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n the Preface to the first edition of Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy provided information about its conception and genesis. Outlining the scheme of his last and bleakest novel from his earliest notes made in 1887, he also explained that the direct impulse to write this novel was 'the death of a woman’ by whom Hardy most likely meant his cousin, Tryphena Sparks, to whom he was deeply attached. She died in 1890 and left him in the deepest affliction. Notwithstanding this, Talia Schaffer suggests rather convincingly that Hardy was inspired to write Jude after reading The Wages of Sin (1890), a protofeminist novel written by Lucas Malet (real name: Mary St Leger Kingsley Harrison, 1852-1931 — the daughter of Charles Kingsley), with whom Hardy corresponded. 'The Wages of Sin shares the same plot, same character types, same scenes, and even some of the language with Jude' (217). However, it was not until August 1893 that Hardy began to write the full-length version of the novel.

In November 1894, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine began its serialisation in Europe and America under the title ‘The Simpletons’, and continued with 11 monthly installments, from January to November 1895, under the title ‘Heart Insurgent’ (Schwartz 794). The most controversial passages in the manuscript version were omitted or altered beyond recognition in its initial serial publication. The novel was published in a single volume by Osgood and McIlvaine in November 1895 (post-dated 1896) under the title Jude the Obscure. It was published as Vol. VIII of the Uniform Edition of Hardy’s Works, with a frontispiece etching of ‘Christminster’ (Oxford) by Henry Macbeth-Raeburn, and a map of Wessex. In 1903, a new edition of Jude was issued by Macmillan. That edition, which contained almost thirty instances of textual revision, was reprinted in 1906, 1908, and 1911. In 1912, Macmillan published their definitive ‘Wessex Edition’ of Hardy’s works, and in 1920, they republished a two-volume edition of Jude as Vols. V and VI of the 37-volume de luxe ‘Mellstock’ Edition. Hardy continued to make some minor emendations to his subsequent editions of Jude until his death in 1928. In 1927, Jude was published in the popular format of the Modern Library, and in 1932 Harper’s printed the novel in a college textbook edition.

The eponymous character, Jude, a rural stonemason with intellectual aspirations, was originally called by the author: Jack; his surname was at different stages: England, Head, Hopeson, Stancombe, and finally, Fawley. Hardy derived the surname of his hero from the name of the village of Great Fawley in Berkshire, where his maternal grandmother, Mary Head, had lived. Jude’s prototype may have been the biblical Job, who patiently overcame all afflictions received from God. The village was also an inspiration for Marygreen, a village in Hardy’s fictional Wessex, where the opening chapters of Jude are set. Drusilla Fawley, Jude’s great aunt, runs a bakery there and raises the orphaned Jude. It is also the place where Jude’s cousin, Sue Bridehead, spent her childhood.

Although he denied that Jude the Obscure was autobiographical, it should be emphasised that the novel contains many allusions to the lives of Thomas Hardy, his relations and acquaintances as well as references to contemporary intellectual figures. Hardy’s conception of Jude Fawley’s personality may have been inspired by his uncle John Antell, ‘a Puddleton shoemaker and a brilliant autodidact, who bitterly resented his exclusion from formal education (Harvey 39). The character of Sue, whose full name is Susanna Florence Mary Bridehead, was partly modelled on Hardy’s long-time friend and platonic love, Mrs Florence Henniker (Harvey 38). Sue’s full Christian name Susanna may refer to Susanna in the Book of Daniel, a righteous woman who was falsely accused of adultery. Her surname, Bridehead, by analogy to ‘maidenhead’ may suggest her vulnerability and sexual repugnance. It should be noted that Hardy had been interested in the psychology of a seemingly sexless female character a long time before writing Jude. In the novel Hardy coined ‘erotolepsy’ (92) to describe a passionate sensual desire. At the outset Hardy wanted to write a novel devoted only to the critique of the institution of marriage and Victorian double standard, but later he added the topics of elitist education, gender inequality and an indictment of Christianity.

Jude the Obscure was subject to extensive censorship on grounds of blasphemy and indecency when it was first published. The text of the first version published by Harper’s was heavily bowdlerised, and some of the incidents in the story varied significantly from the story in its final revised ‘Wessex Edition’ published by Macmillan in 1912. For example, Arabella does not seduce Jude. Sue and Jude do not become lovers nor have children. When Arabella returns from Australia, she does not spend a night with Jude in an inn. It was probably Hardy who consented to such omissions in the serialised edition in order not to offend the prudish readers of literary periodicals, but in the first book publication by Osgood and McIlvaine many, although not all, omissions were restored.

The Novel’s Initial Reception

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fter the publication in book form, Jude the Obscure aroused a more violent debate than did Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Hardy was attacked not only for his unsympathetic portrayal of the university system and the institution of marriage but also for his description of his protagonists’ sexual affairs. Above all contemporary readers were shocked by Hardy’s frank treatment of sexuality, particularly female sexuality. A number of reviewers charged Jude with immorality. The Pall Mall Gazette published a malicious review of the book under the title ‘Jude the Obscene’, describing it as ‘dirt, drivel and damnation’ (4). The headline in the World ran ‘Hardy the Degenerate’ (15). Jeannette L. Gilder’s review in the 8 December 1895 New York World asked, ‘What has gone wrong with the hand that wrote Far From the Madding Crowd? I am shocked, appalled by this story. Jude the Obscure is almost the worst book I have ever read. ... Aside from its immorality, there is its coarseness which is beyond belief.... When I finished the story I opened the window and let in the fresh air’ (Gerber, I, 67). The New York Bookman regarded Jude‘as one of the most objectionable books that we have ever read in any language whatsoever (Ledger 182). In January 1896, in Blackwood’s Magazine, Margaret Oliphant, who was profoundly shocked by Hardy’s last novel for attacking the institution of marriage, described it as ‘coarsely indecent’. Edmund Gosse, who was quite friendly with Hardy, wrote two reviews of Jude. The first, published in St. James’s Gazette, began: ‘It is a very gloomy, it is even a grimy, story that Mr. Hardy has at last presented to his admirers’ (Millgate 325). In the second published in Cosmopolis in January 1896, Gosse asked: ‘What has Providence done to Mr. Hardy that he should rise up in the arable land of Wessex and shake his fist at his Creator?’ (Gosse in Cox 280). Robert Yelverton Tyrrell, in the Fortnightly Review in June 1896, compared Jude to erotic and New Woman literature: “If we consider broadly and without prejudice the tone and scope of the book, we cannot but class it with the fiction of Sex and the New Woman, so rife of late. It differs in no wise from the ‘hill-top’ novels, save in the note of distinction and the power of touch which must discriminate Mr. Hardy at his worst from the Grant Allens and Iotas at their best” (Cunningham 178).In the same year, William Walsham How, the Bishop of Wakefield wrote a letter to the Yorkshire Post in order to safeguard his parishioners sense of morality against Hardy’s latest novel. He was so disgusted with the ‘insolence and indecency’ of the novel that he threw it into fire (Jędrzejewski 35). The Bishop also petitioned W.H. Smith’s Circulating Library to withdraw it from its collections. Hardy’s wife, Emma, who objected to her husband’s attack on the Church and on marriage (Tomalin 259), was unhappy that her husband had not let her read Jude before publication. She disapproved of the book and wished it had never been published.

Of course, many readers disagreed with Emma and the Bishop. However, the publishers, instead of withdrawing the novel, soon printed another edition, and within three months after the publication 20,000 copies were sold (Tomalin 260). Despite the harsh criticism of many reviewers, Jude also received positive reviews and private praise, particularly from major writers. In the October 1896 Savoy, Havelock Ellis favourably reviewed Jude calling it ‘the greatest novel written in England for many years’ (O’Malley 195). In Harper’s Weekly W.D. Howells wrote that the most upsetting incidents in the book ‘make us shiver with horror and grovel with shame, but we know that they are deeply founded in the condition, if not in the nature of humanity’ (Tomalin 259). H. G. Wells, in an unsigned note for the Saturday Review, also praised the book: ‘There is no other novelist alive with the breadth of sympathy, the knowledge, or the power for the creation of Jude. Had Mr Hardy never written another book, this would still place him at the head of English novelists’ (Dryden 2). Hardy received a letter or commendation from Chavelita Clairmonte (George Egerton), a New Woman writer.Charles Swinburne wrote in a laudatory letter to Hardy that there had been ‘no such tragedy in fiction’ since Balzac (Pinion 248). Jude represents a turning point in taste, a movement from the Victorian idea or even assumption that literature should be read by all to one it should aim at a more elite class of readers — those highly educated, sophisticated, and unlikely to be offended by exploring controversial themes.

The proceeds from the publication of Jude and his earlier novels allowed Hardy to live comfortably at Max Gate, his large mid-Victorian villa located on the outskirts of Dorchester. However, the harsh and malicious reviews of Jude the Obscure and his earlier novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles convinced Hardy to abandon fiction in 1896. Hardy concentrated on writing poetry for the rest of his life.

Related material

References and Further Reading

Cox, Reginald Gordon, ed. Thomas Hardy. The Critical Heritage. London and New York: Routledge, 1979.

Cunningham, A. R. ‘The “New Woman Fiction” of the 1890's’, Victorian Studies, 17(2) (December 1973) 177-86.

Davis, William A., Jr. ‘Reading Failure in(to) Jude the Obscure: Hardy’s Sue Bridehead and Lady Jeune’s New Woman Essays, 1885-1900’, Victorian Literature and Culture, 26(1) (1998) 53-70.

Dryden, Linda. Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells: The Fin-de-Siecle Literary Scene. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Ellis, Havelock. ‘Concerning Jude the Obscure’, The Savoy, 1896.

Gerber Helmut E. and W. Eugene Davis. Vol. I. Thomas Hardy. An Annotated Bibliography of Writing About Him, Vol. I. De Kalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 1973.

Gittings, Robert. Thomas Hardy. London: Penguin Books, 2001.

Gosse, Edmund. ‘Mr Hardy’s New Novel’, St. James’s Gazette (8 November 1895).

____. [Review of Jude the Obscure], Cosmopolis 1 (January 1896): 60-69; repr. Thomas Hardy: The Critical Heritage, ed. R. G. Cox. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970, 262-70.

Hardy, Florence Emily. The Early Life of Thomas Hardy, 1840-1891. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

‘Hardy the Degenerate’, World, 13 (November 1895).

Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. London: Penguin Books, 1994.

Harvey, Geoffrey. The Complete Critical Guide to Thomas Hardy. London: Routledge, 2003.

Ingham, Patricia. ‘The Evolution of Jude the Obscure’. Review of English Studies 27 (1976): 27-37.

Jędrzejewski, Jan. Thomas Hardy and the Church. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan Press, 1996.

‘Jude the Obscene’, Pall Mall Gazette LXI (12 November 1895).

Kramer Dale, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Hardy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Ledger, Sally. The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin de Siècle. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997.

Millgate, Michael. Thomas Hardy: His Career as a Novelist. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 1971.

Morgan, Rosemarie, ed. Student Companion to Thomas Hardy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.

Morgan, Rosemarie. Women and Sexuality in the Novels of Thomas Hardy. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Oliphant, Margaret. ‘The Anti-Marriage League’, Blackwood’s Magazine, 159 (January 1896): 135-49.

O’Malley, Patrick R. Catholicism, Sexual Deviance, and Victorian Gothic Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Page, Norman, ed. Oxford Reader’s Companion to Hardy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Paterson, John. ‘The Genesis of Jude the Obscure’, Studies in Philology 57 (1960) 87-98.

Pinion, F.B. Thomas Hardy: His Life and Friends. Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1994.

Schwartz, Barry N. ‘Jude the Obscure in the Age of Anxiety’ Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 10(4) Nineteenth Century (Autumn, 1970): 793-804.

Slack, Robert C. ‘The Text of Hardy’s Jude the Obscure. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 11 (1957): 261-75.

Schaffer, Talia. The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England. Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 2000.

Tomalin, Claire. Thomas Hardy; The Time-torn Man. London and New York: Penguin Books, 2007.

Weber, Carl J. Hardy of Wessex, His Life and Literary Career. New York: Columbia University Press.

Wells, Herbert George. The Saturday Review, 81 (8 February 1896).

Created 31 March 2019