Jude the Obscure

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Along with marriage and society, Hardy spends much of Jude the Obscure critiquing religion and the institution of Christianity. He often portrays Christianity as life-denying and belonging to “the letter” that “killeth” (from the novel’s epigraph). In contrast, Sue is introduced as a kind of pre-Christian entity, an ethereal, pagan spirit, and she first appears buying figures of the ancient Greek gods Venus and Apollo. Jude, meanwhile, hopes to join the clergy as part of his intellectual pursuits. At a model of Jerusalem, Sue wonders why Jerusalem should be honored above Athens or Rome, but Jude is mesmerized by this city which is so important to Christianity.

As with most of his arguments, Hardy also undercuts himself and favors a nuanced approach to an issue. Even as he seems to reject Christianity, he also portrays almost all the main characters as Christ-figures at several points, even describing them with Biblical language. The “pagan joy” of Sue and Jude’s unmarried, unreligious love is not actually that joyful either, and Hardy thoroughly punishes them with his plot, ultimately driving Sue to submit to a harsh, legalistic version of Christianity. By associating Sue’s turn to religion with Jude’s turn to alcohol (both used as relief from the tragedy of their children’s death), Hardy again adds more nuance – Christianity may be the “right” way for his country and time, but it can still be used for less-than-pure purposes. As “Nature’s law” fails Sue and Jude, so “Heaven’s law” also fails them, and the “letter” of the law of Christianity can seem less moral than human nature. Hardy gives many examples of this, including Sue’s return to Phillotson, which is a kind of adultery even though they are legally and religiously married. As usual, Hardy ends without any clear answer. He seems to reject a Christianity that is overly concerned with laws and traditions, but he doesn’t portray paganism or atheism as a particularly fulfilling alternative either.

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Religion Quotes in Jude the Obscure

Below you will find the important quotes in Jude the Obscure related to the theme of Religion.
Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

As the halo had been to his eyes when gazing at it a quarter of an hour earlier, so was the spot mentally to him as he pursued his dark way.
“It is a city of light,” he said to himself.
“The tree of knowledge grows there,” he added a few steps further on.
“It is a place that teachers of men spring from, and go to.”
“It is what you may call a castle, manned by scholarship and religion.”
After this figure he was silent for a long while, till he added,
“It would just suit me.”

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christminster
Page Number: 25-26
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude has been fantasizing about Christminster, asking other men about it and hoping to catch a glimpse of it from the roof of the Brown House on clear nights. Although the men have told Jude that at Christminster they read books in languages he will never understand, Jude has resolved to make it his life's goal to attend one of the colleges there. In this passage, Jude gazes at the distant "halo" of the city while describing it to himself in positive, even holy terms. Indeed, phrases such as "city of light" and "tree of knowledge" emphasize the way in which Christminster is holy to Jude, and that his dedication to it has become akin to religious faith. 

At the same time, the way Jude talks to himself about Christminster illustrates how isolated and uninformed he really is about his goal. The information he's received about the city has almost entirely come from other working-class men who have never been there, and this is part of the reason why Jude elevates it to mystical, unrealistic proportions. Jude's lack of realistic information also foreshadows the fact that he will ultimately fail to be admitted to the university. His final statement, "It would just suit me," is tragically erroneous. Although the ideal climate of "scholarship and religion" that Jude imagines would indeed suit him, the reality of Christminster is a place that is closed off to Jude and other men of his social class. 


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Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

“Cathedral? Yes. Though I think I’d rather sit in the railway station,” she answered, a remnant of vexation still in her voice. “That’s the centre of the town life now: the Cathedral has had its day!”
“How modern you are!”
“So would you be if you had lived so much in the middle ages as I have done these last few years! The Cathedral was a very good place four or five centuries ago; but it is played out now… I am not modern, either. I am more ancient than mediaevalism, if you only knew.”

Related Characters: Jude Fawley (speaker), Sue Bridehead (speaker)
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

Jude and Sue have met in Melchester, and Jude has learned of Sue's engagement to Phillotson. Although he is devastated, Jude attempts to appear happy for Sue, and suggests that they visit the cathedral together. In this passage, Sue admits that she'd rather "sit in the railway station," as "that's the centre of the town life now." Despite this straightforwardly modern statement, when Jude remarks that Sue is "modern," she corrects him, saying she is "more ancient than mediaevalism." Why does Sue deny that she is modern, after associating herself with the train station, one of the key symbols of modernity? 

Part of the reason is that Sue's wild, free spirit is associated with paganism. Her fierce character is closer to the rugged natural world than to the industrial, urban landscapes we associate with modernity. In addition, Sue's dismissal of modernity is also perhaps the result of the pessimism that defines the novel. Although Jude the Obscure is highly critical of Victorian culture and norms, it resists romanticizing the future as a time in which the problems of the Victorian era will be resolved. Indeed, the suicide of Little Father Time is a good indicator of the extent to which the novel presents a pessimistic view of the future. 

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 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

“It would almost be better to be out o’ the world than in it, wouldn’t it?”
“It would almost, dear.”
“’Tis because of us children, too, isn’t it, that you can’t get a good lodging.”
“Well – people do object to children sometimes.”
“Then if children make so much trouble, why do people have ‘em?”
“O – because it is a law of nature.”
“But we don’t ask to be born?”
“No indeed.”
“And what makes it worse with me is that you are not my real mother, and you needn’t have had me unless you liked. I oughtn’t to have come to ‘ee – that’s the real truth! I troubled ‘em in Australia; and I trouble folk here. I wish I hadn’t been born!”

Related Characters: Sue Bridehead (speaker), Little Father Time (speaker)
Related Symbols: Christminster, Little Father Time
Page Number: 333
Explanation and Analysis:

In Christminster, Sue, Jude and the children have been refused lodging because of the fact that Sue and Jude aren't married. Sue is deeply depressed, and in this passage talks to Little Father Time about the difficulty of life. Although she doesn't mean to, Sue inadvertently confirms Little Father Time's suspicions that she and Jude would be better off if the children didn't exist. (This will eventually lead to Little Father Time's horrific murder-suicide.) The boy's world-weary personality suggests that, despite his young age, he understands the world better than the adults around him. Aspects of life that adults don't question––such as why people have children, given that life is so hard––trouble Little Father Time. His philosophical reflections on these matters show both his intelligence and his deep pessimism about life. 

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.

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.