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Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure
Summary by Michael McGoodwin, prepared 1999

Acknowledgement: This work has been summarized using the Penguin 1978 edition.  Quotations are for the most part taken from that work, as are paraphrases of its commentary.   

Overall Impression: Read without great enjoyment. A rather tedious book. I wish Sue had been able to make up her mind or let the poor guy go.

Jude Fawley is orphaned and is unwanted by his great-aunt Drusilla in Marygreen, who takes him in. He is inspired by Mr. Richard Phillotson to become a classics scholar and studies Greek and Latin on his own intensively. He tries to get books from the quack physician Vilbert. He learns to be a stone-mason by 19. One day, he passes Arabella Donn, daughter of a pig-breeder, and she throws a pig pizzle at him. Arabella feigns a pregnancy and induces Jude to marry her. They take a cottage and raise a pig. She has formerly been a barmaid. She confesses she made a mistake about the pregnancy. She takes over the slaughtering of the pig. She tires of him and runs away with her parents to Australia. He auctions his furnishings and heads for Christminster.

There, he looks up his attractive cousin Sue (Susanna Florence Mary) Bridehead. He is enamored of the learned tradition at Christminster and of Sue. She works in religious artifacts. He is disappointed to learn that Phillotson has not lived up to his ambitions to become a scholar and is now a teacher. He takes on Sue at Jude's suggestion as an apprentice teacher; he is 20 years older than him. Jude's efforts to gain admission to Bristoll college end in nothing. He resolves to study for the clergy...

In Melchester, Jude lives and works and Sue attends Melchester Normal School. Sue comes to him and informs Jude she has made plans to marry Phillotson in two years. Her spending the night with him causes a scandal at the school, and eventually she learns they will not allow her to return. She tells him of a former beloved, who has died (she is still chaste). She is modern, unconventional, has cut up the Bible to suit herself. She wrestles with whether she will allow Jude to love her. She resolves to marry Phillotson, whom she does not love. Jude assures Phillotson that they have not consummated relations. Jude confesses to Sue about his previous marriage. Sue will not marry him, and recalls the prophecy made that their family members should not marry, since it would end badly. Jude soon learns they plan to marry promptly to relieve her awkward situation, and she asks him to give her away.

His old aunt is ill, and he travels to Marygreen to see her. He encounters Arabella in a bar, and she informs him she has left her 2nd husband in Australia and has worked there since her return from Sydney. Because of Arabella, Jude misses seeing Sue. He and Arabella stay in a hotel in Aldbrickham and try to decide what to do next. He finally runs into Sue, who appears distressed with her married life, though married only a month. She frets that she should not have married him. Arabella informs him subsequently that her Australian husband wants to make up with her and join up to establish a tavern in Lambeth.

Jude absorbs himself in the study for the clergy. Sue vacillates whether he should see her. He goes to see her in Shaston, where she and her husband now live and teach. She seems to be a flirt. Aunt Drusilla dies. He goes and Sue also arrives. She asks him again about her unhappiness in her marriage. She is repelled by her husband. She kisses him on the head and later they have a full embrace and kiss before she departs. He no longer can maintain his pretense of studying for the clergy and buries his books. Sue tells her husband of holding Jude's hand but neglects to mention the passionate kiss. She resolves to ask her husband to allow her to leave him and live away. She feels it is adultery for her to live with him yet not love him. She wants to live with Jude. He is bitter but allows her to follow this unconventional course. First they live apart in their house. Phillotson consults with his friend Mr. Gillingham about his wife and comments about the profound affinity she and Jude have. She dreads P. so that she almost jumped out the window when he entered her room. He resolves to let her go, and asks that they not communicate so he will not know what she is doing.

She meets up with Jude, who does not want to live with her in Melchester, and agrees to obtain lodgings in Aldbrickham, though in separate quarters separated by a landing. Arabella has asked him for a formal divorce. At the hotel, the maid informs Sue she has seen Jude previously with Arabella there. Sue chastises Jude for seeing his wife in this manner, even though Sue at that time only wanted to be his friend, not his lover. He informs her A. has remarried though never divorced.

Sue's behavior gets Phillotson in trouble and he is discharged from his teaching post. He becomes ill and his friend suggests contacting Sue to let her know. Sue arrives. He wants to know if she wants to make up, but she informs him that Jude had been married and is divorcing. She neglects to tell him she has not consummated relations yet with Jude. He resolves to divorce her to liberate her.

Some months later, a legal decree nisi grants her divorce from Phillotson and Jude also wins his freedom from A. Sue worries that they are living under false pretenses (still unconsummated). Jude wants a straightforward engagement but Sue dreads the iron contract of marriage and the deterioration she assumes will follow a legal marriage. Jude feels natural passion to marry.

Arabella comes to Jude to tell him she has a problem, but does not say what. Sue is goaded by his seeing A. and agrees at last to marry him. Arabella's husband Cartlett has agreed to remarry her here in England.

The next day they go to the parish-clerk to arrange the banns for their engagement, but Sue gets cold feet and they return without any action. Jude receives a letter from Arabella telling of her son by him born in Australia, asking him to take him now that her parents have sent him--Cartlett will not wish to care for him and she does not tell him that the son has come to England (he thinks it is still in Australia). They decide to adopt the boy and again resolve to marry. He is called Little Father Time and has never been christened. They go to sign forms for their upcoming marriage at a Registrar's, wishing to avoid a church wedding. Widow Edlin, former friend to Jude's aunt, comes to visit, and she talks again of the problems previous Fawleys had with marriage. Father Time suggests Sue not marry Jude. The next day, when they go to marry, Sue again gets anxiety and cold feet and asks to postpone the ceremony. She does not want to kill their dreams. They agree to postpone it, but not to tell the boy they have done so.

Arabella is with her husband at an agricultural show and spots Jude and Sue. She buys a love-philtre from Vilbert. Father Time declines flowers, morosely reflecting that they will wither. 

The community begins to talk about Sue and Jude. The couple had gone off to London and returned claiming to be married, and Sue now calls herself Mrs. Fawley. Their alleged marriage was not believed and Jude found his business falling off. He is lettering the Ten Commandments in a church, but the contractor embarassedly asks him and Sue to cease working on it. They auction off their belongings and leave Aldbrickham, taking on an almost nomadic life.

At a spring fair in Kennetbridge, 3 years after Arabella saw them at the agricultural show, Arabella buys "Christminster cakes" from the poor Sue and Juey (Father Time). A. has been widowed for 6 weeks, claiming to be none too well off. They now have two other children and another coming soon. Jude has been ill. A. has found religion and is living at Alfredston.

A. later tells her friend Anny that she has seen Jude's wife and wishes she had him back. She encounters Phillotson, she informs him that Sue was innocent of adultery when P. obtained his divorce [?]... 

Jude and Sue resolve to return to Christminster. Jude reflects on the futile effort he made to become an academic. Sue spots Richard. They encounter trouble getting a room, as a result of the children, and one landlady questions their married status. Juey laments that he should not have been born. They finally find a room but Jude must sleep elsewhere. Juey is despondent, and suggests it would be better to be out of the world, to which Sue almost agrees. He blames their predicament on the children and wishes he had not been born. He is distraught to learn there will be another baby and Sue innocently agrees it appears she almost did this on purpose. Sue goes out to meet her husband for a brief meal. On returning, they find the three children hung and dead at the hands of Father Time: "Done because we are too menny". She is distraught at the role she played in his thought processes, but Jude is fatalistic. Sue goes and stands in the grave, beside herself with grief. Her unborn child is born prematurely and dies.

Jude works and obtains lodgings in Beersheba. Jude feels it is time for them to make the marriage legal, but Sue in her feelings of guilt has resolved that she is still Richard's wife. She thinks they should mortify their flesh. Arabella returns, discusses her boy, and Sue informs her she is not his wife. A. is living with her father, who has returned from Australia. Sue is regularly going to a church. She has made up her mind she can no longer love Jude and must return to Richard. She asks that they live separately, wondering "who were we, to think we could act as pioneers?" Jude laments that she has never loved him as he has her. He begs her to stay with him, but she leaves him.

Arabella meets with Phillotson, now living in Marygreen, and informs him that Sue has never married Jude and no longer lives with him. He writes Sue and they arrange to remarry. She tells Jude he should take back Arabella. Sue believes her children were sacrificed as a result of her sins. Mrs. Edlin chastises her view of God as so punishing and observes she should not marry Phillotson, whom she knows Sue does not love. She tells Phillotson of her objections, but he thinks it is for their good socially to proceed.

Arabella comes to Jude and tells him of Sue's marriage. She conspires with her father to take Jude in, get him drunk, and make him feel he has compromised her and promised to marry her. He agrees reluctantly again out of honor. But he remains an invalid. He also tells her he loves Sue, and as he gets sicker, he asks that she consent to allow Sue to come (but she fails to send his letter to her). He travels in the rain to Marygreen and meets up with Sue. She tells him the marriage is again only in name only. He wants to again run away with her, but she refuses. They exchange angry words and also a kiss.

Arabella is angry with him on his return. Sue wonders if Richard is dead, wishing she could go to Jude. She confesses to him she met with Jude and kissed him. She begs Richard to let her in to consummate their marriage, out of a sense of guilty duty.

A. regrets marrying her sick husband and says he can return to Sue if he wishes, but he does not wish to see her again and has a fit of coughing. Dr. Vilbert arrives to see Jude, and A. seems to be flirting with him to prepare for her future.

In the summer, Jude dies at 30. Vilbert is coming on to Arabella. Mrs. Edlin wonders to Arabella if Sue will come, but A. is sure she will not, says she is quite worn now, and will never have peace until she dies.