Almost two decades ago one of Martha Grimes' mystery novels, The Lamorna Wink, prompted me to question the melodramatic nature of the tragedy in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. As one of the characters points out, “the [novel’s] whole tragedy could have been averted if the note to her boyfriend that she's shoved under the door hadn't gone under the rug. He never saw it" (68). This kind of plot device, which appears in both melodrama and bedroom-farce, raises questions about the relation of such devices to tragedy or literature of high seriousness.

Andrzej Dinjieko’s essay on Jude the Obscure raises similar questions about the way Hardy stacked the deck against his protagonist. First of all, hasn’t Hardy gone so far out of the way to prevent Jude from fulfilling his dream of attending university as to be somewhat unrealistic? Jude, we recall, who teaches himself Latin and Greek, sets his heart upon gaining entrance into Oxford so he can become an Anglican minister, but Hardy presents this as an impossible dream. Was it? Was it in fact so difficult for a poor person with competence in these languages to attend Oxbridge? History tells of many poor scholarship students whose talents and dedication were recognized by helpful patrons and who therefore achieved exactly what Jude wants to do.

Jude, moreover, by this point in the nineteenth century has numerous possibilities other than Oxford. He could, for example, have attended one of the Scottish universities, such as Edinburgh, Glasgow, or St. Andrews, which throughout the nineteenth century were far superior academically to Oxford and Cambridge. Penniless students like Thomas Carlyle received their education at such universities and went on to great fame. Then, by this point in the Victoria’s reign, he could also have attended the University of London. He could have gone to a teacher’s college.

The obvious explanation, of course, is that Hardy wanted to narrate a tragic life, and he makes Jude’s own ignorance and narrow knowledge of available education as the reason he sets his mind only on Oxbridge. Still, if Jude had a knowledge of Latin and Greek, I would think he’d have done much better on the Oxford exams than many an applicant.

References

Martha Grimes. The Lamorna Wink. New York: New American Library/Onyx, 2000.


Last modified April 11, 2019