One night Phillotson stays up late and accidentally returns to the room he shared with Sue out of habit. Sue is so distraught by his sudden appearance that she jumps out the window. She isn’t badly hurt. She pretends that she was asleep when she did it, but Phillotson feels “wretched” about the situation.
Sue has such a natural aversion to Phillotson, especially sexually, that she leaps out the window as a first reaction to his sudden entrance. She still likes him as a person and a friend, but she can’t help hating him as a husband.
One day Phillotson goes to see his friend Gillingham, who is a teacher in a nearby town. Phillotson explains his marital troubles and the fact that his wife is repulsed by him. He describes Jude, saying that Jude and Sue “seem to be one person split in two.” Phillotson says that Sue’s intellect is far superior to his own, so he cannot answer her arguments. He is almost ready to let Sue leave him for Jude.
Phillotson becomes a very sympathetic character now, as he is trapped in a tragic situation through little fault of his own, just like Jude and Sue. Phillotson gives voice to Hardy’s ideas about Jude and Sue as natural “twins” who are meant to be together.
Gillingham is shocked that he would even consider this option, but Phillotson feels that it might be the most moral thing to do, though it goes against law and tradition. Phillotson again describes Jude and Sue’s relationship, comparing them to characters in a poem by Shelley (lovers who are also siblings), and he admits that he finds himself taking their side.
Under the law Phillotson has the right to confine Sue to his room and even make her have sex with him, but he is a moral man and recognizes (like Hardy hopes his readers will) just how terrible and unethical such actions would be.
Gillingham argues that such action threatens the social unit of the family, but Phillotson says he is just trying to do what he personally feels is right. As Phillotson leaves, Gillingham advises him to hold on to Sue no matter what, but Phillotson is not convinced.
Gillingham acts as the voice of Hardy’s critics, and indeed Jude the Obscure was viciously attacked as trying to undermine the sanctity of marriage and the family.
The next morning Phillotson tells Sue that she is free to leave and do as she pleases. She is very grateful and proposes that they still be friends, but Phillotson asks that she truly separate herself from him and keep all her actions to herself. She mentions Jude’s name and Phillotson says he doesn’t want to know anything more about Jude. Sue feels a real compassion and gratitude towards Phillotson for his actions, but she still cannot bring herself to love him.
Hardy creates a situation where the morally right thing to do is to free a woman from a confining marriage, but his critics disagreed with this view and held the strict rules of tradition over personal morality. Hardy was so overwhelmingly criticized for the content and ideas in his novel that he gave up writing fiction after Jude the Obscure.
Phillotson sends Sue off to the train station and pretends to kiss her as they part. Later that day Gillingham comes to visit Phillotson, and Phillotson admits that he has let Sue leave him for Jude. Phillotson says that he thought he was an “old-fashioned man” regarding marriage, but in such a situation he simply acted as he saw fit.
Phillotson is an elderly, conservative man, but in following his moral compass he has suddenly found himself as revolutionary and unorthodox as the agnostic Sue. Hardy uses such an extreme situation to show just how corrupted social rules can become when left unchecked by personal morality.