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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Rejection letters - and Jude strikes back!

Jude (the Obscure)'s sad tale continues as the poor guy, working hard as a stone mason repairing many of the crumbled gothic facades in the university town of Christminster (aka Oxford) still studies Latin and Greek at night on his own and has dreams of entering one of the colleges. He gets the bright idea of writing a letter to the heads of several of the colleges seeking an interview for admission. He waits days, maybe weeks - no response at all. (All aspiring authors will understand this anxiety.) He pretty much gives up hope, believes he was a fool to hold to this dream or fantasy. Then he gets an envelope, opens, reads, it's from one of the college heads who writes in a sentence or two: You say you're a stone mason and you'd be well advised to stick with what you know. Horrible man! - and he's the only one who at least had the courtesy to respond to a respectful letter. Jude goes off on a bender - in a way, that's when he's at his best - ends up reciting some Latin on a bar bet, feels remorseful, wanders the streets - and has a kind of epiphany realizing that without the working people such as he the entire city would shut down - takes a piece of chalk (he always carries chalk, part of his profession) and writes on the gate of the college that "rejected" him a passage from Job that says something like: I have as much or more knowledge than you have. Good for Jude! It's the first moment in the novel when I felt anything other than sorrow for him. But of course it's just a gesture, and he has to get on with his life. He returns to his unlikable great aunt in Marygate, and then considers the next step in his life, as he follows his cousin Sue - with whom he's still in love - to another Wessex town where he will try to enter the church at the lowest level - a curate, I think - and serve a ministry in a remote parish or an urban slum. His goals aren't altogether clear, but he knows he still is in love with Sue - even though he's married and, as he learns, she is engaged to the much older schoolmaster: in other words, they're meant for each other but each is locked into a difficult an unsuitable commitment - in a way, this is a contemporary story in antique clothing.

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