Jude the Obscure: Novel Summary: Part Fifth: Part Sixth: At Christminster Again
Jude and his family arrive at Christminster, by his intention, on Remembrance Day. Sue worries that witnessing the graduation ceremony will depress Jude, but he brushes her concern off. He wants to watch the procession before they seek lodging, so they carry the little children through “crowds of pretty sisters in airy costumes, and meekly ignorant parents who had known no College in their youth.” Jude sees the young men who are graduating and says that he learns from them a “lesson on presumption.” As the townsfolk wait for the procession, someone asks what a Latin inscription on a wall means. Jude translates it and then discusses the stone work for the interested crowd. A former coworker recognizes Jude and says that they used to call him the “Tutor of St. Slums.” Tinker Taylor and Uncle Joe greet Jude, surprised to see him: “Yer powers wasn’t enough to carry ’ee through?” Sue tries to distract Jude from them while Juey declares “mournfully” that he doesn’t like Christminster. But Jude begins a lecture on how people define success and argues that he deserves his coworkers’ pity, not their ridicule, because “it was my poverty and not my will that consented to be beaten.” Tinker Taylor is impressed by the sermon from “only a working man!”
At this moment a red-robed Doctor (professor), late for the ceremony, gets out of a cab and begins to viciously kick the horse in its belly. Jude comments, “If that can be done . . . at college gates in the most religious and educational city in the world, what shall we say as to how far we’ve got?” Police officers shut down Jude’s impromptu lecture as rain begins to fall. Sue is pale with worry and fatigue, but Jude insists on staying to see the ceremony. Afterwards, Sue tells Jude that she saw Phillotson in the crowd and felt “a curious dread of him; an awe, or terror, of conventions I don’t believe in.”
Finding lodgings is difficult because the family is large now; for the night, Jude must stay away from Sue and the children, who take lodging elsewhere. But the landlady asks Sue about her relationship to Jude, and she confesses that they are not married. The landlord insists that they leave in the morning. She puts the little children to bed; then she and Juey go to seek other lodgings. They have no luck, and Juey remarks, “I ought not to be born, ought I?”
A biting criticism of the arrogance of the young Christminster graduates is in this chapter. The narrator describes them as “brothers and sons bearing the opinion written large on them, that no properly qualified human beings had lived on earth till they came to grace it here and now.” This description and the behavior of the Doctor who kicks the horse contrast starkly with Jude’s feelings of humility and failure, despite his impressive and self-taught knowledge. He once had “a neat stock of fixed opinions,” but events caused him to question and shed these. His “present rule of life” is merely to do what causes no harm to himself or others.
From the depressing, bare room, Sue can see the dank walls of Sarcophagus College and Rubric College. Jude placed his family here, she thinks, so “haunted by his dream” is he. She is tired and discouraged, and when Juey asks how he can help, she says there is nothing to be done: “All is trouble, adversity, suffering!” The odd child muses that Sue’s troubles are because of her children, and he is not even her child in fact. He wishes he hadn’t been born and says that all unwanted children should be killed before they are old enough to know that no one wants them. Sue, “doubtfully pondering,” does not know how to respond to “this too reflective child” and at last decides to be honest. She tells him that another baby is coming.
Father Time “burst out weeping” that Sue has been “so wicked and cruel” to have another baby when they are still so poor—“to bring us all into more trouble!” Sue can’t explain to the young child why she is pregnant again but assures him that “it is not quite on purpose—I can’t help it!” Father Time goes to the closet to sleep, but Sue hears him say, “If we children was gone there’d be no trouble at all.” “Don’t think that, dear,” she calls to him.
The next morning Sue wakes early to get breakfast before waking the children. She finds Jude and explains that they must leave their lodging that day. They eat breakfast and talk about how to handle things. Back at their lodging, Jude is cooking eggs for the children when he hears Sue scream. He rushes to find her collapsed on the bedding in the closet. Father Time has hanged the little children and then himself. Jude cuts the children down and knows they are dead; he carries Sue to the bed and then runs for a doctor.
When he returns, Sue and the landlady are “in wild efforts” over “the triplet of little corpses.” They piece together what must have happened: Juey woke, found Sue gone, and despaired. They find a note that in just six words devastates Sue: “Done because we are too menny.” In agony, she blames herself because she should have lied to comfort the child rather than being honest with him. But Jude assures her that “it was in his nature to do it.” The doctor has told him that children now exist who “seem to see all [life’s] terrors before they are old enough to have staying power to resist them.” These children are “the beginning of the universal wish not to live.” Jude breaks down as he seems to see in his son’s face “all the accidents, mistakes, fears, errors” of his life with Sue. He was “their nodal point, their focus.”
As they wait for the coroner, they hear someone practicing organ in a nearby college, playing a Psalm of God’s love. Sue cries, “O, O my babies! They had done no harm! Why should they have been taken away, and not I!” In the stillness they overhear “two clergymen of different views” arguing over which way a priest should face during communion. “Good God—the eastward position, and all creation groaning!” Jude exclaims.
In her grief, Sue feels that “something external” says to them “You shan’t!” This force, whatever it is, won’t let them learn, work, or love. The sight of the clothes she had laid out for the baby makes her weep, but she won’t let Jude take them away. “O my comrade,” she laments, “our perfect union—our two-in-oneness—is now stained by blood!” He replies, “Shadowed by death—that’s all.” Yet Sue persists in blaming herself and their relationship because they “went about loving each other too much.” They tried to “make a virtue of joy,” and this is the result.
After the burial, Jude checks on Sue, who is resting. When he looks in on her again, she’s gone. He finds her at the cemetery, trying to keep the graves from being filled. She begs Jude to dig the coffins up so that she can see her children again: “I will be so good, and not disobey you ever anymore, Jude, if you will let me?” But this is not possible. Sue goes into labor prematurely and delivers a baby who also dies.
Much of Hardy’s writing features, centrally or tangentially, the idea that there is some force that acts against human efforts. He refers to it by various names, among them the Spinner of the Years and the Immutable Will. Now Sue blames this “something external” for their tragedy. Yet at the same time, she blames herself. The question of how much of the joy or tragedy in a life is the result of human will, human decisions and actions, and how much is relegated to what some call chance or fate is a central question of the novel. Readers see in the next chapter that, finally, Sue blames herself for defying God. This, for her, is easier than blaming some nameless force.
Sue convalesces, wishing she could die, in new lodgings while Jude returns to work. In the evenings they sit quietly. Sue imagines that she and Jude are being pursued by a “persecutor” and that they “must conform” because “the ancient wrath” of God is against them. Then she accuses herself of becoming “as superstitious as a savage.” She says that they must marry right away, or Jude will begin to lose work. But then she admits that she hasn’t been able to marry Jude because she somehow feels that she still belongs to Phillotson. Sue is clearly torn—between beliefs, between past and future.
Jude is making money, getting stronger and happier in his stone work. Yet he knows that he and Sue are growing apart as she drifts, almost against her will, toward a religious explanation for their tragedy. One Sunday evening she says thoughtfully that they have been “selfish, careless, even impious” and that now they should “mortify the flesh—the terrible flesh—the curse of Adam!” They must “continually sacrifice” themselves to duty to pay for their mistakes. Jude denies this and assures Sue that she is a good woman who has done nothing to deserve what happened. She imagines pricking her skin to let evil bleed out, and he holds her, assuring her that this is just the effect of grief. But she won’t let him hold her long—“it is indulgence.” She no longer believes that their love can be good, and she can never marry him.
Jude notes, as he holds Sue, that she smells of incense. She’s been at St. Silas Church, she admits. Jude is surprised, since Sue has always dismissed the church. Sue tells him that she can no longer live “as your wife” because she belongs to Richard or to nobody.
A few days later, Arabella comes to their lodgings, having received his letter about their son. She’s been to the grave and wants Jude to make a headstone for it. She wonders what might have been had she taken her son away, but she didn’t want to do that to Jude’s wife. Sue says that she is not Jude’s wife and slips out of the room. Arabella wants to know why Sue said this, but Jude replies, “I cannot inform you.” Arabella says that her father has returned from Australia, and she’s staying with him. She leaves.
Jude seeks out Sue and finds her at St. Silas, lying in the dark on the floor under an ornate cross, sobbing. She resents his intrusion but explains that she had to flee from Arabella: “My babies have been taken from me to show me this! Arabella’s child killing mine was a judgment—the right slaying the wrong!” Jude tries to persuade her that she’s done no wrong and that any religion that makes her feel this way cannot be good. Sue says that Jude must stop loving her because she is “sacramentally joined” to Phillotson. Their own relationship may have been “Nature’s own marriage,” as Jude says, but it is not Heaven’s—and now Heaven matters more to Sue than nature. He can’t understand this changed Sue, with her “extraordinary blindness” to her former way of thinking.
Jude walks Sue back to their lodgings, but she asks him to stay elsewhere, takes his hand, and says good night. He wonders if they should have parted when they found they couldn’t marry: “Who were we, to think we could act as pioneers!” She suggests that all would have been well had they lived “in mental communion, and no more,” something women would and could do but “men can’t because they—won’t.” But Jude is not to blame, she says. Men naturally want to possess women. She, on the other hand, agreed to sexual union with Jude only out of envy of Arabella. Jude begs Sue not to abandon him to his two “Arch Enemies” (women and liquor), but she will agree only to pray for him. Jude walks to their bed and symbolically throws one pillow to the ground, saying, “Let the veil of our temple be rent in two from this hour!” She weeps, allows him one more kiss, and sends him away.
A sharp critique of moral and immoral behaviors, as defined, rewarded, or punished by organized religion, is at the heart of this long and dramatic chapter. Sue, who had been, in Jude’s words, “a woman-poet, a woman-seer, a woman whose soul shone like a diamond—whom all the wise of the world would have been proud of,” has been brought to a degraded state by religious teachings. He says that he is “damn glad” to have had “nothing to do with Divinity” that punishes her in this way.
After Remembrance Day, Phillotson and Gillingham travel home, and Phillotson reports that he saw “Susanna” in the crowd. He says that he now thinks that Jude and Sue were not lovers when she left him and that he shouldn’t have let her go. Later, he reads of the deaths of the children and thinks how terribly sad Sue must be. A few weeks pass, and he runs into Arabella at the Alfredston market. She has been spying on Jude in Christminster and can report that he and Sue are separated and were never legally married. Sue has been “took in a queer religious way” and now says that she is Phillotson’s wife only. Arabella herself hopes to open a bar to support herself and her father. As she leaves the market, she practices making dimples.
Phillotson begins to think hopefully about the future. He’s suffered greatly and now wonders whether his actions were right after all. If he were to get Sue back and admit publicly that he erred, his situation might improve. Although Gillingham advises him to avoid the situation, Phillotson writes a careful letter to Sue not to declare love but to suggest that their reunion would improve the chance of success for both of them. He suggests that, if she agrees, she should come to him at Marygreen.
A few days later, Sue comes to Jude’s lodgings and asks him to go with her to the cemetery. She wants him to learn from her, not from others, that Phillotson has forgiven her and taken her back. They will marry again “for form’s sake,” and he should remarry Arabella. Even had she married Jude, she would feel this way. Jude cries and thinks that the “blow of her bereavement seemed to have destroyed her reasoning faculty.” Her decision is “all wrong” because she doesn’t love Phillotson. Her marrying him is “fanatical prostitution.” She says that though she doesn’t love him, she will “try to learn to love him by obeying him.” Since Jude cannot reason with Sue, he agrees to send her belongings to Marygreen. With tears of pity on his part and of grief on hers, they part over their children’s grave. She says, “Good-bye, Jude; my fellow sinner, and kindest friend!” to which he replies, “Good-bye, my mistaken wife.”
Jude believes that grief has broken not only Sue’s heart but also her mind. He too grieves, yet he refuses to turn to what for him is a bereft faith for comfort for recent events. In fact, Sue is not seeking comfort in religion—only an explanation. It is reason, not faith, that drives her actions—any reasonable explanation, even one that condemns her, is better and easier than no explanation at all. So many elements of chance contributed to the deaths of the children, but unrelated chance events do not satisfy Sue’s need for answers. A wrathful God punishing her for disobeying his law is an answer that at least provides a reason for her tragedies.
The next day, Jude is too sad to go to work. Sue travels to Phillotson’s house by herself, and he receives her. She sinks into a chair and stammers, “My children—are dead—and it is right that they should be! I am glad—almost. . . . their death is the first stage of my purification.” Phillotson is moved and bends to kiss her cheek, but she “imperceptibly shrank away, her flesh quivering under the touch of his lips.” When Phillotson is hurt by this, Sue blames the cold. She wants to hurry to remarry while she still cleaves to her belief, yet when she sees the license, she grows pale, like “a condemned criminal who catches sight of his coffin.”
Gillingham comes to visit, and they talk. Sue eats “obediently” and then goes to Mrs. Edlin’s house for the night. Mrs. Edlin helps her unpack and comes across a pretty nightgown. Sue shreds it, “the tears resounding through the house like a screech-owl,” and burns the pieces because she bought it to please Jude—“It is adulterous!” Everything that reminds her of her former life is evil. Mrs. Edlin is appalled both by Sue’s passion and by the waste of a lovely thing. “Lord, you be too strict!” she says, “. . . to condemn to hell your dear little innocent children that’s lost to ’ee! Upon my life I don’t call that religion!” Sue falls to the bed, sobbing, then slips to her knees. Mrs. Edlin begs her not to marry Phillotson again, because she clearly belongs to Jude, legality aside.
At Phillotson’s house, he and Gillingham smoke and talk, oblivious to the dramatic scene at Mrs. Edlin’s. Gillingham finds Sue charming and now approves of his friend’s plan. Phillotson says that this time he’ll use “a little judicious severity,” but Gillingham advises him to “tighten the rein by degrees only.” They are interrupted by Mrs. Edlin, who has come to voice her doubts about the marriage. Religion aside, she argues, Phillotson is wrong to marry Sue: “you’ve no notion what she’s suffering.” Phillotson is offended by Mrs. Edlin’s “unseemly” meddling, but she says that truth is truth, and she will not go with them to the church. When she leaves, Phillotson begins to doubt his plan, but Gillingham urges him to go ahead.
The next morning, Sue looks pale—“chastened, world-weary, remorseful”—and Phillotson wonders if they are right to marry. But the ceremony goes smoothly, “like a re-enactment by the ghosts of their former selves.” Sue tries to take up housekeeping, and Phillotson allows her privacy.
It is one thing to hear a critique of punitive religious teachings from Jude, who has given up his faith; it is another to hear them from the good-hearted and wise Mrs. Edlin, who has aided and befriended Sue and Jude since they were children. Readers may also feel disheartened that Phillotson, who earlier seemed heroically forward-thinking, now behaves more traditionally. However, one question of the novel is whether or how long people can endure to act against social conventions. Sue has clearly been broken by the stress of living this way, and Phillotson feels the pressure as well.
Arabella, dressed in “shabby black,” stands at Jude’s door, complaining that her father has turned her out. She asks Jude to take her in to save her from prostitution. Jude responds coldly but offers her a little money. She sobs, and he relents, always a fool for women, as she knows. They make a bed for her on the floor, and even though Jude doesn’t want to talk, she tells of receiving a letter from Anny reporting that Phillotson and Sue are married.
For a while, Arabella stays out of Jude’s way. Then she asks to eat breakfast with him, and a little later she offers to find out how Sue is for him. This bait lures Jude in; he can’t say no to news of his Sue. In fact, he meets Arabella at the station when she returns from visiting Anny. Arabella tells him of Mrs. Edlin’s objection to the marriage, of Sue’s destruction of the nightgown. She tries to play on his sympathy, but he walks away to a pub.
Arabella enlists her father’s help in getting Jude back so that she will no longer be dependent on him. Then she finds Jude in the bar, wavering between anger at and pity for Sue. She gets him drunk enough that she must support him when he walks. Then she offers to take him to her father’s shop so that his landlady won’t see him drunk. As they pass a place where, long ago, martyrs were burned for their faith, he begins to discourse on these holy men. Arabella tries to shut him up, saying that the dead men have nothing to do with them today. But Jude objects that he is “giving his body to be burned”; he doesn’t expect Arabella to understand.
As she did when they were young, Arabella coaxes Jude into a bedroom in her father’s house. He’s too drunk to notice and thinks they’re back at Marygreen. “Now we shall get on,” Arabella says.
Arabella has been, throughout the novel, a foil to Sue. She’s fleshy, Sue is slight; she’s earthy, Sue is ethereal. But in one sense she and Sue are alike—they both think well on their feet. Sue does this to find reason after reason to put off marriage and sexual union with Jude; Arabella uses her wits to move from one deal to another. From the moment she picked Jude out to marry, she has weighed her choices and done whatever was necessary to provide for herself. In this and the next chapter, she outdoes herself in entrapping Jude. Yet he is easy prey now—he is the walking dead. Without Sue, he no longer cares what becomes of him.
Arabella is making breakfast when her father comes down and asks her to mind the shop. But she can’t because she must keep working on getting Jude to marry her. Her father wonders why she doesn’t find someone new and more promising, but Arabella evades the question by saying that marrying Jude is the respectable thing to do. She goes to the bedroom and regards Jude as he sleeps, finding him attractive. Jude wakes and asks where he is. Arabella offers to tell his landlord and employer that he is ill; she takes his wallet to pay his rent.
In fact, Arabella tells Jude’s landlord that he is moving out. She has his belongings packed and sent to her father’s shop. Jude is so ill, exhausted, and drunk that he doesn’t even notice. She also uses his wallet to purchase a marriage license and to hold a little party where Jude will be kept “happy,” that is, drunk.
Three days later, the party begins; it lasts into the night, till “certain legal hours arrive,” as Arabella says. Then, in front of the guests, Arabella reminds Jude that he promised to marry her. He begins to say, “There’s only one woman . . . .” But Mr. Donn protests his daughter’s honor. Though Jude cannot recall living with Arabella for three days, he agrees to marry her to preserve her honor. They leave, and guests stay behind, discussing the odd situation. Tinker Taylor doubts that Arabella’s plan—or the marriage—will work, but when Arabella and Jude return, she shows off “the padlock” (her wedding ring). She suggests breakfast, and when Jude says that he prefers whiskey, she says that his preference in nonsense. Strong tea will set him straight.
Sue accuses Arabella of being “coarse” and “low,” a woman not fit for the intelligent Jude. Arabella may not have academic knowledge, but she knows people, and she uses her understanding of character to manipulate people. She knows that Jude loves Sue, but she also knows that he considers himself an honorable man who carries out his duties.
About three months have passed since Jude married Arabella. His health has gone from “indifferent” to “precarious”; he’s racked by coughing. Arabella feels deceived because Jude was well and making good money before they married. Now she must work to support them both. Jude, thinking that he will soon die, asks Arabella to write to Sue for him, to ask her to visit. His request insults Arabella, but he argues that he is being “above-board” rather than sneaking a message to Sue. Arabella then claims that there is no need to write because Sue won’t come: “She’s the rat that forsook the sinking ship!” Arabella calls Sue a “strumpet” [whore], but Jude leaps up, pushes Arabella down, and threatens, “Say another word of that sort . . . and I’ll kill you—here and now!” Racked by coughing, he lets her go, and she “estimated his life with an appraiser’s eye.”
Arabella agrees to write to Sue as long as both women will be present at the visit. Jude doesn’t know whether Arabella posts the letter (she does not), and he doesn’t ask; but he waits for Sue’s visit with every coming train. He is now living for this visit: “A silent, undiscerned resolve grew up in him, which gave him, if not strength, stability and calm.”
One day, Arabella comes home and finds Jude gone—she can guess where. He has taken the train to Alfredston and is now walking, in the rain, to Marygreen. He stands in front of the church and looks at the school where Sue teaches, listening to the “sing-song tones of the little voices that had learnt Creation’s groan.” He asks a child to ask Mrs. Phillotson to come to the church. When Sue steps into the church and see Jude, she almost leaves, but Jude asks her to be kind. She praises him for marrying Arabella, but he lashes out at her, calling that marriage “degrading, immoral, unnatural” and “meretricious.” And her marriage is no better; he cannot imagine how she has submitted to it. Sue admits that she has “wrestled and struggled, and fasted, and prayed” and now has “nearly brought my body into complete subjection.”
His pity is greater than his anger for this “dear, sad, soft, most melancholy wreck of a promising human intellect,” his Sue. Sue asks him not to scorn her but to kiss her and admits that she has so far been physically faithful to him and that she still loves him. They kiss passionately; Sue hates herself for wanting to, but can’t help herself. Jude again dismisses their marriages, made while he was “gin-drunk” and she was “creed-drunk,” and urges her to run away with him. Tempted, she flees. He wraps his blanket around himself and coughs; she covers her ears to keep from hearing the sound and running back to him.
Jude leaves Marygreen. When he comes to the mile stone on which, so long ago, he carved “Thither J. F. →” he lies down to rest. Then he goes back to Christminster.
If the deaths of Father Time and the children are the novel’s climax, the scene in the church is the most dramatic of the novel’s denouement. It makes clear beyond doubt that Jude and Sue belong together; it strongly suggests that the social impediments to their union are to blame for the sorrows that have happened in their lives. It is a nice irony that this scene takes place in the shelter of the church; it is almost like the wedding that Sue and Jude never had, as they declare their love and kiss.
Arabella is waiting for Jude at the Christminster station and can see right away that the trip has harmed his health irreparably. Does he realize this? “Of course I do,” he says. “I meant to do for myself.” Arabella is taken aback that Jude would kill himself “for a woman.” He explains that, while Arabella is physically stronger than he is, he has a mental strength she lacks. He had two wishes: to see Sue one last time, and to die. In one stroke he has achieved both. “Lord—you do talk lofty!” she comments.
As they pass the colleges on their way home, Jude relives his first day in Christminster, imagining again that he sees “the spirits of the dead.” Arabella questions his sanity. He says that “the grind of stern reality” has caused him to lose interest in them but that now “They seem to be laughing at me!” He begins to name them, but Arabella points out, pragmatically, that the streets are empty, and besides, “What do I care about folk dead and gone!”
Jude must stop to rest; the buildings around him seem to have “lifted eyebrows, representing the polite surprise of the University at the efforts of such as I.” Arabella says she’ll treat him to a drink, and he goes with her willingly but says that when he dies, she’ll see “his spirit flitting up and down here among these.” Arabella tells him to cheer up, because—who knows?—perhaps he’ll pull through.
Meanwhile, in Marygreen, Mrs. Edlin goes to the Phillotsons’ house to help with chores because Sue, though well intentioned, can’t handle the heavy tasks. Sue is scrubbing the steps as penance for kissing Jude. Mrs. Edlin tells her to spare her pretty hands, but Sue responds, “This pretty body has been the ruin of me already!” She confesses to her old friend what she said and did in the church. Mrs. Edlin is not surprised: “I told ’ee how ’twould be!” But Sue says that she will now make the ultimate act of penance by consenting to sex with her husband. Mrs. Edlin urges her not to do this—things are fine as they are. But Sue sees her “separateness” from her husband as an “indulgence” that she was wrong to demand. Sue can’t explain to Mrs. Edlin why sexual union is such a torture to her—she couldn’t explain it to Jude, either. But now she will do her wifely duty—“I will drink my cup to its dregs!” When Mrs. Edlin starts to leave, Sue is “seized with vague terror,” so Mrs. Edlin agrees to stay in the spare room that night in case Sue needs comforting in the morning. Sue goes to her room to prepare herself in prayer. Then she enters Phillotson’s room.
Phillotson is silent. Sue thinks he is asleep and feels relief—the terrible act can be postponed another day. Then she wonders—what if he is dead? Then Sue could return to Jude—“Ah—no—I forgot her—and God!” she corrects herself. She asks Mrs. Edlin to check on Phillotson, who is now snoring. So Sue enters again, and he wakes. She asks him to forgive that she “exceeded my rights” and “sinned against you,” but he wants to know that she is not acting “against your impulses.” She explains to him what happened in the church and then promises never to see Jude again. That life—and her babies—are dead. Phillotson, having heard such promises before, makes her swear on a New Testament and asks her three times if she is sure about consenting to sex. He picks her up and kisses her—“A quick look of aversion passed over her face, but clenching her teeth she uttered no cry.”
When Mrs. Edlin sees that Sue has gone in with Phillotson, she says, “Ah! Poor soul! Weddings be funerals ’a b’lieve nowadays!”
If in the scene in the church in the previous chapter Jude and Sue so clearly are meant to be together, the scene as Arabella and Jude walk home through Christminster shows as clearly how unable Arabella is to understand Jude. His meditations on the town frustrate, annoy, and bore her and make her doubt Jude’s mind: “Upon my soul you are more sober when you’ve been drinking than when you have not!” she exclaims. Arabella has always considered Jude’s physical nature attractive—his sexuality, his ability to work and earn money—but she has never come to love what Sue loves in him, his intellect. Sue, by contrast, has terrible difficulty loving Jude—or any many—physically.
Jude recovers enough to work again, but in December he relapses. Arabella complains that Jude married her “to get a nurse for nothing,” but Jude seems either amused by or indifferent to her anger. He sometimes talks of “the defeat of his early aims” and theorizes that he wasn’t physically strong enough for stone work. He was made, he thinks, for getting and imparting information. He talks of rumors that the University will soon be open to more young men, but “it is too late . . . for me . . . and for how many worthier ones before me!” Arabella thinks that if Jude had any sense, he’d have “got over all that craze for books by this time.”
One day Jude calls Arabella “Sue” by accident. Arabella starts to insult Sue but stops short. Over time, she perceives that Sue is no longer a rival and, in “a fit of generosity,” says that Sue can visit. But Jude surprises her by saying that he doesn’t want to see her again, nor does he want her to hear about his illness.
Mrs. Edlin pays Jude a surprise visit; after Arabella, who is no longer concerned with whom Jude loves, leaves, he asks the widow about Sue. Is she still living chastely with her husband? As briefly as she can, Mrs. Edlin explains that Sue, as penance for kissing Jude, has consented to sex. Jude finds this information “almost more than I can endure!” He speaks at length of what a terrible fall this is for Sue, “so sensitive, so shrinking, that the very wind seemed to blow on her with a touch of deference.” He apologizes to Mrs. Edlin for rambling, but she responds, “Not at all, my dear boy. I could hearken to ’ee all day.”
Jude’s “mental agony” provokes him to use “terribly profane language about social conventions” and brings on a coughing fit. Mrs. Edlin answers the door to find that Arabella has sent Physician Vilbert to treat Jude. Jude has already taken Vilbert’s quack medicines to no avail and tells Vilbert what he thinks of him “with such striking epithets, that Vilbert soon scurried” away. Arabella meets him at the door, offers him a drink, and flirts with and kisses him on the first floor while Jude suffers on the second floor. After Vilbert leaves, Arabella justifies her actions: “Well, weak women must provide for a rainy day.” Since Jude seems likely to die, “it’s well to keep chances open.”
Though she is a minor character, Mrs. Edlin, widow and friend for decades to the Fawleys, is notable. Her advice is consistently sound and compassionate; but what’s more, when Jude or Sue fails to take her advice and then suffers for that choice, she never judges them. She only graciously offers help, doing chores for Sue, minding their children, or simply listening to Jude in his offensive ramblings. She is, Sue says at one point, their only friend.
Summer has come. Jude, his face thin, is bed-ridden. Arabella is in front of the mirror, curling her hair and practicing her dimple. Hat and gloves on, she sits impatiently by Jude, waiting for her father to come so that she can leave for Commemoration Day festivities. She hears bells ringing and crowds assembling; she does not want to wait with Jude for death when the town is so lively. At last, she decides that Jude will be all right for a while and leaves.
The noise of the crowd wakes Jude, and he asks for water, but no one replies, and he is too weak to get up. He gasps, “Throat—water—Sue—darling—drop of water—please—O please!” His face is changing, and he begins to quote from the book of Job: “Why did I not give up the ghost when I came out of the belly? . . . then had I been at rest!” He dies alone.
Meanwhile, Arabella sees people dancing in the streets and wants to join them, but she must go home and check on Jude. Some of the stone workers see invite her to go watch boat races, so she runs up to check on Jude before leaving. She thinks he is sleeping, but then she realizes that he has died. She listens to his chest to be sure: “The bumping of nearly thirty years had ceased.” She hears the sound of the band playing by the river and complains, “Why did he die just now!” His timing is spoiling her fun. She thinks for a moment, then leaves and closes the door. The workers ask how Jude is, and she says that he is “sleeping quite sound. He won’t wake yet.” At the river, Arabella mingles with the crowd, enjoys the spectacle, and is glad she came, though she wishes she could stop thinking of Jude now and then. After the races, she “must get back to my poor man.” Arabella stops at the house of a woman who prepares the dead for burial and then by the house of the sexton. By night, Jude’s body is ready for burial.
Two days later, Arabella and Mrs. Edlin stand by Jude’s coffin. Mrs. Edlin has been crying but notes that Jude makes “a ’andsome corpse.” They hear the festivities of the “young and strong-lunged” in the town. Jude’s few remaining books “seemed to pale to a sickly cast at the sounds,” but Jude’s face seems to wear a smile and “The bells struck out joyously.”
Arabella wonders whether Sue will come, but Mrs. Edlin doubts it, since Sue swore an oath not to see him again. She reports that Sue is “Tired and miserable . . . years and years older than when you saw her last . . . a staid, worn woman now,” but a woman at peace, at least. Arabella denies this: “She’s never found peace since she left his arms, and never will again till she’s as he is now!”
Readers may wonder that Hardy lets one of the novel’s least sympathetic characters have the last word, as Arabella does. Readers can consider whether Arabella is right—will Sue find peace only at death? If so, the novel’s pessimistic ending dooms Sue to a life of penance because she tried to defy social convention. But Arabella is not always right in the novel, leaving the possibility that Sue will work out some kind of redemption for herself, possibly in her teaching or in her love for children that may be born.