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

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Why Jude the Obscure is fitting conclusion to 19th-century British fiction

Thomas Hardy certainly turns the English novel on its end in Jude the Obscure, and, as noted in yesterday's post, it's unsurprising that this was his last novel - where do you go from here? English novels, famously, are about inclusion, the hero or heroine beginning as an outsider and over the course of the narrative brought into society, often concluding with a marriage. Hardy concludes with two marriages, each a horrendous disaster, leading the two central characters to isolation, desolation, and death Old friend John Kusich wrote an entire book about Dickens's endings, and although many Dickens novels are dark and many of his endings, as far as I can recall, contain notes of longing, unfulfilled desire, and wistfulness, none are as anti-societal as Jude - Dickens notably wrote the famous 2 endings of Great Expectations, as the "sad" ending did not meet his needs, or his public's. Hardy fittingly closes out the century - Jude written in the late 1890s - with a sense that inclusion is impossible, that people are controlled, doomed, by fate. In his later-written intro to the novel (1912), Hardy wrote about the terrible reception Jude received on first publication: the English critics were not ready to accept Hardy's vision (and also bristled at some of the polemics of the novel, which deal with issues long-since resolved - divorce, and a more inclusive education system - though this issue still looms, in a different form). Critics weren't ready, but there is clearly something readers saw that critics didn't seem: the skewering of injustice and the class system, the critique of the university system (which most of the critics probably benefited from), the precise picture of the hard life in rural village and in the small-town working class, and most of all the firm belief that not everything in the world works out for the best, that some are just tossed by the wayside and forgotten (obscure), in literature and in life.

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