Jude The Obscure – Thomas Hardy.
Stern Warning: Do not read this book at any cost. Just don’t go by the legendary Author’s name for this one and you will save yourself from the worst (or shall I say the best) misery, pain, suffering, gloom, depression, feeling of helplessness, not worthy of a life and a plethora of other sadistic feelings that I am sure you would have not felt yet by reading anyone else’s best and last work to say the least. Go no further, don’t even read the review just close the window, sit back, relax, close your eyes or go back to whatever you were doing and enjoy your life.
I picked up my first Thomas Hardy book from Blossoms (Bangalore) last month, thinking that I will read it and impress my fellow readers with a neat review on it showcasing that I have finally started reading the terrific books from the Masters of Literature. But that was never to be as a friend (another enemy friend) forced this book down my throat with no warning and just said that I must read this and feel the emptiness that he felt. I wish I had a tenth of his vocabulary the way he had put it in his review that I didn’t read full as the very start told me somehow that I was about to read this book. He was kind enough to mail me the book as well. This is one of the longest that I have ever taken to finish a book 14 days. The last longest record a book ever hold for me was “The Fountainhead” guess was close to ten days at the most. Unfortunately this one is the last ever written by Hardy and became one which stirred some kind of storm in the literary circle even back then (some 100+ years ago). Of-course he couldn’t have found a better subject as the theme of his story other than “Marriage” that too between two cousins (read same blood), Awesome. What happens next is the darkest and saddest story ever as I said earlier. Jude is one guy that again unfortunately I just couldn’t not fall in love with, so much that there were so many times I actually wanted to enter the story and kill him with my own bare hands putting an end to his misery saying “Dude, die please, this world is not for people like you, this world seriously doesn’t deserve a noble soul like yours”.
Right from his childhood with no parents, no relatives to take care but just an aunt who cared nothing about him but to put him to some-kind of her own work to make some use of his time. He only wanted to read and he does reads a lot of books (this was the happiest part of the story). The only respite in his troubled life was his teacher (Phillotson), who does gives him books to read and some lessons but that too doesn’t last long as the teacher moves out to a distant town in search of a better job himself. His next best friend is the visiting physician (Vilbert) who gets him some books that he gorges on and his long lost teacher too sends him some as promised. How the role of teacher and physician changes in due course of life is such irony and unbelievable that I have no words to explain. His only dream is to move himself to a nearby town to get into a University, study and become a somebody other than what he is (a Stonemason). What he does next, how he ends up in the town full of Universities, his eyes shine to see the buildings which call him but the humans inside discard him. Wow!! What beautifully Hardy has captured it all with those amazing words and every sentence is like a gem in itself. That’s exactly why it took me so much time to read it rather I will say cherish it the way it was supposed to be. So many times I had to go back n forth to read and re read the whole thing again as it was too amazing to be just read and move on to the next para or page. If you have read any of his earlier works, I am sure you will agree with me as I am assuming he has to be that good in all his stories (dunno if I am going to read anymore of him).
In between how he gets entangled in a rut called life and marriage with his first wife Arabella (I will run out of adjectives) a character that vicious I have never come across in books in last two decades. What happens to their marriage, how he falls out of it and in love with his own long lost cousin is such a beautiful episode of this story that you’ve got to read the book for (promise me you wont read this book though). But again as this is the story of our man called “Jude (Fawley) The Obscure” as the name suggests, how could he be happy? so tragedy strikes and what happens next just took out the floor below my feet and I had a free fall straight to hell. The big heart Jude, lets his first wife go off her free will when she relocates to Australia in search of a better life, gets married again, settles down, but comes back to trouble him as he falls for his own cousin (Sue), marriage or no marriage they were married to each other (by heart and feelings and love and what not). I believe Jude’s only crime is that he is a simple good man with a big heart and is poor. It is so unfortunate and heartening to see how Author plays around with his characters is something that leaves us readers speechless. I really wondered throughout, what must have been going inside Hardy’s mind and heart that he came out with this story and developed and ended it this way. There are some reliefs too like Prof. Phillotson who ends up marrying Sue (Jude’s cousin and second wife) even after she leaves him in the first place for Jude. I am telling you, it is a very straight forward story yet pretty complicated too.
I know I am not able to do justice to neither the subject nor the book so I will stop here. Coming back to Thomas Hardy, I had this feeling that can it be possible that there is a connection between Jude and Mr. Pip or our own Mr. Devdas from back home (India)? As they are all the stories almost from the same era, is it possible that either of the three Author’s have read each others works and have carved out their own characters which are all full of pain, gloom, depression but yet they are with hearts of gold? Great Expectations in 1861, Jude The Obscure in 1895 and Devdas in 1917. Could they be inspiration to each other? I just couldn’t help but think that ways. Also, the way Hardy has spoken about the Institute of Marriage is not only controversial, convincing, ironical and kind of opened a Pandora’s box. The debate is inevitable as its all covered in Introduction and after the story finishes in the end too in form of his books reviews, opinions, questions which left unanswered and all.
Although I loved Jude from the bottom of my heart, he had my full sympathy, empathy and what not, I so much wished, prayed and imagined that his life will take a good turn somewhere, someone will come and love him the way I wanted him to get loved…. What a man. Hats off to you Mr. Hardy. You’ve made a fan for life.
PS: And there is a fantastic movie made on this book. That I am going to see this weekend. Beware: If you plan straight to jump to the movie – its gory.