Book Review: JUDE THE OBSCURE, by Thomas Hardy

I seem to have hit a rough patch with reading lately. Either I have a bad attitude, or the books I've read recently have fallen short--what else could account for the fact that in the past few weeks I, stubborn as can be, have quit one book in the middle (Durrell's Justine), am considering quitting another (how long can I really spend on Sometimes a Great Notion?) and threatened, several times, to drop JUDE THE OBSCURE when I was over three-quarters of the way done?

Either it's the books, or it's me, and as always I'm inclined to point the finger elsewhere.

After all, JUDE THE OBSCURE takes two of the most obnoxious characters I've encountered in a long time and sets them in a tense little drama about the flaws of Victorian society--with particular emphasis on marriage and religion. Every conversation felt forced and hollow, whether it was about the weather or about the foolishness of certain social conventions, and the characters were, as I said, obnoxious and flat. And overly sensitive.

None of this is helped by the fact that most of the issues Hardy raises with marriage have gone in exactly the direction he foresaw (and a whole lot of good it's done us, too), so that the punch is quite taken out of his assertions, though they no doubt shocked many in his day, as the cover of the books suggests.

Do I sound harsh? I suppose I am, and not least because I loved Hardy's The Return of the Native and therefore hoped that JUDE THE OBSCURE (proclaimed by the cover of the book to be Hardy's masterpiece, as well as "The novel that shocked the Victorian world") would be even better. To my taste, it was quite overdone.


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