Finished Jude the Obscure today. Read it over months, as I might have in a periodical (how I assume it was originally published); if anything, this made it more harrowing and darkly illuminating.
The elegance and style of the sentences add a cool irony to the grim anti-romantic tenor of the whole thing. Of the many depth charges in the book, the assessment of the drive to academic study and achievement cut closest to the bone for me.
He’s also pretty hard on organized religion and the agonies of marriage. At some point, Jude says he was born 50 years too early, it seems to me even more than a century later, we’re still caught–or at least I’m still caught–in many of these constricting social garments.
More mundanely: the rhythm of the writing leaves me in awe. An example:
It was indeed open country, wide and high. They talked and bounded on, Jude cutting from a little covert a long walking-stick for Sue as tall as herself, with a great crook, which made her look like a shepherdess. About half-way on their journey they crossed a main road running due east and west—the old road from London to Land’s End. They paused, and looked up and down it for a moment, and remarked upon the desolation which had come over this once lively thoroughfare, while the wind dipped to earth and scooped straws and hay-stems from the ground.
They crossed the road and passed on, but during the next half-mile Sue seemed to grow tired, and Jude began to be distressed for her. They had walked a good distance altogether, and if they could not reach the other station it would be rather awkward. For a long time there was no cottage visible on the wide expanse of down and turnip-land; but presently they came to a sheepfold, and next to the shepherd, pitching hurdles. He told them that the only house near was his mother’s and his, pointing to a little dip ahead from which a faint blue smoke arose, and recommended them to go on and rest there.
This they did, and entered the house, admitted by an old woman without a single tooth, to whom they were as civil as strangers can be when their only chance of rest and shelter lies in the favour of the householder.
“A nice little cottage,” said Jude.
“Oh, I don’t know about the niceness….”
More later about how the book affected me if I can manage it. If had nothing else, making a commonplace life as worthy of a grand tragedy as a great figure would make it a remarkable book.