A few months later Jude and Sue are still living in separate but adjacent rooms in Aldbrickham. They get a letter saying that Sue’s divorce has been finalized, just a month after Jude’s divorce from Arabella was officially concluded. Jude comments on Sue’s new freedom, but Sue feels that her freedom was unfairly got – the divorce would not have been approved if the authorities knew the real situation. Jude says that this is an advantage of being “poor obscure people,” that no one cares too much about them.
Jude and Sue are now officially “free” of their first marriages, and so could marry each other. Sue knows that she could never have obtained a legal divorce if the authorities knew about her “sinful” present lifestyle. Hardy refers to the novel’s title with “obscure,” a word that appears several times and can mean inscrutable, unknown, and covered in darkness.
Jude and Sue walk about together for a while, and then Jude asks Sue if she will marry him after a suitable length of time. Sue says that she is worried marriage will harm their relationship. She would rather go on as unmarried lovers, considering how badly marriages go in their family. She brings up her old arguments that the institution means putting a contract on what should be voluntary love.
Marriage is the only respectable option for any kind of relationship in Victorian times, but both Jude and Sue have already had bad experiences with the institution. This conversation condenses many of Hardy’s critiques of marriage, and returns to the idea of the “Fawley curse.”
Jude responds that this might do for the “phantasmal, bodiless” Sue, but ordinary folk like him sometimes need marriage. He then says that Sue still hasn’t declared her love for him, and he criticizes her inconsistency. This upsets Sue, but they make up and agree not to discuss marriage for a while. Jude starts working at lettering headstones, and Sue helps him by marking out and blacking in the letters. This pays less than Jude’s earlier jobs, but it is the only work where they can both be independent and work together.
Jude wants to marry Sue because he feels she is his true “soulmate,” but he too is wary of the effect of a binding contract on voluntary, delicate love. Sue is especially sensitive and rebellious against anything that tries to “tame” her, and her romantic feelings are weaker. Sue again shows herself a “modern woman” by working alongside Jude as an independent individual.