In the small town of Marygreen, everyone is upset because the schoolmaster, Richard Phillotson, is leaving. He is moving to Christminster, which is a university town about twenty miles away. Phillotson has a piano that he is unsure of how to move or store. An eleven-year-old boy named Jude Fawley, who is helping Phillotson pack, suggests that his aunt could store the piano in her fuel-house.
These scenes are a sort of prequel in which Hardy lays the foundation for the rest of the novel. Marygreen is a small, pastoral town in Hardy’s fictional Wessex county, which is based on the county of Dorset. The college town of Christminster, immediately appears as an idealized destination.
Jude is sad that Phillotson is leaving, as he has been Jude’s best and closest teacher. Phillotson reveals his secret ambitions to Jude, saying that he wants to go to Christminster so he can try to get into a university there. Phillotson rides off on his cart and Jude is left feeling melancholy and melodramatic. The narrator describes Marygreen briefly – it is a small, old-fashioned town in North Wessex. Though it is old, its original church has been torn down and a new one of “modern Gothic design” has been built in its place.
Phillotson first acts as Jude’s idol and his precursor in the dream of attending the university. Hardy hasn’t yet revealed how impossible it is for working class people of places like Marygreen to ever be accepted in Christminster. Hardy throws in a critique of modernity for modernity’s sake – he is often calling for social reform, but regarding architecture Hardy is old-fashioned.