03 August 2009

Jude The Obscure- A Book Opinion

One of the unforseen side effects, perhaps, of a television-less upbringing is a love for reading. Researchers never saw that one coming! When you don't have a television and you are 11 years old and it's a Saturday, and you've already sharpened every pencil in the house (including mechanical, manical ones, and even a few pens by accident), and you have fed the fish several times out of boredom- almost to the point of their death- then there's not much else to do but pull out a great book and start bringing the characters to life. Now that I am older, and I understand that pens don't need to be sharpened and that fish can't remember when to stop eating because their memory is shorter than a reality show romance, I still have the ablility to enjoy reading. Each Summer I take the sacred opportunity as a literate American to delve into great books- last year it was short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald and this year, so far, it has been Jude the Obscure by 'the greatest tragic writer among English novelists'- Thomas Hardy*. Out of the one novel I have read by one tragic English novelist, I would whole-heartedly agree with Miss Woolf.
My Mother recommended this 1895 novel to me in June as I was embarking for Europe. I began on my plane ride over there, but her ultimate plan of raising me without a television backfired because there was a movie showing that I chose to watch instead of reading (seeing as I have 23 years of rotting to catch up with). Anywho, I dragged this novel around three nations, hardly dipping into its majesty until I came full circle back home. I decided to really give this book a chance since the author and my brother share a first given name. I was not disappointed.
The novel was written with such poise that it was an enlightening delight to open each day. The protagonist is an impecunious and acquisitive man seeking to accomplish ecclesiastical excellence early in his years. But, his heart unintentionally follows a different stroke and he falls in love with a barmaiden. They two of them enter a shallow, official marriage and he is forced to work as a stonemason to suppory their prematurely wilting arrangement. Eventually they agree to separate and Jude continues on in his pursuit of the Priesthood until he meets another lady, this one a consanguineous cousin called Carla. (No, her name was Sue. But Sue doesn't start with a C, so I went with Carla.) I'll admit, I kind of fell in love with Sue at first becuase of Hardy's romantic description of her. She must have been beautiful... The novel appears to progress nicely from there, except that Sue is betrothed to Jude's childhood idol (David Beckham), further throwing confusion into the mele. Tragedies unfold, lives twist like ivy on a rose, and life comes back to where it started. I won't spoil the ending, but I will give you further reasons to read this book:
  1. It has endnotes- a guarantee that you are smart if you are reading it. Footnotes would be one thing, but endnotes are the ultimate sign of intellegentsia. I actually read them, and they taught me about many desultory items that you too could learn if you read them. I would recommed reading the endnotes in the context of the novel, however. They are a little dry when naked.

  2. Several times as I was reading I would stop in severe amazement at a sentence and think to myself, 'That alone could be the cornerstone of this novel.' Hardy treated every line like it was a precious mineral behind protective glass. His superhuman descriptions used a vernacular that would impress even Samuel Johnson.

  3. The cover of my paperback edition has a portrait by John Singer Sargent, equating two respective masters of artistry. That's a good reason to read it if I ever heard one.

  4. As a late nineteenth century English novel, it really helped me escape today's America and teleport to an alternate lifestyle. I loved the archaic spelling and the traditional customs of Jude and his lovers. This novel portrays Sue as a feminist, and it challenges the formal thinking of its day. I thought it was very tastefully done and applicable to our crazy world today.

The world today is filled to the brim- yea, overflowing- with great literature. It's hard to know what is the best option to persue, and frankly it differs person by person. I'm not sure if there is a best book list for any one person. But, Jude the Obscure has an official David's Holla Atchya! recommendation, and if you choose (or chose) to read it I would love to discuss it with you. Let me know what you liked or didn't like about it.

* Virginia Woolf quote


Jessica Sorenson said...

I'm still amazed by your televisionless upbringing, but I'm glad it made you appreciate reading. Thanks for the review/recommendation--I'm always up for reading a new book!

Lynn said...

This was really well written! I think I might actually pick up this book if I can. The only things I'v read this summer are graphic novels and Harry Potter. :/ I am quite the intellectual.