Back in Shaston, Phillotson is the subject of much gossip from the townspeople. Soon the chairman of his school summons him to ask about his marriage. Phillotson admits to letting Sue leave with her lover, as he was “not her gaoler.” Afterward Phillotson is asked to resign for condoning adultery. He refuses to resign, as that would be an acknowledgment of guilt and he still believes he has acted rightly.
Phillotson becomes another victim of society’s unfairness. Phillotson’s companions (like Hardy’s critics) are unwilling to examine how unethical it would have been to imprison Sue – they are only concerned with sticking to the status quo. Phillotson shows himself a man of stubborn morals.
Despite Gillingham’s advice Phillotson continues stubbornly forward, and he calls a public meeting to defend himself. All the “respectable inhabitants” of the town are against him, but he also has many surprising allies. The meeting soon devolves into a brawl, and Phillotson falls ill afterward.
There is no justice for Hardy’s characters, and he plays up their misfortunes to show how corrupt society can be. Phillotson is a totally sympathetic character, but all his neighbors turn against him.
Gillingham convinces Phillotson to write to Sue about his illness, and a few days later she visits him. Their reunion is painful, and Phillotson asks Sue once more to stay with him, saying that he will forgive everything if she does. Sue again refuses, and she tells Phillotson that Jude is seeking a divorce from his first wife. They part ways and Phillotson tortures himself imagining Sue returning to Jude’s embrace.
Sue cannot help being honest and continuing to break Phillotson’s heart. Phillotson has been publicly condemned and scorned for letting Sue leave him, and he gets little relief in his private life. Even Gillingham, seemingly his closest friend, remains disapproving.
Afterwards Gillingham visits Phillotson, and Phillotson tells him that he has decided to formally divorce Sue. He recognizes that he probably can’t teach anymore because of his disgrace, but he might as well endure the rest of his life alone and truly free Sue to marry Jude. Gillingham disagrees with Phillotson’s motives, but thinks it is a good plan.
Phillotson’s whole future is ruined because he made one compassionate choice that happened to go against the status quo. Again Hardy creates a situation where he shows just how flawed Victorian society can be.