreboding, "I should like the flowers very very much, if I didn't keep on thinking they'd be all withered in a few days!"

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