Jude the Obscure

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Jude the Obscure Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Thomas Hardy
Thomas Hardy was raised in a small, rural village in Dorset. His father was a stonemason and his mother educated Hardy until age eight. His family was too poor to pay for university, so Hardy became an architect’s apprentice (similar to Jude) until he decided to focus on writing. His stories are generally set in the Dorset area, which he translated into the fictional county of Wessex. In 1874 he married Emma Gifford. The two were then estranged, but her death in 1912 had a profound effect on Hardy. In 1914 he married his secretary, Florence Dugdale. Hardy’s first novels were unsuccessful, and even his later works were controversial and censored. Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure drew such an outcry for their sexual frankness and social criticism that Hardy stopped writing fiction, focusing instead on his poetry. Hardy died at the age of eighty-seven.
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Historical Context of Jude the Obscure
Jude the Obscure takes place in England during the Victorian era, a period that lasted from 1837-1901. English society during this time was marked by sexual repression and a conservative worldview that emphasized the institution of marriage and the family unit, which Hardy criticized. Murders like those of Jack the Ripper in 1888 began desensitizing the public to violence, leading to scenes like Little Father Time’s murder-suicide. The town of Christminster is based on the university town of Oxford, whose colleges were only beginning to accept working-class students during Hardy’s time – Hardy himself was unable to afford a university education.
Other Books Related to Jude the Obscure
Hardy is considered a Victorian Realist like George Eliot, the author of Middlemarch, but he was also influenced by the Romantic poetry of William Wordsworth and the social critiques of Charles Dickens, author of Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities. Hardy’s style prefigures Modernist works like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and his writing influenced D.H. Lawrence, especially his books The Rainbow and Women in Love. Emma Frances Brooke’s 1894 book A Superfluous Woman also opposes traditional marriage and contains a child committing murder and suicide.
Key Facts about Jude the Obscure
  • Full Title: Jude the Obscure
  • When Written: 1887-1895
  • Where Written: Dorchester, England
  • When Published: 1895
  • Literary Period: Victorian Realism
  • Genre: Realist Fiction, Tragedy
  • Setting: Southwest England, the fictional county of Wessex
  • Climax: Little Father Time kills himself and Sue’s children
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient
Extra Credit for Jude the Obscure

Wessex. Hardy named his fictional “Wessex County” after the Anglo-Saxon kingdom that existed in southwest England in medieval times. Since his resurrection of the name, it has become a popular modern term to describe the region, and there is now even a Wessex Regionalist political party.

Autobiographical. Though Hardy has claimed that Jude the Obscure contains little to no biographical information, Sue Brideshead does seem to resemble Hardy’s first wife, Emma, who began as nonreligious and later grew obsessively Christian. Hardy’s unhappy marriage with and estrangement from Emma also contributed to his unorthodox views on marriage.