Sue Bridehead is a surprisingly modern and complex heroine for her time, and through her character Hardy brings up many gender-related issues. Sue is unique in Victorian society in that she lives with men without marrying (or even sleeping with) them, as with her undergraduate student friend. Sue is highly intelligent and very well-read, and she rejects the traditional Christianity of her society. She also works alongside both Phillotson and Jude, first marrying Phillotson partly to further her own teaching position (instead of acting as the traditional housewife).
Despite her intelligence and independence, Sue fails at her endeavors throughout the book, and through her sufferings Hardy critiques the society that punishes his heroine. Sue, like other women, is expected to be the “property” of the man she marries, so Sue is bound to Phillotson for life even after their separation. Sue is never allowed to advance in her work (despite her intelligence) because of her marital status. As an unmarried, disgraced woman she has no power in society. While Hardy was ahead of his time in creating such a strong female character, he still clings to many gender stereotypes about women: Sue is emotionally fragile and often hysterical, changing her mind at the slightest whim and breaking down in the face of tragedy. As an opposite to Sue, Arabella is greedy, sensual, and vain – the stereotype of everything Victorian society found bad and sinful in women. Though Arabella is usually the antagonist, she is also the character who ends up the most fortunate in the plot, showing just how unprepared society was for a character like Sue.
Women in Society ThemeTracker
Women in Society Quotes in Jude the Obscure
I have been looking at the marriage service in the Prayer-book, and it seems to me very humiliating that a giver-away should be required at all. According to the ceremony as there printed, my bridegroom chooses me of his own will and pleasure; but I don’t choose him. Somebody gives me to him, like a she-ass or she-goat, or any other domestic animal. Bless your exalted views of woman, O Churchman!
Jude, before I married him I had never thought out fully what marriage meant, even though I knew… I am certain one ought to be allowed to undo what one has done so ignorantly. I daresay it happens to lots of women; only they submit, and I kick… When people of a later age look back upon the barbarous customs and superstitions of the times that we have the unhappiness to live in, what will they say!
“She’d have come round in time. We all do! Custom does it! it’s all the same in the end! However, I think she’s quite fond of her man still – whatever he med be of her. You were too quick about her. I shouldn’t have let her go! I should have kept her chained on – her spirit for kicking would have been broke soon enough! There’s nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf task-master for taming us women. Besides, you’ve got the laws on your side. Moses knew… ‘Then shall the man be guiltless; but the woman shall bear her iniquity.’ Damn rough on us women; but we must grin and put up wi’ it – Haw haw! – Well; she’s got her deserts now.”
“Yes,” said Phillotson, with biting sadness. “Cruelty is the law pervading all nature and society; and we can’t get out of it if we would!”
“I see marriage differently now!... My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella’s child killing mine was a judgment; the right slaying the wrong. What, what shall I do! I am such a vile creature – too worthless to mix with ordinary human beings.”
…He returned vehemently… “You make me hate Christianity, or mysticism, or Sacerdotalism, or whatever it may be called, if it’s that which has caused this deterioration in you. That a woman-poet, a woman-seer, a woman whose soul shone like a diamond – whom all the wise of the world would have been proud of, if they could have known you – should degrade herself like this! I am glad I had nothing to do with Divinity – damn glad – if it’s going to ruin you in this way!”