Commentaire – Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy described the novel in his preface as dramatizing “a deadly war between flesh and spirit”. This quasi reference to St Paul’s conception of human dualism goes far towards explaining the nature of Jude’s tragedy. This dualism appears also in the book. Jude The Obscure is the last of Thomas Hardy’s novels published in 1895: its critical reception was so negative that Hardy resolved never to write another novel. The passage under analysis is situated towards the beginning of the novel, at the arrival of Jude at Christminster (the fictional name of Oxford). He found a job at a stonesman’s to make a living while studying by himself to try and achieve his dream. Indeed, Jude's first concern is a job, though his working is to be done only as a way of supporting himself until he can enter the university. Our commentary will fall into two parts. First we will study the isolation of Jude, and the opposition between Jude’s world and the world of his enthusiasm that is to say the world of Oxford students. Then, we will study the omnipresence of spirituality that contrasts with the materiality in the text.
As we have said before, this novel is the last novel of Thomas Hardy. This novel recounts the painful process of his disillusionment and his final destruction at the hands of an oppressive society, which refuses to acknowledge his desire. Even if this extract does not seem so sombre, and presents a real hope, we can notice that the theme of the contrast or the opposition exists all the text long. Thus it is interesting to underline that play of opposition which appears quite characteristic of the novel as it is implied by the sentence of Thomas Hardy that we have quoted in the introduction where he describes his book as “a deadly war between flesh and spirit”. In a strikingly similar vein, Hardy tells also that the " 'grimy' features of the story go to show the contrast between the ideal life a man wished to lead, and the squalid real life he was fated to lead."
There is a play of opposition and parallelism that exists in this extract that presents contrast also. The first opposition that can be noted is the opposition between Jude and the others. Indeed, there is a real separation between Jude and what he calls “his inmates” on line 11 or his “happy young contemporaries”. That is also obvious with the use of the pronoun. All the text long, and mostly in the first part of the text – when the narrator describes Christminster and the students – we can see appearing two different groups as clearly underlined on line 25: “Whatever they were to him, he to them was not on the spot at all; and yet he had fancied he would be close to their lives by coming there”. This sentence permits really distinguish the opposition between those to entity. This idea of separation exists in all the text, with different symbol of separation. Thus we can say that even if the “Christminster ‘sentiment’ (…) ate further and further into him”, Jude is clearly not in the Christminster ‘way of life’. This situation of exclusion is described implicitly, by the narrator, as quite unfair, when he underlines for instance that “he probably knew more about those buildings materially, artistically and historically, than any one of their inmates. We could perceive this remark and all the text as an implicit criticism of the fixed class boundaries that exist in the Victorian society. Indeed, we know that Jude has a real willpower of being “someone”. He left his life in the country town to come into the big city in the hope of succeeding in life. But that society seems quite close as described by Hardy. That is probably why the narrator and Hardy himself insist on the separation of Jude, his isolation and even a sort of imprisonment. He is all alone, in a big city, living apart and a lot of elements in the text can induce this idea. Firstly let’s notice the “echoes of his own footsteps”. Echoe occurs most...
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