Hi, I'm Josh and my last boss was an English teacher. I'm slowly working my way through his recommendations. Jude the Obscure, however, isn't one of them.
Jude the Obscure Summary (no spoilers)
Jude the Obscure is more or less a giant soul suck. If you're looking for a depressing read that's going to ruin you, day in and day out, this is the book for you. It is depressing on a personal level, a romantic level, and also depressing for those of us who are parents.
The novel takes place in the late 1800s and follows the development and life of Jude Fawley - an extremely cringey outcast with his sights set on becoming an academic scholar. Unfortunately due to his humble upbringing, he's never actually able to break into his chosen field and instead toils in the shadow of a world that pays no attention to him. While this is all going on he gets distracted by various love interests and ends up dating his cousin, Sue, which brings along additional problems. From there his situation in life continues to deteriorate throughout the rest of the book.
Without saying more that should give you enough to go off. Continue reading for spoilers...
What happens in the book
Not one good thing happens to him the entire book. The first few chapters are spent with him thinking about how wonderful this town called Christminister is and wanting to go there to study religion. Well, he doesn't have the money to go so instead he learns to be a stonemason and begins to save up money to go to school. While this is going on he's busy learning Latin and Greek by candlelight so eventually, he can scrape together some sort of academic recommendation to get into college. He also marries this woman named Arabella and they break up - more to come about her later.
Jude eventually moves to Christminister and tries to make it work. Once he gets there he finds work as a stonemason to keep himself afloat while he tries to get into college. Apparently though for him it's much harder to get into one of these colleges than he thought. At this point in the book he's quite well-read, can speak multiple languages, and is a pretty decent scholar in his own right. The low point of this double life comes when he's drunk at a bar and tries to impress everyone with how well-read he is by reciting the bible or something in Latin. It's a very cringe moment.
The only problem though is that his social status hasn't improved by this point. This is evident by a letter he received from one of the college professors telling him that he's probably better suited in his current field than he is anywhere else. It's a serious blow and one he doesn't recover from the rest of the book. You'll feel bad for him when you read that bit.
Nothing's working out for him at this point in the story until he catches wind that his cousin Sue is also living in Christminister. I won't spend too much time on it but long story short he is obsessed with Sue and pursues her constantly for quite a while. Sue, you'll come to learn, is without a doubt the most insufferable character in the whole book.
Sue is incredibly flaky towards Jude and keeps him close while also keeping him at a distance for most of the book. This continues to be a constant source of frustration for Jude although he seems to take it in stride. Anyway, I digress...
While Jude gets close to sue he finds out she's engaged to another dude and marries him. Eventually, though she decides to leave him and go live with Jude. So they run off together but this cloud of impropriety follows the pair around and causes social hardship no matter where they go. Sue never actually officially marries Jude either so no one views their relationship as legitimate.
Fast forward some time and we find out that surprise surprise, Jude had (unknowingly to him) fathered a child with Arabella (his first wife) and the kid is going to come and live with them. Just like Jude, the child has been largely unwanted by society, so much so that Arabella never actually gave him a real name. No kidding, this kid's nickname is "Father Time" because he's so depressing. Sue ends up calling him "Juey".
At this point, Jude and his family have been moving around quite a bit and they settle back in Christminister because he ultimately believes that's the right place for him. Because he and Sue aren't married they're having a difficult time finding a place for them all to stay. Sue eventually does find a place but it's only big enough for her, "Father Time", and her other two small children she had with Jude.
Disturbing content ahead: violence, self-harm
While they're staying at this lodge she tells "Father Time" that she's pregnant with another child and he goes off the deep end saying she's being irresponsible for bringing yet another mouth to feed into the world. Sue steps out to get breakfast with Jude and when she comes back she finds that "Father Time" killed her two younger children and then hung himself. The note that he left behind said "We were just too many."
- Side note, as a father that was a hard chapter to read. It was the only time in the book I legitimately felt for Sue.
Sue then realizes that her children's death was punishment for leaving her first husband from earlier in the book. Yes, you read that correctly. So she leaves Jude and Jude then goes on a drinking bender for the rest of the book.
You don't hear too much from Sue at this point and the attention is back on Jude. Arabella (his first wife) makes a reappearance and gets him so drunk that he remarries her against his wishes. At this point, he's coming down with some sort of cough which is foretelling of what's to come.
Jude at this point is desperate to see Sue so he walks 10 or so miles in the rain and sees her in the town they used to live in. She meets with him but rejects him one last time citing that she's now committed to her new husband. Jude walks 10 miles back in the rain and his health deteriorates as a result. He eventually dies a few months later.