Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Jude the Obscure

Part of Hatchet Week – Video battle

Why I Hate Jude the Obscure

ROSY: Apparently panned when first published – and for once the stuffy old critics were right.

Argh! The clunking imagery, the clod-hopping simplistic division between Bad Woman Arabella (you know – uneducated, a peasant, practical, willing to get her hands dirty and kill the blooming pig that they’ve spent months raising when they don’t have anything to eat, has BREASTS (as is continually pointed out with some disgust just in case you miss the whole unsubtle-as-a-large-phallic-shaped-brick dichotomy between body/mind whacking you over the head like the pig’s bladder thrown at Jude’s head by the overly-bodily Arabella) and Pure Higher-things Sue, who is sold to us as a picture of emancipation but is just as dependent on men and spends her time being just as manipulative, driving them mad with desire and being fetishised for being all small and bird-like and bringing out Jude’s protective manly instincts…blah blah (I mean what kind of Feminist icon is that?) whilst purely spurning the sexual act.

Poor Arabella! Arabella is the cool independent one. Doing her best in a tough world – looking out for herself and in touch with her body. Ok, granted, she’s a bit manipulative….but Hardy does not paint her with any understanding, but just looks down on her with repulsion. The book’s supposed to be about society and the way it stitches people up. But basically it all gets blamed on the woman. As usual. Bit of an easy target, eh?

You need a strong stomach for when the children arrive, headed up by the farcically-named Little Father Time – Little Father Time I ask you! Is that not indication enough of the book’s particular brand of sentimental mawkishness? This book has NO HUMOUR AT ALL. From the very beginning it indulges in the most ridiculous Doom-laden plot, pointing inexorably to the grave…culminating in the inevitable doomy climax which must be the most mawkish, sentimental, unbelievable and RIDICULOUS denouement I’ve ever read. It made me hoot with laughter. I suspect this is not the reaction Hardy intended. They say comedy is just tragedy speeded up: I think they should do Jude in the style of Benny Hill, preferably on helium, cheer it up a bit. Talking of which I sound like I’m on helium in this vid.

Lisa’s done something clever and arty: I just did some shouting. Ooo and can I just point out that the appalling face I’m making at the end…well, you try going for that long without running out of steam or taking a breath. Hmmm? Yeah? You think so, do you? Go on – feel the rage!

Lisa’s response to Rosy’s bashing of Jude the Obscure.

LISA: I happen to love Jude the Obscure. All of that melodrama and tragedy. All of that mad stuff about earthy sensual women and airy feminist sprites. And I’m fond of the idea that ‘a marriage should be dissolvable as soon as it becomes a cruelty to either party’ as Hardy puts it in his 1912 Preface to Jude. Of course Jude the Obscure was hugely controversial when it came out. Those depictions of sex, the portrait of a working-class man teaching himself Latin and trying to better himself, hoping to attend (Hardy’s fictional version of) Oxford University. The cheek of it. Dynamite. The middle classes must have hated it.

However, I am most awed by the pig-killing scene, which surely spawned ten thousand vegetarians. Hardy was sensible to the suffering of animals, and he confronts it head on in that horrible moment when Jude is forced to take a knife to the throat of an animal he has grown to regard almost as a pet.

P.S. If Rosy had to live with Arabella for one day, Rosy would tear out Arabella’s throat by teatime*.

Arabella is a manipulative liar and a royal pain in the arse. Cool independent women do not pretend to be knocked up just to get a bloke to marry them.

I wish the pig had got the knife and stuck Arabella. If only the pig had opposable thumbs instead of trotters.

Anyway, this writing business is all well and good but since video killed the radio star, here’s my video response…

*Rosy: No we would be best friends, rolling up our sleeves slaughtering swine together before a quick pint and a moan about how rubbish it is living with a fecking vegan πŸ˜‰

Contains strobe lighting and ad hominem attacks

For more great Hardy rants see Lizzie taking apart Tess on Lizzie’s Literary Life.

37 comments on “Jude the Obscure

  1. Eve
    April 9, 2008

    Well, woweeeee ladies!!!! This is exceptional work. I love these videos πŸ™‚

    I’ve never read Jude and being allergic to Classics, I never will, but hey I love you two and what a show!

    Rosy, you rant with accomplishment, I get the impression this is something you do with regularity πŸ˜‰

    And Lisa, I think you have a career in cinematography just waiting in the wings.

    And Digger, ahhhh Digger – he’s just so right, I mean how can a gorgeous boy like that be wrong?

  2. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    Wooo-hooo! We’re bouncing about here, Eve. Waiting to fight all comers… Or at least, I am.

    What can you mean that I must rant with regularity?? LOL!

    I need a dose of valium now I think.

  3. Luisa
    April 9, 2008

    Fantastic post – I love the videos!

  4. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    Can I say I think it’s a low blow of Lisa’s to bring her dog into it. Pah!

  5. sequinonsea
    April 9, 2008

    Just got in from walking the aforementioned dog, and he seemed particularly prancy and proud of himself today πŸ˜‰

    I’d just like to say well done to Rosy for her brilliant and spirited rant! We didn’t share them with each other until last night (being the lazy so and so I am, I didn’t do my video until yesterday. Although editing it was a piece of cake due to my geeky husband’s excellent video software.)

    It’s mega difficult to do one long take as Rosy did, so hats off to her. My argument basically consists of deferring to my dog’s opinion, whilst I direct him with a biscuit. Hehe. Seriously though it’s tricky to rant in *favour* of something, I found. Hadn’t really considered that.

    In the interests of full disclosure I should admit that when I first read Jude, aged 12 or 13, for quite a while I thought Little Father Time was someone’s grandpa who’d just appeared from nowhere πŸ™‚ I have to agree with Rosy about that name. “Princess Tiaamii” looks good next to that.

  6. sequinonsea
    April 9, 2008

    Ooh crossed with Rosy! LOL!! Who can disagree with such a charming mutt? And you know, I do like to lower the tone wherever possible, hence the poo accusation πŸ™‚

  7. marygm
    April 9, 2008

    Great piece, wimmin!
    But I thought Lisa scored a good point with this: “Cool independent women do not pretend to be knocked up just to get a bloke to marry them.” Are you letting that go without a word, Rosy?

  8. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    Well, naturally I don’t approve of women doing the aforementioned manipulative getting up-knocked. But my point is that a) There is nothing in Hardy’s writing to either give a sense of why Arabella feels the need to do this psychologically or b) more contextualising of her behaviour or exploration of the lack of opportunities that might have meant she needed to look about for a man to offer her some…

    He seems to have no sympathy, empathy or understanding for the character at all and all I get is an impression of prurient dislike of her for her upfrontness and practical attitude.

    But, more than that, what angers me is the way that it is the usual old cliche of man unable to resist his sexual urges and woman as manipulative sexual predator and we are supposed to feel sorry for the bloke. What makes me lose all sympathy with Jude is that he seems to feel more for a pig than he does for his own wife. He goes about with some saintly sense of duty but demonstrates nothing but revulsion for her.

    A bit like Kirsty’s earlier piece you could say that this is demonstrating a situation – a marriage that has gone wrong and the feelings of revulsion that stem from being so trapped.

    But what I am saying is that just exploring these issues does not a good book make. If he had explored them with three believable characters, a bit more complexity and subtlety then maybe. But I just think the book is terrible and the intention cannot save it.

    The woman are as clunky in their symbolism as all the rest of the text. He obviously meant to use them like that, but whilst he was about it, failed to really engage with them and it is very much from the male point of view and the male romanticising of women point of view. Which makes it extremely alienating to me.


  9. sequinonsea
    April 9, 2008

    See, grumpy.


    I feel WAY WAY more for the pig than I do for Arabella.

    In fact, faced with marrying one of them, it wouldn’t be Arabella I’d choose.

    But I do take Rosy’s point that the reason Arabella is so annoying is that Hardy has written her that way, or rather that Hardy has written Jude to see Arabella that way.

    If you find Jude likeable, I guess it’s easier to sympathise with him. I would hazard a guess that Rosy does not…

    I do think though that the issues of animal welfare were not much thought about then, so that Hardy’s pig-killing scene was quite shocking for the time, when a lot of people wouldn’t have much considered the suffering of a domestic animal.

    The point is, the pig was supposed to be slaughtered by Challow, the pig killer, who would presumably have made a half-decent job of it. Heavy snow stops him arriving and so Jude and Arabella kill the pig together in a messy, unprofessional way that results in the pig thrashing around a lot. Now if Jude had come to see aforementioned trougher as a pet, I can see how that would be upsetting. None of us want to slaughter animals we view as pets, after all. Even if they are pigs. George Clooney had a pet pot-bellied pig which slept in his bed for about twenty years. Possible he thought more of that pig than many a person.

    Anyhow, that pig-killing scene has stayed with me ever since I first read Jude. I could totally identify with Jude’s anxiety, distress and guilt.

  10. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    “I feel WAY WAY more for the pig than I do for Arabella.”

    I don’t think Hardy was outlining issues of animal welfare so much as demonstrating Arabella’s lack of finer feeling.

    After all Jude didn’t seem to mind her chopping up pigs when he first met her (it was her profession and background indeed) when those freckled breasts were winking at him…;)

    They were very poor is the point and Arabella was mucking in to make them some sort of living. But there is nothing to show the other side of the argument to make it more interesting – it is all crass symbolism all the way through.

  11. marygm
    April 9, 2008

    “the usual old cliche of man unable to resist his sexual urges and woman as manipulative sexual predator and we are supposed to feel sorry for the bloke”

    Yes, excellent come-back there, Rosy. Have to agree with that.

    But: “George Clooney had a pet pot-bellied pig which slept in his bed for about twenty years.” – I’d like to add, if you’re reading this, George, ‘Oink, oink.’

  12. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    Now I’ve quenched my ire a bit, though. I would be very interested to know how people think this one compares to other Hardy works – as I was never drawn to read another one.

  13. Kirsty
    April 9, 2008

    I bloody love these videos. Almost as much as I bloody hate Hardy ever since I had to read The Mayor of Casterbridge at school. I’m definitely on Rosy’s side when it comes to Jude, which I was never able to finish.

    My two kittens though were mesmerised by Lisa’s video. Maybe it was Digger, maybe it was MC Hammer, who knows. Maybe they are Hardy fans! Aaaaaaaaaaaargh!

  14. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    Yay Comrade Kirsty! A girl after my own heart.

    As for your kittens – they’ve obviously just fallen for that animal wellshit bullshit. Whereas I’m sure Hardy would have happily sacrificed them to make some awful piece of mawkish symbolism given half the chance.

    (I have to admit the MC Hammer was quite inspired though.)

    wellshit bullshit? I think I’ll leave it in!

  15. Kirsty
    April 9, 2008

    My kittens are admittedly quite insane. They like to sleep on the speakers when I listen to Black Sabbath. So a fascination with either MC Hammer or Jude the Obscure wouldn’t be all *that* out of character I suppose.

    Little do they know, Hardy would have drowned them just to make yet another point about futility.

  16. sequinonsea
    April 9, 2008

    “they’ve obviously just fallen for that animal wellshit bullshit.”

    Please explain! Calling my argument bullshit, are we? Right, we’ll just have to see what Digger has to say about that, shall we? Scared? You should be…


    P.S I found this on Wikipedia and thought Rosy might like it:

    Jude the Obscure, published in 1895, met with even stronger negative outcries from the Victorian public for its frank treatment of sex, and was often referred to as “Jude the Obscene”. Heavily criticized for its apparent attack on the institution of marriage, the book caused further strain on Hardy’s already difficult marriage because Emma Hardy was concerned that Jude the Obscure would be read as being autobiographical. Some booksellers sold the novel in brown paper bags, and the Bishop of Wakefield is reputed to have burnt a copy.

    A few of Hardy’s poems, such as The Blinded Bird (a melancholy polemic against the sport of vinkenzetting), display his love of the natural world and his firm stance against animal cruelty, exhibited in his antivivisectionist views and his membership in the RSPCA

    Tempted to check out the poetry, Rosy? πŸ˜‰

  17. sequinonsea
    April 9, 2008

    Kirsty, I love the sound of those Black Sabbath-appreciating kittens πŸ™‚

    Perhaps they did indeed like the Jude extracts. And who can blame them?!

    Glad you liked the vids. Nice to try something different (and silly, in my case!)

  18. Kirsty
    April 9, 2008

    Ah, the old “mark as obscenity anything mentioning sex” tactic. The Kreutzer Sonata used to be banned, but honestly, if there is a more anti-sex book out there I’m yet to find it (I’m not about to look though).

  19. Mhairi
    April 9, 2008

    Oh boy.

  20. Anne Brooke
    April 9, 2008

    I’m with Lisa on this one!! I wouldn’t have become the woman I am today without that gorgeously murdered literary pig. It’s the source of inspiration for all my novels, you know!



  21. Mhairi
    April 9, 2008

    I have to spice up my hatchet job on the romantic icon with something. I don’t know what, just … something …

    That was inspired.

    You’re a couple of complete dingbats.

  22. Eve
    April 9, 2008

    I have to say though my most favourite poem in the whole world was written by Hardy – The Convergence of the Twain (Lines on the loss of the “Titanic”) which is here…

    I just love the idea that while man was building this ultimate power statement nature was planning on how to bring him back down to size. Fab! πŸ™‚

  23. rosyb
    April 9, 2008

    “Ah, the old β€œmark as obscenity anything mentioning sex” tactic. The Kreutzer Sonata used to be banned, but honestly, if there is a more anti-sex book out there I’m yet to find it (I’m not about to look though).”

    Kirsty, I love you. I’ll leave there. πŸ˜‰

    M – you always have me honking with laughter like an injured swan! Can’t wait to see you chop “Mr Romantic Hero” down to size. From the knees.

  24. sequinonsea
    April 9, 2008

    Ooh Eve- I’ll check it out! And thanks for your earlier comment too!

    Anne, at last! Someone who likes Hardy! Doomy melodramatic tragedy? Excellent πŸ™‚

    Yes, Mhairi, we are in fact loopy as hula hoops.

    Looking forward to your hatchet!

  25. lizzysiddal
    April 10, 2008

    Who needs mislit when there’s Hardy? I find Jude therapeutic! His experiences make reality look good no matter how tough it gets.

    Admittedly I read (and loved) Jude a long time ago – I do wonder how I would react now …. I’m currently reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles for my book group. Unless something changes in the last 100 pages, I suspect there’s another hatchet job due on Lizzy’s Literary Life.

  26. sequinonsea
    April 10, 2008

    “His experiences make reality look good no matter how tough it gets”

    Yes, Hardy does give his characters rather a rough time.
    *Understatement alert*

    I read pretty much all of Thomas Hardy’s novels (the ones that were in the library anyway) when I was quite young and remember being enthralled by ToftheD. Cried and cried at the ending.

    Will look out for your hatchet!

  27. Anne Brooke
    April 10, 2008

    Yes, Hardy rocks – the ultimate in dark dramatic gloom. What could be nicer? And have you read his marvellous poetry – that’s utterly utterly wonderful. The poems to his dead wife still make me cry – so strong and so bleak.


  28. Jackie
    April 10, 2008

    I read Jude years ago and recall skipping chunks of it, obviously the doomed pig part. After this review, I am curious to read it again to see just how annoying the characters are.
    With dial-up, unfortunately I can’t watch the videos, so am not getting the full effect of the silliness, but what I could read was very funny, yet pointed. Each side presented their arguments well. I’ll come back when I get DSL later this year and see the famously cute Digger in action.

  29. Ariadne
    April 10, 2008

    LOL! I haven’t read Jude the Obscure, or much Hardy at all really, but hey! Lisa has a cute dog! I vote Lisa! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

  30. Lisa
    April 10, 2008

    Woo!! Yeah, he’s a good boy. Easily bribed πŸ™‚

    P.S Jackie, sorry you couldn’t see our expert efforts πŸ˜‰ Thanks for commenting though.

  31. rosyb
    April 10, 2008

    Ariadne – I’m not talking to you anymore. 😦

  32. Mhairi
    April 11, 2008

    You should have done it with the ladybird on your nose, Rosy. That would’ve swung it.

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  34. Lonely
    May 12, 2008

    Hello guys. I just wanted to thank you for your great ideas and funny analyses. I am a BA student and I am supposed to analyse the killing of the pig. I seemed boring at firs sight, but after seing what you’ve written, things are getting more interesting. By the way, did you watch the adaptation by M. Winterbotom? … , it is boring!!!

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  37. Hardy Lover
    October 5, 2010

    I think you all should read something more designed for your IQ level.

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