Meanwhile Phillotson is at Marygreen ruminating on his encounter with Arabella. He reads about the deaths of Jude and Sue’s children in the newspaper. Later he meets Arabella again, as she has moved back to Alfredston. Arabella tells Phillotson that Sue has left Jude and become religious as a way of dealing with the tragedy. She says that Sue now considers herself belonging only to Phillotson. Arabella gives Phillotson Sue’s address and then leaves, practicing making dimples in her cheeks as she walks.
Phillotson is still a kind, sympathetic character, but he will continue to cause more accidental torment to Sue. Arabella acts as a true antagonist and hurries the innocent Phillotson along this path. Arabella returns to her old dimple-making practice, a sign of her artificiality and also a foreshadowing that she intends to seduce Jude again.
Phillotson writes to Sue and asks her to come to Marygreen. He also writes that he has suffered for his decision to divorce her, as their society does not allow one to act according to one’s own moral compass, but then he removes this paragraph.
Phillotson’s statement is a good thesis for Hardy’s social critique – the rigid laws concerning marriage (among other things) can often run contrary to personal morality and individual situations. Hardy in general advocates for flexibility over rigidity, for the complexity of life over the cruel simplicity of rules.
One day Sue comes to Jude’s lodgings and asks him to come out and meet her. They go to the cemetery together and Sue tells Jude that Phillotson has agreed to take her back and marry her again. Jude begs her to reconsider, again citing their own love, but finally he weeps that Sue’s “once keen vision was dimmed.” He calls her return to Phillotson a “fanatic prostitution.” Sue admits that she doesn’t love Phillotson, but she feels this is her duty.
Hardy again creates a situation where what is legally and religiously “right” is ethically very wrong. The church will see Sue’s remarriage of Phillotson as a correction of past errors, when in reality she is marrying him as a kind of self-punishment for disasters forced upon her by society.
They reach the graves of their children, and Sue says that they died to show her the error of her ways. She tells Jude that she will marry Phillotson at Marygreen, and asks him to send her her belongings. Then she bids Jude farewell, calling him her “fellow-sinner, and kindest friend,” and Jude calls her his “mistaken wife.”
Sue’s mental decline is evident not just in her new religious fanaticism but also in her paranoid self-centeredness, making even her childrens’ deaths about her. In their parting words the couple seems to acknowledge that they were meant for each other, but they could never be happy together in such a cruel, unjust world.