Jude the Obscure: Novel Summary: Part Fifth: At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere
Part Fifth: At Aldbrickham and Elsewhere
Part Fifth begins after a lapse of time to “a Sunday in the February of the year following.” Sue and Jude are still living at Aldbrickham, chastely, where they run a business cutting tombstones. Both divorces have moved slowly through the courts, a process Jude and Sue perceive as a “distant sound” or in “an occasional missive which they hardly understood.” They’ve furnished their home with their aunt’s belongings; “Sue kept house, and managed everything.” At breakfast, they read a letter that makes Sue’s divorce final; now both are free to marry. But now Sue has a new reason to postpone marriage to Jude: “I have an uncomfortable feeling that my freedom has been obtained under false pretenses” because the courts didn’t know her whole story. Jude says that that is the “advantage in being poor obscure people like us”: no one cares about their stories.
They take a celebratory walk, “arm in arm . . . like any other engaged couple.” After a decent interval, Jude says, they can marry. “‘Yes, I suppose we can,’ said Sue, without enthusiasm. She worries that a “contract” will kill their love, as it did their parents’. She would rather go on “living always as lovers [as people dating chastely] . . . and only meeting by day,” and she claims that this is the arrangement women prefer. Perhaps, she muses, marriage contracts should forbid spouses to love each other. Then relationships would be forbidden and more fun. But Jude says that some force of nature—by which he means sexual desire—would still compel people to marry, “buying a month’s pleasure with a life’s discomfort.” Sue doesn’t understand this, he says, because she lacks “animal passion.” If she won’t marry him soon, Jude hopes that Sue will at least make “an honest, candid declaration that she loved or could love him.” He’s close to anger and warns that elusive women lose the men they love. Sue looks guilty but replies “in a tragic voice” that she doesn’t care for Jude when he’s “sermony,” at least. Marriage should be her decision, she says, and Jude drops the topic.
What should be a resolution of conflict in this chapter—now Sue and Jude are free to marry—instead becomes a new source of conflict. Sue’s aversion to marriage seems genuine: “I think I should begin to be afraid of you,” she tells Jude, “the moment you had contracted to cherish me under a Government stamp . . . . Ugh, how horrible and sordid!” By the end of the chapter, Sue seems to believe that she has persuaded Jude that “fewer women like marriage than you suppose,” but though they stop talking about marriage, “it was constantly in their minds.”
Later than month, Jude comes home to dinner after having attended a lecture and hears from Sue that he has had a visitor—a woman. The visitor said she would wait, but Sue told her that Jude might not see her. The woman didn’t leave her name, but Sue thinks it was Arabella, “a fleshy, coarse woman.” They don’t know if Arabella is still with her second husband or why she might be here, but Jude doesn’t want to see her. Sue can’t eat. After dinner, Arabella knocks at the door, saying, “I am in trouble and have nobody to help me!” Jude feels an “inconvenient sympathy” for Arabella, who speaks of “a sudden responsibility that’s been sprung upon me from Australia.” She asks Jude to come out and walk with her. Sue tells him not to go—“it is only to entrap you.” But Jude must go or be cruel. “But she’s not your wife!” Sue exclaims. “And you are not either, dear, yet,” he replies. In fact, Arabella is still more his wife than Sue is, since he has been chaste with Sue, though he has “waited with the patience of Job.”
Jude goes out, and Sue counts the minutes, knowing that if Jude is gone too long, he will have “lingered.” And what if, she worries, Arabella offers him a drink? Jude comes back quickly; Arabella is gone, so he needs to put on heavier shoes and go find her. She argues against this because Arabella is “too low, too coarse,” but Jude says that he is, too. What’s more, he’s not “a brute” to turn her away in her trouble: “I do love you, Sue, thought I have danced attendance on you so long such poor returns!” To keep him from leaving, Sue says, “I give in!” and agrees to marry him tomorrow.
In the morning Sue “absently” agrees to start the marriage process, but “a glow had passed from her.” Now she claims to feel selfish about how she treated “poor Arabella” in her jealousy. She wants to go check on her. Jude agrees to this as long as Sue goes with him to post the banns for the marriage afterward. They kiss—“The little bird is caught at last,” she says. “No, only nested,” he replies.
Sue finds Arabella still in bed at the hotel, looking frowzy—Sue gloats over the quick mental comparison she makes but then feels guilty about it. Sue and Arabella have a quick exchange about whom Jude belongs to, but Arabella tells Sue not to worry—she’s not here to take Jude away. In fact, perhaps her appearance has “helped it on” for Jude and Sue, she thinks, having inferred much from the argument she overheard. She’s just received a telegram from her second husband saying that he will marry her again in England—and promising that he won’t “knock me about when he has had a drop” once they’re married by English law. “I say it as a friend, my dear,” Arabella advises—Sue should hurry to marry Jude and to get the law on her side. Sue responds stiffly that Jude is ready to marry her at any moment. Arabella also says that she will write Jude about a “little matter of business” that she wanted to discuss with him.
Rarely in the novel do Sue and Arabella confront each other in person. In this case, Arabella, with her worldly experience and pragmatic turn of mind, has the advantage. She has cleverly deduced the situation between Sue and Jude and feels in a position to advise the more naÔve Sue. The confrontation also reveals Sue’s essential loving nature. She tries to be gracious under difficult circumstances and flees when Arabella’s frank comments begin to hurt her. Always highly sensitive, Sue is pained merely by Arabella’s earthy nature and all that it implies.
Sue and Jude go out to see about their banns (announcements of their upcoming marriage). She admits that Arabella’s is “not an ungenerous nature” but also says that their conversation made her feel more deeply “how hopelessly vulgar an institution legal marriage is.” She wants to wait longer to post the banns. “O, don’t mind me,” Jude responds with sarcasm, readers may think. “Any time will do for me.” As they are “postponing and postponing,” a letter arrives to disrupt the “dreamy paradise” they inhabit. Arabella is now officially Mrs. Cartlett; and she is sending a child to Jude—“a boy born of our marriage” in Australia. Arabella’s parents have been raising the child but are now sending him to England. Arabella says that the child is too young to work at the bar, and besides, she doesn’t want Cartlett to know about him.
“It hits me hard,” Jude admits, but Sue feels immediate sympathy for this child that no one seems to want. Though they are struggling financially, Sue declares that they will manage somehow. Then she wonders: “When shall we have the courage to marry?” Jude leaves the matter to her and writes Arabella to tell her to send the child.
The next evening, the child arrives by the evening train. He has “a small, pale child’s face” and “large, frightened eyes.” He is not entertained by the antics of a kitten that a passenger has brought. When others laugh, he is silent, as if to say that “All laughing comes from misapprehension. Rightly looked at there is no laughable thing under the sun.” The odd child doesn’t sleep during night travel, can’t smile, and seems to be “Age masquerading as Juvenility.”
When the child reaches Lambeth, Arabella gives him food and money and puts him back on the train before Cartlett sees him. Because Jude and Sue don’t know he is coming so soon, they are not at the station to meet him, and he must walk in the dark to their house. Sue “can’t bear” to see Arabella’s looks in him but will “get used to it.” Jude is already full of plans for his son to live the life he was denied: “They are making it easier for poor students now, you know.”
The boy asks if Sue is “my real mother at last”; with a yearning look, he begins to cry. So does Sue, being “a harp which the least wind of emotion from another heart could make vibrate.” Sue and Jude watch the boy sleep, and Sue says, “There’s more for us to think about in that one little hungry heart than in all the stars of the sky.”
This chapter affords Hardy the opportunity to advance another argument about reforming nineteenth-century concepts of the family. Jude says of the child that his parentage doesn’t matter: “All the little ones of our time are collectively the children of us adults all the time, and entitled to our general care.” A favoring of one’s own child and a disliking of others’ children is, “like class-feeling, patriotism, . . . and other virtues, a mean exclusiveness at bottom.” Had Jude been the care of all adults as a child, this statement implies, he would have had access to the education he so craved and was obviously suited for.
The next morning, largely because of the child, Jude and Sue decide to try to marry again. The child sits silently, “his quaint and weird face set.” Sue asks him his name, but he gives his nickname: Little Father Time, because he looks so old. He was not christened in the church, he explains mildly, “Because, if I died in damnation, ’twould save the expense of a Christian funeral.” Jude says they’ll have him christened the day they marry, yet “the advent of the child disturbed him.”
They decide to marry at the registrar’s office and head there together; “they could hardly do anything of importance except in each other’s company.” As they fill out the forms, Sue becomes “painfully apprehensive” at the terms: parties, rather than lovers, for example. There’s no sentiment, no poetry in the contract.
On errands during the next days, Sue often passes the office where the notice of their engagement is posted. She hates the sight. Often Father Time is with her; she thinks people assume he’s her child and consider the marriage “the patching up of an old error.”
Jude invites his aunt’s friend Mrs. Edlin from Marygreen, and she comes with gifts and wishes them “a jocund wedding.” Yet she brings up the Fawley history of bad marriages and tells of the Fawley ancestor who was hanged: His wife left him, and during their separation, their child died. He broke into her house to steal the coffin. When caught, he refused to say why he’d broken in, so he was hanged for burglary. Father Time speaks up, advising “mother” not to marry “father.” Sue comforts him—it’s just a story.
The next day, Sue seems more nervous. “I had hoped you would feel quite joyful,” Jude says—but the “dismal business” must be concluded. So they walk, with Mrs. Edlin as witness, to the office. There, a “sullen and reluctant” soldier and a “sad and timid” bride are marrying. She is pregnant and has a black eye; he just got out of jail. Sue can’t bear this; she looks “troubled and pale.” Since the certificate allows them to be married anywhere, they leave. They pass the parish church, where a wedding is underway. They slip in to watch, but the bride’s trembling behavior frightens Sue. Jude wonders if they are “horribly sensitive,” but Sue says, “Everybody is getting to feel as we do. We are a little beforehand, that’s all.”
As they decide to “go home without killing our dream,” the bride and groom come out of the church. Sue remarks that the bride’s bouquet is “sadly like the garland which decked the heifers of sacrifice in old times!” But Jude says that men are victims of this system, too. At home, Mrs. Edlin assumes that they’ve married, but as they haven’t, she takes herself back to Marygreen, remarking that “Nobody thought o’ being afeard o’ matrimony” when she was young.
As they enter the house, Sue asks Jude to pretend that they have married—because they’re going to be, eventually, after all.
In this chapter, even the language of the marriage contract critiques the legal bond. Sue, who had never seen the language before, grows “painfully apprehensive” at the terms: “‘Names and Surnames of the Parties’—(they were to be parties now, not lovers, she thought). ‘Condition’—(a horrid idea)—‘Rank and Occupation’ . . . . It spoils the sentiment,’” she complains, transforming something almost sacred into “mere sordid business.”
The child lends to Jude and Sue’s happiness, yet they worry about him. In June they take him to the Great Wessex Agricultural Show, hoping to “mak[e] him kindle or laugh like other boys.” Tents are set up everywhere, crowds are thronging to exhibits. A couple arrives from London: “a short, rather bloated man” and a woman “of rather fine figure and rather red face”—Mr. and Mrs. Cartlett. As they stroll, they see Jude and Sue; Cartlett, who doesn’t know Jude, notes that the couple seems “rather fond” of their child. Arabella watches as Jude and Sue point things out to the boy; she sees that “a passing sadness would touch their faces” when the child fails to respond with gladness. Arabella senses that Jude and Sue have still not married and tries to fathom their relationship; she follows them as her husband goes to see other exhibits.
Arabella encounters her old friend Anny, who remarks that Jude is handsome and says that Arabella should have kept him. Arabella says that she may be right, and Anny laughs: “That’s you, Arabella! Always wanting another man than your own!” The women then run into Physician Vilbert, who sells Arabella pills he claims will restore youth and brags that he taught Jude Latin and Greek. They watch as Jude and Sue study a model of Christminster, and Arabella mocks Jude for continuing to moon over the town “instead of attending to his own business!”
At the band stand, Jude and Sue stand near Arabella but don’t see her, so caught up are they in each other’s presence and the music. “Silly fools—like two children!” she scoffs. Vilbert offers to sell her a “love philtre” made, he says, of doves’ hearts, and she buys it—for a friend. Arabella then meets her husband, who is flirting with barmaids. Nearby, Jude and Sue are admiring roses. She is happy—or would be if the child could be happy, too, but he says, “I am very, very sorry, father and mother.” When he sees the roses’ beauty, he thinks only of how soon they will wilt and die.
The special relationship that Jude and Sue have developed is on full display in this chapter. Each knows what pleases the other; each takes delight in seeing the other delighted. They seem “almost the two parts of a single whole.” Their tender care for the child is also evident; being sensitive themselves, they relate to his wounded emotional condition. Arabella’s dismissal of them as “fools” and “children” is tinged with envy; this is not the relationship she and her husband share, and she can hardly comprehend what they are to each other.
School has begun in Aldbrickham, and people are starting to wonder about Sue and Jude. Children at school ask Father Time questions that sadden Sue and Jude when he reports them. So Sue and Jude travel to London for a few days. When they return, they “let it be understood” that they are now married. Sue’s mood is “dull, cowed, and listless,” and the townspeople still speak of her scandalously. Orders for tombstones drop off, and Jude struggles to pay their legal debts. They decide that it would be better to live some place where no one knows them. Jude will travel to job sites, and Sue will keep house with the child.
Jude hears, in the meantime, of a job at a church about two miles away. A stone display of the Ten Commandments needs restoration. He takes the job, and one day Sue comes to help with the lettering. The vicar and church warden stop by and are surprised to see Sue working. A woman comes in the clean the church and, when she sees Sue and Jude, is scandalized. She declares to other women there, loud enough that Sue must overhear, that they are a “strange pair to be painting the Two Tables!” The church warden then launches loudly into a story he once heard about to men who drank while working on a display of the Ten Commandments; they set their rum on the communion table itself. In the evening, they thought they saw the devil standing on their ladder, completing their work. On Sunday, the congregation was horrified to see that all the “nots” had been left out of the commandments.
Jude and Sue gather their tools and leave for lunch, and Sue cries. “Never be cast down!” Jude comforts her. “It was only a funny story.” Sue knows that Jude is losing work because of her, but she also sees how ridiculous the situation is. After lunch, the embarrassed contractor pays them for the whole job and asks them not to come back. They don’t want to harm his reputation, so they go without argument.
In Aldbrickham, Jude is a member of the Citizens’ Mutual Improvement Society, made up of “young men of all creeds and denominations” who share a “common wish to enlarge their minds.” Because of his former studies, Jude has a leadership role in this organization. A few days after they lose the church job, Jude attends a meeting where nothing specific is said, but Jude knows he must give up his leadership position. They sell their aunt’s furniture, since they can’t afford to move it, and sit in one room listening as bidders buy it for much less that its worth and discussing where to go. They overhear the sale of Sue’s pet pigeons to a poulterer. Later, as Sue passes the poulterer’s shop, she lets her pets out of the cage. She tells Jude the “wicked thing” she has done, and Jude pays the poulterer for the birds.
This chapter catalogues the blows that fall on Sue and Jude because their marriage status is unclear. They lose in succession their work, their community, their home, their belongings, and even their pets because people doubt their marriage and don’t know the child’s parentage. Hardy’s sympathy is clearly with Sue and Jude: “Thus the super sensitive couple were more and more impelled to go away.” Yet it is also with the townspeople, who suffer from shame and who are acting in part, it seems, because of social expectations. If they condone Jude and Sue, they may be punished for their tolerance.
Jude and Sue begin “a shifting, almost nomadic life which was not without its pleasantness for a time.” Two and a half years pass in this way. The couple does no church work, however, and seems to be undergoing a gradual rejection of all religious belief. One day during the spring fair at Kennetbridge, Anny and Arabella, “a finely built figure in the deep mourning of a widow,” arrive by carriage. Arabella is there to attend the laying of a church ceremony and to hear a famous preacher from London speak on the occasion. She sees Sue and Juey, as Sue calls the child, selling baked goods and goes to speak to them. Sue expresses sympathy on Cartlett’s death, and the child recalls Arabella as “the woman I thought were my mother . . . till I found you wasn’t.” Sue sends Juey off with a tray of goods to sell. Arabella wonders whether the child knows about his parentage, and Sue says that Jude will tell him in good time. Times are hard, she says. Jude has been too ill to work much, and they have two other children and another on the way, though “it seems such a terribly tragic thing to bring beings into the world—so presumptuous.” As they talk, Arabella helps herself to a cake and sees that it has the shape of a window with stonework patterns. “Still harping on Christminster—even in his cakes!” she says. Sue hates to hear Jude criticized, but she agrees that Christminster, “a nest of commonplace schoolmasters whose characteristic is timid obsequiousness to tradition,” is no good for Jude. Arabella says that she almost wishes she had her son back, especially since Sue has children of her own, but she would never take Juey away. She has found religion and learned to resign herself to God’s will. Sue should, too, she says.
Though Sue seems worn and trembles under Arabella’s questioning, this chapter nonetheless reveals an inner strength. She’s been carrying the burden of the family’s financial support for some time, and she has not lost her incisive intellect. After Sue critiques Christminster, Arabella is surprised to hear a cake-seller speak in this way. Why isn’t Sue teaching, she asks. Is it the divorce? Sue says that she and Jude “gave up all ambition,” and that, but for his illness, they have been happy to do so. Arabella ends their conversation with a stiffly self-righteous lecture that must be entirely lost on one of Sue’s nature and beliefs.
Arabella sings hymns at the cornerstone ceremony. Then she and Anny, with whom she now lives in Alfredston, have tea and leave. Arabella reveals that, while she sang, she couldn’t stop thinking about Sue. “After all that’s said about the comforts of religion,” she admits, “I wish I had Jude back again!” As they pass the house where Jude and Arabella once lived, she exclaims, “What right has she to him, I should like to know. I’d take him from her if I could!” She flings the religious tracts she got at Kennetbridge out the window; religion can’t change who she is. Anny calms her, and they offer a ride to an older man walking on the road. It is Phillotson, once teacher to Arabella and Jude. Arabella explains that Jude has divorced her. Jude, she argues, did right by his divorce, but Phillotson did wrong by divorcing Sue.
Phillotson denies her charge but doesn’t want to talk about Sue. He’s teaching at Marygreen “on sufferance,” a humiliating fall for him. Arabella says that Sue’s done no better by their divorce than he has and, what’s more, that she was “innocent” of being Jude’s lover when she left her husband. This information distresses Phillotson. Arabella tells him he should have “kept [Sue] chained” till her spirit was broken: “There’s nothing like bondage and a stone-deaf taskmaster for taming us women.”
Meanwhile, Sue goes home and greets Mrs. Edlin, who has come from Marygreen to help care for the little children. She tells Jude that Arabella is widowed, and he is disturbed that she now lives so close by. He wants to return to Christminster to work stone again. Sue is troubled. “Why should you care so much for Christminster? . . . Christminster cares nothing for you, poor dear.” Yet three weeks later, in June, they arrive among the “wasting walls” of the college town.
Unlikable aspects of Arabella’s personality are revealed in this chapter. Already, readers know her as a practical woman who’s always looking for a better deal than the one she has. But now she begins to actively undermine Jude and Sue’s relationship, looking for cracks that she can wedge open. She speaks to Phillotson not as a human being with whom she can find common ground but as a tool that might split Jude from Sue. Her sudden taking up of religion is matched by her casual throwing it away. Arabella keeps only those things that help her get what she wants.