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Literature Study GuidesJude The ObscurePart 5 Chapters 6 8 Summary

Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Part 5, Chapters 6–8 (At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere) | Summary



Part 5, Chapter 6

While Sue and Jude have passed unnoticed in the town, their situation changes after they cancel their wedding. "Little Father Time," now formally Jude, comes home from school and repeats taunting remarks made at school. As a result Jude and Sue go to London for several days, and when they return let it be known they are now legally married. Unfortunately they have already been branded as suspect; people withdraw from them, and Jude's work falls off. Just as they are ready to leave town, however, Jude gets a commission to re-letter the 10 commandments at a nearby church. But when some of the townspeople see Jude and Sue working together in the church, the volume of the gossip becomes very loud, and Jude is summarily fired from the job. Jude and Sue decide to move, auctioning off their furniture and most of their belongings. Sue is particularly distressed by having to sell her live pigeons and turns them loose.

Part 5, Chapter 7

Jude and his family now begin to lead a semi-nomadic life in which he follows work from town to town. This way of life goes on for two and half years. During this time Jude loses most of his former religious beliefs and becomes more closely aligned with Sue's agnosticism. Sue and Jude have two children of their own, and Sue is pregnant again when she runs into Arabella at a spring fair in Kennetbridge where Sue is selling "Christminster cakes." It is close to three years since the agricultural fair. Arabella has been recently widowed and learns Jude has been sick. He has taken up his former trade of baking for the time being, and Sue is selling the products.

Part 5, Chapter 8

Arabella is staying with her friend Anny and has briefly found religion, but she is knocked off her center when she runs into Sue and begins thinking again of Jude. She can't deny her feelings, she says to Anny as they ride back to Alfredston, and flings her religious tracts, which she meant to distribute, over a hedge. She declares she no longer wants to be a hypocrite.

The women see an old man walking and stop to offer him a ride. Arabella soon realizes they've picked up Mr. Phillotson, who also taught her at school in Marygreen. She knows his history with Sue and now informs him she was Jude's wife. Phillotson has taken up his post again at Marygreen, the only job he could get. Arabella also tells him he divorced his wife on false pretenses because she wasn't sleeping with Jude at that time. Arabella observes he should have "kept her chained on—her spirit for kicking would have been broke soon enough!"

Meanwhile Sue returns home and tells Jude Arabella is now in their vicinity. Mrs. Edlin has been helping out with the children, but Jude thinks they will be able to leave in a few weeks when he is well enough to return to work. He wishes to go back to Christminster.


Sue has an unfortunate habit of making problems for herself and others because of her carelessness in the way she flaunts convention and in her inability to look ahead to the consequences of her actions. In fact it is a series of mistakes made by Sue that is responsible for the destruction of her family. Does she perform these actions "unconsciously on purpose" to punish herself? Sue is a divided character, more so than the other major characters in the novel, so perhaps she is at war with herself. Her first big mistake is to allow Jude to make plans for a wedding, which becomes public knowledge, and then cancel those plans. Before the couple decide to marry, everyone assumed they were married. But now their neighbors and business associates know they are not, and their trip to London doesn't do much to lift the cloud of suspicion around them. Thus, they begin to be ostracized and lose business. They are literally cast out of church in the middle of a lettering job by their so-called Christian neighbors. "I can't bear that they, and everybody, should think people wicked because they may have chosen to live their own way! It is really these opinions that make the best-intentioned people reckless, and actually become immoral," Jude says.

The couple loses their good house and must sell all their great-aunt's furniture at a cut-rate while they listen to the Christian hypocrites come in and out and gossip about them. Christianity to these "believers" means condoning cruelty and ostracism when the letter of the law is not followed—with no harm being done to anyone. Adherence to the rules while showing no mercy, kindness, or understanding is hypocritical.

When Arabella meets Sue at another fair, her envy surfaces again and becomes a pernicious weapon against the family. Arabella's husband has died only a few weeks ago, but Arabella wants to reclaim Jude, telling her friends he belongs more to her than to Sue—faulty reasoning, more hypocrisy, or plain selfishness for she was married to him for less than a year. On the other hand, Sue has been with him for years and has two children with him and one on the way—not to mention Arabella's child, whom they are raising.

Her jealousy and intention to get Jude back are the reasons she provides Phillotson with the intelligence that Sue had not technically broken her marriage vows (or at least not completely) during the time their divorce was being processed. This, of course, is more hypocrisy, as the people are concerned more about how things look rather than about what is morally right or wrong. Moreover, they govern themselves by an arbitrary set of moral laws that at times seem wildly disconnected to natural or intuitive morality. Why should it matter when Jude and Sue first had sexual intercourse? But to the petty, bean-counting Victorian bureaucrats of the soul, it does. Further hypocrisy on Arabella's part is her advice to Phillotson to have kept his woman on a chain. She upholds the status quo, but in her own life there is no law she won't break—albeit on the sly—to get what she wants. All this after an act of situational irony: Arabella throws away the religious tracts to avoid hypocrisy.

Again, a comparison between Arabella and Sue is warranted, as they now have come to interact with one another rather than remain separate forces in Jude's life. Sue's honesty and ingenuousness, as well as her lack of deviousness, get her into trouble and cause destruction. She acts on her beliefs even though they cause disasters she doesn't foresee. She has no close friends and no confidantes, acting alone in her dealings with Jude. Arabella, on the other hand, does nothing without calculation; her deviousness, hypocrisy, and moral treachery get her what she wants, always benefiting from her underhandedness. She also has the support of her family and friends who supply her needs and reinforce her ruthlessness. They represent the extremes of idealism versus practicality, or opportunism. Both, however, see the world mostly from their own point of view and live their lives according to what suits them best. For both, it is all about what they want—Sue avoidance of marriage and control, Arabella marriage and control: the intellectual versus the carnal, honesty versus deceit. Both, however, may well be too much for Jude, the obscure pawn in the middle of cosmic forces.

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