Jude the Obscure


Thomas Hardy

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Jude the Obscure: Dialect 1 key example

Part 1, Chapter 11
Explanation and Analysis—Wessex English:

In Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy employs a version of spoken English that comes from the West Country (a region in the Southwest of England with a very distinctive sound and accent. This stylistic choice makes the reader feel immersed in the world of Wessex. For example, in Chapter 11, one of Arabella's feckless companions explains to another how Arabella "tricked" Jude into marrying her:

‘Howsomever, ’twas I put her up to it! “Nothing venture nothing have, I said. If I hadn’t she’d no more have been his mis’ess than I.’ ‘’Tis my belief she knew before…’

In this passage, Hardy uses a neologism ("Howmsoever," a regional version of "However"), a proverb ("nothing venture, nothing have," which is a Wessex rendering of "nothing ventured, nothing gained"), and several contractions ("mis'ess, "'twas," "'Tis") to show the Wessex dialect at work. Meanwhile, the dialogue of characters using more standard English is quite direct and simple.

Characters who come from the small rural towns in Wessex tend to "speak" with stronger accents than educated or urban characters. Jude and Sue come from Marygreen, but their education has provided them with more exposure to culture—they have less Wessex in their accents. This makes their diction more akin to that of the very academic narrator and the schoolmaster Phillotson. In this way, Hardy's use of dialect also emphasizes the novel's depiction of class divides in 19th-century England. Speaking with a local accent in Britain has always been a working-class marker, as the upper classes mostly spoke with a geographically neutral inflection and sound.