Jude the Obscure: Novel Summary: Part Second: At Christminster
Three years have passed, and Jude, no longer an apprentice, is walking to Christminster. He has grown into “a young man with a forcible, meditative, and earnest . . . countenance. He’s learned that his cousin, Sue Bridehead, is in Christminster. His aunt’s photograph of Sue “haunted him” and gave him the nudge out the door to the town he has so often dreamed of.
Jude looks over Christminster from a hill and then descends to the town and takes lodging in a suburb. Then, at night, he explores the town, looking at and even touching the old stone walls of the colleges. It strikes him as odd that “modern thought could house itself in such decrepit and superseded chambers.” Though Jude is alone, he is not lonely; he feels that the spirits of the wise men who have studied and taught here over centuries are with him. When Jude speaks aloud to these spirits, he attracts the attention of a police officer and decides it would be better to go to his lodgings and study. He falls asleep, book in hand, but wakes early determined to locate Phillotson and, more urgently, Sue.
Jude’s first day in Christminster has a fantastic feel to it. Night shrouds the stone walls, and spirits of former scholars seem to swirl around Jude. His hopes of the town have not yet been tested against reality, and he imagines himself joining “the sons of the University.” Readers should keep the description of his first impressions of Christminster in mind as they read on.
Jude begins to seek work. He walks among the town’s buildings again, but in daylight they seem to him “pompous” and “barbaric,” the worked stones old and “maimed.” As the days pass, Jude works at day and continues to study at night. He is lonely, still outside “the palaces of light and learning,” yet feels too “raw and unpolished” to seek his former teacher’s company.
Jude’s aunt sends him a letter warning him not to seek out Sue. The letter hints at Sue’s workplace, a shop making Anglican goods, and Jude sees her there, working biblical words into soft metal—a virtuous task. He feels unworthy to speak to her. Because they’re cousins, he knows they will eventually meet. Yet he worries because he’s married and because they’re Fawleys. Already he is half in love with the idea of Sue, who becomes to him “a kindly star, an elevating power . . . a tender friend.”
Jude’s sensitive nature is on full display in this chapter. His sense of communion with the buildings and history of Christminster and his delicate concern that he is unworthy of his former teacher’s friendship increase the burden of his loneliness. His feelings toward the cousin he does not even know approach worship. He seems to transfer his boyhood idolatry of Christminster to Sue. He “kept watch over her,” finding in her daily routine evidences of her virtuous nature.
On a Sunday, Jude goes to the church he knows Sue attends, just to see her. The text of the choir’s anthem asks how a young man can “cleanse his way,” which touches him deeply. He thinks that he has found “anchorage” in his idealized love for Sue. Yet he admits that he thinks of her sexually often. As the service ends, he carefully avoids Sue; but he begins to rationalize his feelings. Since he’s married, he thinks, he can be her friend and cousin safely.
While walking in the countryside a few days before, Sue had met a man selling statuettes. She was drawn to and bought statuettes of Venus, goddess of love, and Apollo. She carried her “heathen load” back to the dormitory above the shop, where she must hide them—they seem “so very large . . . and so very naked.” When the house mistress, Miss Fontover, inquires about the wrapped figures, Sue lies, telling her that they are of saints.
Meanwhile, across town, Jude is reading the New Testament aloud in Greek.
Readers begin to know Sue in this chapter, and they learn right away that she is not what Jude thinks she is. She doesn’t produce worship aids because she is pious; in fact, the saints and “everlasting church fal-lals” bore her. The statuettes of mythological gods both fascinate and frighten her. That the chapter ends with a mention of Jude reading the New Testament strengthens the ironic contrast between his expectations of Sue and her real nature.
Jude enjoys the variety of available stone work. One morning he is at work in a church. He breaks from work, so that the noise doesn’t disturb a service, and sees that Sue is there with Miss Fontover. Impressed by what he takes to be Sue’s devotion, he avoids her and returns to work after the service. In fact, Miss Fontover has made her attend.
As the days pass, Jude thinks he could ease his loneliness, and perhaps his immoral infatuation for Sue, by getting to know his cousin. The nation’s law forbids him to love her, and he tries to pray, insincerely, “against his weakness.”
One afternoon, Sue calls at the stonemason’s yard while Jude is out on a project. When Jude gets home that evening, he finds a note from Sue to “her dear cousin Jude.” Word has reached her that he is in Christminster; why hasn’t he contacted her? She’d like to have known him, but now she is leaving town.
Panicked, Jude writes to Sue, and they meet. Jude says that she is his only friend in Christminster other than Phillotson. She’s heard of his old teacher; he teaches in a nearby village. “Then he couldn’t do it!” Jude thinks as his childhood idol is destroyed. They walk to Lumsdon to find Phillotson, who at first does not recall Jude. A “spare and thoughtful” man, Phillotson says that he gave up his dream years ago but likes teaching, though he needs a pupil-teacher.
As they walk back, Jude realizes that he loves Sue, while she thinks of him only as her cousin. She explains that Miss Fontover found and destroyed the statuettes. Sue argued with her employer and now feels that she can no longer work for her. Jude suggests that Phillotson might take her on as a pupil-teacher.
The next evening, Jude presents “ingenious arguments” about why Sue would make a good assistant, and Phillotson agrees to take her on. Jude never lets on, and Phillotson never suspects, that he is more than a helpful cousin.
Jude is of two minds about Sue. He wants to love her purely and to have her be worthy of that love; and he desires her sexually and enjoys that desire. Jude tries to reconcile his opposing feelings by arguing that he doesn’t feel a mere animal lust for Sue, as he did for Arabella, but that he also desires her “intellectual sympathy.” Jude’s caution about this relationship is overturned, however, by a chance event when Sue learns that he is in town.
Sue is now working as Phillotson’s pupil-teacher, living in an old house by the school. She’s bright, hardworking, “an excellent teacher.” Richard Phillotson tutors her in the evenings, chaperoned, of course, and begins to fall for her. One day they take the schoolchildren to see a traveling exhibit, a model of Jerusalem. Sue questions the accuracy of the model and complains that Jerusalem is not as important a city as Athens or Rome. Jude is there, too, and is clearly fascinated by the model, yet he defends Sue’s critique of the exhibit. She takes his hand in gratitude, without knowing how the two men feel about her or “what a complication she was building up thereby in the futures of both.” Jude agrees to call on Friday.
The next day, Sue draws the model in detail from memory on the blackboard, to Phillotson’s amazement. Later in the week, the school inspector visits and is impressed by Sue’s teaching. She, however, nearly faints afterwards and is angry that Phillotson didn’t warn her about the visit. But he praises her teaching, and she regrets lashing out at him.
On Friday, as Jude walks toward the school, Phillotson and Sue are leaving the vicarage under a single umbrella. When Jude sees Phillotson’s arm around Sue’s waist, he sinks “into the hedge like one struck with a blight.” Despairing, he thinks they are married or considering marriage—and he introduced them.
This chapter reveals Sue’s impressive intellect and talents but also her unconventional (for that time) bias against religion. It also suggests that she has a blind spot when it comes to “reading” those around her. She has no idea that she is involved in a love triangle with two men, one unsuitable because he is married and the other because he is “too old for her,” as Jude says.
Jude visits his sick aunt in Marygreen. She advises him about Sue: “Don’t you be a fool about her!” Drusilla recalls Sue as a child, “an odd little maid,” bright but impudent. Jude leaves, saddened. As he starts home, he speaks with a villager who tells him that Christminster is “not for such as you—only for them with plenty o’ money.” Their disagreement recalls Jude’s plans, which have again been sidetracked, to him. He needs a Greek tutor, someone inside the college who can advise him. He decides to write letters for advice to the five college luminaries whom he has seen in town and who look kind. As soon as he posts the letters, however, he regrets them.
Meanwhile, he hears that Phillotson is leaving Lumsdon to teach at a larger school, farther away. Jude wonders: Is Phillotson taking the new job so that he can afford to marry?
Jude waits for replies to his letters but receives none. He considers trying for open scholarships, but it would take him fifteen years to prepare to compete. Despairing, he thinks he should have stayed away from Christminster—“the whole scheme had burst up, like an iridescent soap-bubble, under the touch of reasoned inquiry.” He’s glad that his failure has not touched Sue.
At last a reply to his letters arrives, advising him to forget scholarship and to stick to “your own sphere.” Jude goes out to drink, feeling that this reply is “a hard slap after ten years of labour.” Standing at the Fourways, a road crossing in the town’s center, he becomes aware that the town’s life is not in the scholars but in the working people who keep the place running. As he goes home, he writes a verse from the book of Job in chalk on the gates of the college whose head had written him: “I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you.”
In this chapter a place that Hardy uses as a symbol makes its first appearance—the Fourways, a crossroads in the middle of Christminster. As he stands at the Fourways, trying to decide what to do, Jude becomes aware of its rich history: “At Fourways men had stood and talked of Napoleon, the loss of America, the execution of King Charles, the burning of the Martyrs, the Crusades, the Norman Conquest, possibly the arrival of Caesar. Here the two sexes had met for loving, hating, coupling, and parting; had waited, had suffered, for each other; had triumphed over each other; cursed each other in jealousy; blessed each other in forgiveness.”
The next morning, Jude tries to resign himself to his destiny and thinks he could do so more easily if Sue were his. He goes to a tavern for distraction and stays all day, watching the diverse crowd, eavesdropping on other lives. He hears one group criticizing the dons (professors) of the colleges and joins in, drunkenly claiming that he could “lick ’em on their own ground if they’d give me a chance.” The workers around him challenge him to prove it by reciting the Creed in Latin. Jude takes the challenge, provided someone buys him a drink. After he recites the Creed, he feels disgust and shame for having used the church’s ancient words for such a purpose.
Jude, still drunk, goes to see Sue, who takes him in and comforts him. In the morning he awakes in her chair, ashamed that Sue “knew the worst of him—the very worst,” and flees back to Christminster, only to learn that he’s been fired. He packs and leaves for Marygreen, pawning some goods along the way and sleeping in a hayrick. Moving back in with his aunt, he feels that he is in “the hell of conscious failure,” both in his ambitions and in love. He hears a curate (pastor) praying by his ailing aunt’s bedside in the next room. The curate, Mr. Highridge, listens as Jude explains his failures and confesses that he most regrets the lost opportunity to serve the church. Mr. Highridge suggests that Jude enter religious study to become licensed to preach. But, he warns, Jude must stop getting drunk.
Part Second culminates in the end of Jude’s old dreams of scholarship and the beginning of his new plan, to enter the church. Readers can pause at this point in the novel to consider an important question: How much of Jude’s failure—his marriage to Arabella, his exclusion from college life, his abuse of alcohol—is attributable to choices he made and actions he took, and how much is attributable to chance events in which he was caught up? In much of his writing, Hardy tries to sort out how much of a person’s destiny is under his control and to determine the role that fate has in driving a person toward contentment or despair.