Months pass and Jude’s illness decreases but then returns. He muses on his old dream of Christminster, and says that he hears the universities are growing more accepting of lower-class students now. Arabella says she will allow Sue to come see him, but Jude says he doesn’t want to see Sue again.
Jude has some closure with Sue and is ready to die, but his suffering is drawn out by this reprieve in his illness. Hardy sees the beginnings of educational reform, but it clearly isn’t enough yet.
One day the Widow Edlin visits Jude, and she tells him that Sue and Phillotson have consummated their marriage, though Sue only made herself do it as a punishment. Jude laments how far Sue has fallen, and he praises her former genius. He says that their “ideas were fifty years too soon,” and that because society was not ready for such truth and love as theirs it ruined them.
Hardy is lamenting his own situation through Jude – he feels that he is progressive and prophetic, but the world is not ready for his ideas yet and so critics attack him. Hardy is mostly right about all of this, which only heightens the tragedy of his, Jude’s, and Sue’s plight.
Physician Vilbert arrives and Arabella flirts with him downstairs, offering him some wine and pretending to slip him the love potion he sold her long ago. Vilbert kisses Arabella and she coyly sends him away, thinking that “weak women must provide for a rainy day,” and she needs a new husband if Jude dies.
The quack physician Vilbert finally returns to take advantage of a helpless Jude again, just as he did when Jude was a naïve child. Arabella continues to reach new levels of callousness.