Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jude the Obscure


Sometime in the year 1999, I developed an inclination towards adaptations. I was a naive teenager, little did I anticipate that eight years on I would dread the sound of the word 'adaptation'. Back then, I would watch the movie and then read the book. That's how I discovered 'Jude the Obscure' (Possible spoiler at the end read at your own risk).

'Jude the Obscure' is the only book by Thomas Hardy that I have read to completion. I have always found Hardy's books to be a little slow and perhaps a little rustic for my liking.Surprisingly, with 'Jude the Obscure' the pages flew faster than I could read. All this was inspired by 'Jude', a cinematic adaptation of the book starring Kate Winslet and Christopher Eccleston. I was struck by the simple yet raw tragedy that is so common in Hardy's work. I grabbed the book from the school library before anyone else could borrow it.

As it turned out, the film was a lot more explicit yet a lot less heart wrenching than the book. I felt a tingle of regret when I read that it was the last novel Hardy ever wrote (it is said that he stopped writing novels because of personal tragedy and because of the way 'Jude the Obscure' was received). I couldn't get enough of Jude, the ill fated yet ambitious intellectual, torn between two diametrically opposite women. Hardy had mastered the art of crafting complex women who make themselves miserable and crush others with the sheer power of their misery. I remember despising Arabella, the scheming and gold digging wife who was crass and uncouth. I remember trying to understand Sue; the progressive young woman who falls in love with Jude, has two children out of wedlock and then marries another man out of penitence.

Hardy captures the slow degradation of a man,his life and his work. Hardy indirectly censured society for its hypocrisy and double standards. Unlike Hardy's other heroines who bore children out of wedlock as a consequence of rape or deceit, Sue bore two children out of wedlock by sheer choice. Eventually no amount of idealism and forward thinking can save the unfortunate couple from poverty,alienation and isolation. Sue and Jude part ways, quite differently than they did in the film.

It must have been too much of a cynosure for post Victorian propriety; hence the lukewarm critical response and Hardy's unceremonious exit from writing as he knew it.Luckily it was more than enough for an angst ridden teenager who grew up to be a nonchalant diva.

p.s. - According to my dear friend 'Wikipedia'; D. H. Lawrence (or as I call him : the near pornographic bad boy of post Victorian literature) was puzzled by Sue's impulses and has written an essay on her (full of explicit speculation on the 'unnatural' cravings of the human female I suppose). I can't wait to get my hands on it!

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