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Jude the Obscure | Study Guide

Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure | Preface | Summary



Preface to the First Edition

The first preface of Jude the Obscure provides a history of its creation. Hardy made notes on his story in 1887, suggested by the death of a woman in 1886, and wrote the narrative from 1893–94. An abridged version of the novel was first serialized in Harper's Magazine, beginning in November 1894, and appeared in its entirety in book form in 1895. Writing a novel for adults, Hardy attempts to deal honestly with sexual love and describe "the tragedy of unfulfilled aims." He does not believe anything is offensive in his novel.


The postscript to Jude the Obscure was written 16 years after the novel's publication (April 1912). Hardy notes Jude the Obscure, upon publication, was immediately attacked on both sides of the Atlantic as being immoral and was even burned by a bishop. Hardy defends his criticism of marriage laws, which do not allow people to disentangle themselves easily if their union becomes "a cruelty to either of the parties." He also notes some people realized the novel is in fact a moral tale, but its highly negative reception has caused him to stop writing novels.


The first preface was likely written in anticipation that some readers might find the novel's content objectionable, for Jude the Obscure deals frankly with matters of sex and love. People had complained about its predecessor, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, for the same reasons but found it less objectionable than Hardy's last novel. Although a modern reader would be hard pressed to find the sexual content in Jude the Obscure objectionable (vague descriptions of hand-holding and kissing), what shocked Hardy's audience was the author's willingness to discuss sexual desire and the fraught relations between men and women. Readers also were shocked by his criticisms of marriage and religion. Thus, in the first preface he reminds readers his novel is about "the deadly war waged between flesh and spirit," a conflict that is common to many people in all ages.

The majority of his audience missed the message, however, which is why Hardy notes in the second preface (Postscript) that he has given up novel writing altogether, clearly upset about the public's misunderstanding of his work. Some modern readers may still find Hardy's tragedy of Jude the Obscure shocking or unpalatable because it depicts a fallen world with little hope of happiness or satisfaction for any of the debased and sad creatures he portrays.

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