Jude the Obscure

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Marriage Theme Analysis

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Much of Jude the Obscure consists of a critique of the institution of marriage, which Hardy saw as flawed and unjust. The novel’s plot is designed to wring all the possible tragedy out of an unhappy marriage, as Jude is first guilted into marrying Arabella by her feigned pregnancy, and Sue marries Phillotson mostly to make Jude jealous. Both protagonists immediately regret their decisions, and realize how a single impulsive decision can affect their entire lives. When they meet each other and fall in love, Sue and Jude’s pure connection is constantly obstructed by their earlier marriages, and Hardy even presents the tragedy of Little Father Time’s murder-suicide as a natural result of broken marriages and unhappy relationships.

In the narrator’s asides Hardy also criticizes marriage, describing it as a binding contract that most young lovers are incapable of understanding. He doesn’t believe that the institution is inherently evil, but that it isn’t right for every situation and personality – “sensitive” souls like Jude and Sue should be able to live as husband and wife without a binding legal contract. Though he argues for this flexibility and seems to propose the couple’s unmarried relationship as an ideal solution, Hardy then punishes his protagonists in his plot, ultimately driving Sue back to Phillotson and Jude back to Arabella.

The novel is not a simple diatribe against marriage, but instead illustrates a complex, contradictory situation. Sue and Jude want their love to be true and spontaneous, but also totally monogamous and everlasting. The epigraph to the novel is “the letter killeth,” which comes from a quote from Jesus in the Bible: “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth light.” Hardy intended this quote to refer to marriage, where the contract of the institution kills joy and true love, but Hardy purposefully leaves off the optimism of “the spirit” – Jude and Sue’s joy is fleeting even when they are only following “Nature’s law,” and in the end they find no good answer for how to properly love and live together. By the novel’s tragic end Hardy still leaves the question of marriage unanswered, emphasizing only his dissatisfaction with the institution as it stands.

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Marriage Quotes in Jude the Obscure

Below you will find the important quotes in Jude the Obscure related to the theme of Marriage.
Part 1, Chapter 9 Quotes

And so, standing before the aforesaid officiator, the two swore that at every other time of their lives till death took them, they would assuredly believe, feel, and desire precisely as they had believed, felt, and desired during the few preceding weeks. What was as remarkable as the undertaking itself was the fact that nobody seemed at all surprised at what they swore.

Related Characters: Jude Fawley, Arabella Donn
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude has told Arabella that he thinks he should move away, and in response Arabella has lied, telling him that she is pregnant. Although Jude believes this will signal the end of his dreams of going to Christminster, he nonetheless agrees to marry her, as this is the honorable thing to do. In this passage, the narrator describes the marriage ceremony, describing it in detached language and framing it as a pact to "believe, feel, and desire precisely as they had believed, felt, and desired during the few preceding weeks." Although marriage was a completely normal and central institution during the Victorian era (and still is), the narrator here seeks to defamiliarize it, showing how the very concept is strange and unrealistic.

The narrator remarks that it was "remarkable" that "nobody seemed at all surprised" by the ceremony, suggesting the reader themselves should feel surprised or alarmed by what has taken place. Indeed, the narrator's words highlight the bizarre and arguably immoral nature of marriage by describing the vows as a promise to feel the same way forever. The way Jude and Isabella have felt in the short, tumultuous weeks they have spent together is now supposedly to automatically extend for a lifetime. This is alarming not only because of its unrealistic resistance to growth, maturity, and change, but also because the "few preceding weeks" have been hardly ideal in the first place. Although sensually attracted to each other, it is clear that Jude and Isabella are not particularly compatible, and the whole reason why the marriage is taking place is because Isabella lied to Jude––a rather worrying precedent for a lifetime of marriage. 


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Part 1, Chapter 11 Quotes

Their lives were ruined, he thought; ruined by the fundamental error of their matrimonial union: that of having based a permanent contract on a temporary feeling which had no necessary connection with affinities that alone render a life-long comradeship tolerable.
“Going to ill-use me on principle, as your father ill-used your mother, and your father’s sister ill-used her husband?” she asked. “All you Fawleys be a queer lot as husbands and wives.”

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Arabella Donn (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Arabella's marriage is a disaster; Jude has overheard friends of Arabella's saying that she tricked him into marriage, and the couple have been arguing ferociously. In this passage, Jude comes to the realization that "their lives were ruined... by the fundamental error of their matrimonial union." Jude's thoughts frame the problem not as unique to his and Arabella's unhappy situation, but rather as a fundamental issue with the institution of marriage in general. The feelings he and Arabella had for one another were temporary, and not conducive to "life-long comradeship." Note that this kind of question remains at the heart of debates over marriage in the present day, and thus this passage reveals just how forward-thinking Hardy was for his time.

Arabella's taunts to Jude are also significant for the way that they invoke the notion of fate. Arabella suggests that unhappy marriages are a kind of curse in Jude's family, repeating within each generation in a cycle of misery. Again, consider the way in which this kind of thinking preempts 20th-century sociological and psychoanalytic discourse about cycles of trauma and abuse. Although Arabella's words seem unfairly harsh, it is nonetheless reasonable to infer that Jude's distrust of the institution of marriage originates in witnessing his parents' unhappy marriage and eventual divorce. 

Part 3, Chapter 7 Quotes

I have been looking at the marriage service in the Prayer-book, and it seems to me very humiliating that a giver-away should be required at all. According to the ceremony as there printed, my bridegroom chooses me of his own will and pleasure; but I don’t choose him. Somebody gives me to him, like a she-ass or she-goat, or any other domestic animal. Bless your exalted views of woman, O Churchman!

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker)
Page Number: 170
Explanation and Analysis:

Sue has sent Jude a rather formal letter informing him that she will soon marry Phillotson. She then sends another letter asking if, as her only male relative who is married, Jude will "give her away" at her wedding. She adds that she finds the concept of being given away "very humiliating," and objects to other parts of the marriage service, such as the notion that the bridegroom chooses the bride, but the bride herself is passively given "like a she-ass or she-goat." Once again, Sue has revealed a kind of proto-feminist consciousness and affinity with contemporary critiques of the institution of marriage. Her intelligence leads her to understand that even seemingly innocuous elements of the marriage ceremony fundamentally belittle women. 

Furthermore, Sue is unequivocal in her condemnation of the sexism of religion. She exclaims sarcastically, "Bless your exalted views of woman, O Churchman!". Note that, once again, this criticism coheres with contemporary feminist critique of the sexism within organized religion. Although this critique is rather common now, it would have been highly scandalous at the time Jude the Obscure was written.

Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

Jude, before I married him I had never thought out fully what marriage meant, even though I knew… I am certain one ought to be allowed to undo what one has done so ignorantly. I daresay it happens to lots of women; only they submit, and I kick… When people of a later age look back upon the barbarous customs and superstitions of the times that we have the unhappiness to live in, what will they say!

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Jude Fawley, Richard Phillotson
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Sue's aunt has died, and they have met in Marygreen for the funeral. Sue has confessed that she likes Phillotson as a friend but finds him repulsive as a husband. She tells Jude that she wishes it were possible "to undo what one has done so ignorantly," and that she believes people in the future will look back on marriage as a "barbarous custom." Although Sue has previously claimed to be more pagan than modern, in this passage she strongly identifies herself with a more enlightened, fair, and rational future that she imagines will follow the era in which she lives. Note the similarity between Sue's objection to marriage and that expressed by Jude; both point to the absurdity of committing forever to feelings that can change so quickly.

Part 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

“What is the use of thinking of laws and ordinances,” she burst out, “if they make you miserable when you know you are committing no sin?”
“But you are committing a sin in not liking me.”
“I do like you! But I didn’t reflect it would be – that it would be so much more than that… For a man and woman to live on intimate terms when one feels as I do is adultery, in any circumstances, however legal. There – I’ve said it!... Will you let me, Richard?”

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Richard Phillotson (speaker)
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Sue have parted ways, kissing passionately before doing so. Jude has decided that, since he loves Sue so fiercely, he cannot join the clergy; meanwhile, Sue is tormented by her feelings for Jude, and hides from Phillotson in a closet. Phillotson confronts her, and Sue tells him vaguely that she is "miserable" and that living intimately with him would constitute "adultery... however legal." Sue's words reveal her strong opposition to legalistic understandings of morality. Rather than judge her own behavior against moral rules and societal norms, Sue evaluates her situation as individual and unique. At the same time, it is clear that she is very much concerned with morality, a concern made evident by her reference to adultery and "sin." 

Part 5, Chapter 3 Quotes

Jude, do you think that when you must have me with you by law, we shall be so happy as we are now? The men and women of our family are very generous when everything depends upon their good-will, but they always kick against compulsion. Don’t you dread the attitude that insensibly arises out of legal obligation? Don’t you think it is destructive to a passion whose essence is its gratuitousness?

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Jude Fawley
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Sue has spoken with Arabella, who advised her to marry Jude. However, this has only further convinced Sue that marriage is a "vulgar institution." In response, Jude has remarked that Sue seems more like someone from an ancient civilization than the Christian era in which she lives. Yet Sue continues to confess her doubts about marriage, asking Jude if he thinks he would continue to love her if they got married, and reminding him that there is a history of resistance to "compulsion" within their family. Once again, Sue raises the notion that the legalistic nature of marriage can destroy "passion," happiness, and love. Although she conveys a more generous view of hers and Jude's family than Arabella, she clearly feels concerned about the familial legacy of divorce and how it might influence her own fate.

Part 5, Chapter 4 Quotes

“Nobody thought o’ being afeared o’ matrimony in my time, nor of much else but a cannon-ball or empty cupboard. Why when I and my poor man were married we thought no more o’t than of a game o’ dibs.”
“Don’t tell the child when he comes in,” whispered Sue nervously. “He’ll think it has all gone on right, and it will be better that he should not be surprised and puzzled. Of course it is only put off for reconsideration. If we are happy as we are, what does it matter to anybody?”

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), The Widow Edlin (speaker), Little Father Time
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Sue have adopted Little Father Time, and begun the process of getting married; however, the Widow Edlin has told a story about an unhappy marriage in their family that causes them to doubt whether they should proceed, and eventually they decide to postpone the wedding. In this passage, the Widow Edlin comments that nobody was afraid of marriage in the old days, and treated the whole matter casually. This illustrates the way in which Sue and Jude are distinctly modern figures, representing a new era. Unlike the Widow, they place a great deal of emphasis on the emotional aspect of marriage, and how it might change their relationship.

Meanwhile, Sue pleads that the Widow not mention the fact that she and Jude did not go through with the marriage to Little Father Time. Although she strives to live freely and unconventionally in her own life, Sue is evidently concerned with how this lifestyle will affect her adopted son. While she claims that "If we are happy as we are, what does it matter to anybody?", it is evident that Sue realizes that it does matter, even if she disagrees with the logic people use to judge unmarried couples. Overall, this passage confirms the difficulty of negotiating a life that runs counter to societal norms and expectations. 

Part 5, Chapter 5 Quotes

I feel that we have returned to Greek joyousness, and have blinded ourselves to sickness and sorrow, and have forgotten what twenty-five centuries have taught the race since their time, as one of your Christminster luminaries says…

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christminster
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude, Sue, and Little Father Time are at the Wessex Agricultural Show, along with Arabella and her husband Cartlett. Jude and Sue seem incredibly happy together, and have even reached a point where they can communicate without speaking. Arabella, meanwhile, has grown to resent Cartlett, and looks on at Jude and Sue with a mix of envy and disdain. In this passage, Sue describes her happiness with Jude, saying that they have "returned to Greek joyousness," meaning that they have managed to conduct their lives with a kind of pagan freedom and joy, free from the constrictions of Victorian social codes and Christian morality. The contrast between Sue and Jude and Arabella and Cartlett supports Sue's view, suggesting that marriage truly does often destroy couples' feelings for one another.

Sue's statement that she and Jude have "forgotten" the lessons of the past twenty-five centuries suggests that they have returned to a more innocent, joyful state of existence. However, Sue's happiness seems almost too good to last, as the rest of the narrative will prove. Although it may indeed be the case that people's lives are happier without marriage and other legalistic social customs, the novel also shows how difficult––even impossible––it is to live against the dominant norms of one's era. 

Part 5, Chapter 8 Quotes

“She’d have come round in time. We all do! Custom does it! it’s all the same in the end! However, I think she’s quite fond of her man still – whatever he med be of her. You were too quick about her. I shouldn’t have let her go! I should have kept her chained on – her spirit for kicking would have been broke soon enough! There’s nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf task-master for taming us women. Besides, you’ve got the laws on your side. Moses knew… ‘Then shall the man be guiltless; but the woman shall bear her iniquity.’ Damn rough on us women; but we must grin and put up wi’ it – Haw haw! – Well; she’s got her deserts now.”
“Yes,” said Phillotson, with biting sadness. “Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can’t get out of it if we would!”

Related Characters: Arabella Donn (speaker), Richard Phillotson (speaker), Jude Fawley
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

Arabella has run into Phillotson on the road and introduced herself to him. Phillotson reveals that he was disgraced as a result of divorcing Sue, and Arabella tells him that Sue is now unhappy and that Phillotson should have stayed with her. Arabella's words present a bleak, depressing view of gender, marriage, and indeed human existence in general. She compares women to horses that need to be tamed, and says that Sue has got what she deserved. Phillotson is not as harsh, but seems lost and defeated by the tragic circumstances of his life, exclaiming that "cruelty is the law pervading all of nature and society."

In many ways, this statement can be interpreted as the main message of the novel. Regardless of the choices one makes––whether one chooses to pursue individual happiness and freedom or succumbs to societal expectations––life is ruthless and most people are miserable. Arabella's claim that "it's all the same in the end" resonates with this bleak view of humanity. No matter how hard people try to find happiness, they are inevitably broken down by the cruelty of life. 

Part 6, Chapter 2 Quotes

The boy’s face expressed the whole tale of their situation. On that little shape had converged all the inauspiciousness and shadow which had darkened the first union of Jude, and all the accidents, mistakes, fears, errors of the last. He was their nodal point, their focus, their expression in a single term. For the rashness of those parents he had groaned, for their ill-assortment he had quaked, and for the misfortunes of these he had died.

Related Characters: Jude Fawley, Little Father Time
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 337
Explanation and Analysis:

Little Father Time has hanged his siblings and then himself in a horrifying murder-suicide. A doctor has told Jude and Sue that Little Father Time's nihilistic view of the world is symbolic of a new desire for death among the younger generation. Jude and Sue go to see the children's bodies, and feel that Little Father Time's face "expressed the whole tale of their situation." This passage utilizes the language typically used to describe parental love for children in positive terms, while twisting it in a decidedly sinister way, suggesting that Little Father Time has paid for his parents' "accidents, mistakes, fears, [and] errors." Once again, Little Father Time is represented less as an individual character than a symbol for some of the novel's key themes—a kind of Christ figure of modernity, who dies without reason or hope because of the sins of the world.

We said – do you remember? – that we would make a virtue of joy. I said it was Nature’s intention. Nature’s law and raison d’etre that we should be joyful in what instincts she afforded us – instincts which civilization had taken upon itself to thwart. What dreadful things I said! And now Fate has given us this stab in the back for being such fools as to take Nature at her word!

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Jude Fawley
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 339
Explanation and Analysis:

Following Little Father Time's murder-suicide, Jude and Sue have gone to view the children's bodies. They hear an organ playing a hymn, and Sue comments that it feels as though a force is punishing them for the way they have behaved. In this passage, Sue continues to fixate on the idea that "Fate has given us this stab in the back for being such fools." This is a crucial turning point in Sue's attitude toward faith, freedom, and morality. Whereas before the children's deaths Sue staunchly associated herself with a kind of "ancient," pagan atheism, the trajectory of her life has caused her to experience a crisis in which she believes she is being punished by God. 

This passage displays not only Sue's sudden turn to religiosity but also her newfound sense of pessimism. In previous years, Sue justified her nonconformist lifestyle by claiming that she was living according to natural instincts. Now, however, she suddenly sees nature as deceitful and cruel, and exclaims in shame about the "dreadful things" she used to think.

Part 6, Chapter 3 Quotes

“I see marriage differently now!... My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella’s child killing mine was a judgment; the right slaying the wrong. What, what shall I do! I am such a vile creature – too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings.”
…He returned vehemently… “You make me hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism, or whatever it may be called, if it’s that which has caused this deterioration in you. That a woman-poet, a woman-seer, a woman whose soul shone like a diamond – whom all the wise of the world would have been proud of, if they could have known you – should degrade herself like this! I am glad I had nothing to do with Divinity – damn glad – if it’s going to ruin you in this way!”

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Sue Bridehead (speaker), Arabella Donn, Little Father Time
Related Symbols: Little Father Time
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

Following the children's deaths, Sue and Jude and have moved to Beersheba, where they live in a state of depression and despair. Sue has declared that they are being punished by God, and thus have "no choice" but to "conform." In this passage, Sue explains her dramatic change of heart, telling Jude that she interprets Little Father Time killing her children as "the right slaying the wrong." Jude responds by telling Sue that she makes him "hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism," and feel glad that he's not religious. Jude's reply is interesting, as it highlights the fact that he has now taken on Sue's previous beliefs wholeheartedly, and is indeed defending them from Sue herself. Jude and Sue have switched places, and Jude is now the one speaking with Hardy's skeptical and pessimistic but defiant voice.

Perhaps as we couldn’t conscientiously marry at first in the old-fashioned way, we ought to have parted. Perhaps the world is not illuminated enough for such experiments as ours! Who were we, to think we could act as pioneers!

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker)
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:

Sue has grown increasingly religious, obsessed with the idea that the children's deaths were God's punishment for the fact that she and Jude lived together despite being unmarried. Jude is horrified by Sue's sudden religiosity, though in this passage he too concedes that perhaps they shouldn't have been together considering they "couldn't conscientiously marry at first in the old-fashioned way." Note the stark difference in the way Jude and Sue interpret the "mistake" of their relationship: whereas now Sue believes that marriage is important because it is part of the natural law of God, Jude believes that it is simply too difficult to "act as pioneers" and live against the rules and conventions of society. Despite everything, Jude infers that their way of life was an "illuminated... experiment" in a backwards world.

Part 6, Chapter 5 Quotes

It was like a re-enactment by the ghosts of their former selves of the similar scene which had taken place at Melchester years before. When the books were signed the vicar congratulated the husband and wife on having performed a noble, and righteous, and mutually forgiving act. “All’s well that ends well,” he said smiling. “May you long be happy together, after thus having been ‘saved as by fire.’”

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead, Richard Phillotson
Page Number: 369
Explanation and Analysis:

Sue has decided to remarry Phillotson, although she is still physically repulsed by him, panicked about the prospect of being married, and in love with Jude. Even Phillotson begins to doubt whether the marriage is a good idea, but eventually decides that they must go ahead with it in order to conform to societal expectations. This passage describes the ceremony, during which the priest's positivity contrasts distinctly with the doubt, misery, and fear felt by the bride and groom. The priest's declaration that "all's well that ends well" is devastatingly ironic considering all that has happened and how unhappy an "ending" this is. This confirms the notion that societal conventions such as marriage are not designed with people's best interests at heart, but rather function as a way to force people to conform to legalistic understandings of religion and morality. 

Part 6, Chapter 8 Quotes

We’ve both re-married out of our senses. I was made drunk to do it. You were the same. I was gin-drunk; you were creed-drunk. Either form of intoxication takes away the nobler vision. Let us then shake off our mistakes, and run away together!

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Sue Bridehead
Page Number: 390
Explanation and Analysis:

Both Jude and Sue have remarried their original partners, Arabella and Phillotson, although they secretly remain in love with one another. Jude has developed a respiratory illness and, knowing he will soon die, travels to Marygreen to see Sue. They meet in the church and argue at first, before kissing passionately. In this passage, Jude tells Arabella that they were both "drunk" when they got remarried; Sue was drunk on religion, and Jude on gin. He suggests that he and Sue run away together, showing that despite everything that has happened, Jude has still not relinquished his desire to be with Sue and live against societal customs. 

Indeed, this passage shows that despite his nihilistic cynicism, Jude simultaneously remains a romantic idealist. His dream of running away with Sue is hardly realistic, especially considering Jude is extremely sick and was barely able to make the journey to Marygreen. Furthermore, Jude seems to believe that Sue's conversion to a dogmatic, legalistic strain of Christianity is a temporary state of being, like getting drunk. He refuses to accept that Sue will never go back to the version of herself Jude used to know. 

Part 6, Chapter 10 Quotes

As for Sue and me when we were at our best, long ago – when our minds were clear, and our love of truth fearless – the time was not ripe for us! Our ideas were fifty years too soon to be any good to us. And so the resistance they met with brought reaction in her, and recklessness and ruin on me!

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Sue Bridehead
Page Number: 400
Explanation and Analysis:

Time has passed, and Jude's illness has abated, before returning. Arabella has told Jude that she will allow Sue to come and see him, but Jude responds that he doesn't wish to see her. Jude then reminisces about his time with Sue, reflecting that "our minds were clear, and our love of truth fearless," but that society was not ready to handle such courage and independence. Although undeniably tragic, Jude's thoughts in this passage also contain a note of optimism. His assertion that he and Sue were "fifty years too soon" suggests that more honest and free ways of living may be possible in the near future. Unlike Sue, he also refuses to blame himself for the events that befell him, but understands that they were the result of terrible luck and a harsh, oppressive society.