Books · Influences

Giving Up on Jude the Obscure

It’s not often that I give up on a book I’m reading. In fact, I think there’s only been four or five over the years that I tossed aside. And no, I don’t remember which ones they were. That’s how unremarkable they were.

Well, except for the one I just gave up on. Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, didn’t appeal to me. The thing is, I really thought I’d like it. The basic premise is a young man in late nineteenth-century England who dreams of escaping his rural life. He wants to move to the fictional city of Christminster (a fictionalized version of Oxford) where he can study at the university and become a scholar. I thought it sounded interesting. When I was a kid I dreamt of going to a university, of the libraries (my love of book started early), and all the cool stuff I could learn about. My big obsessions were dinosaurs and the space program. So not too unlike most young men.

Of course, I knew the book was published in 1895 (it had been previously serialized) and that the language, attitudes, and narrative would be of that period. No big deal. I’m a fan of classic literature and don’t have any issues with accepting antiquated  tropes or verbosity.

But man, I struggled through the first four chapters. The characters were fine, as were their motivations. I could relate to young Jude and his dreams. But the sticking point was the narrative. It dragged. Waiting for something to happen was like watching molasses pour on a cold morning. There was too much minutia, not enough forward momentum. Last night I finally gave in and closed the book on my e-reader.

The turning point was when I realized I was still flipping pages but my mind was somewhere else. When I stopped and backed up to the last thing I remembered reading it turned out to be seven pages back. Yeah, it wasn’t holding my attention. Well, except for the part where he mentions the “…wicked Jew…”. I know, I know, it’s just a reflection of the time period and I’m generally okay with accepting that. I’m not offended by the stereotypes in old stories, like Tom Sawyer or H.P. Lovecraft’s tales. That’s how people thought at that time and I deal with it…not that I don’t still cringe a bit inside when I read stuff like that.

But back to the book. I always try to read at least one classic novel each year. You know, to keep my mind open, to expose myself to different (if outdated) ideas and themes. I’ve had a copy of Jude on my e-reader for about a year now. I got my copy from Project Gutenberg. I’d heard the title over the years, even seen it on the bookstore shelves, but I didn’t know anything about it until recently. The title, though, intrigued me. Who is this Jude, and why is he obscure? I imagined a starving artist, or maybe a monk who was questioning his faith. When I found out it was about a kid who wanted an education, well, I was a little disappointed, but hey, it still had promise.

Not anymore. I’m done with it. Your mileage may vary, of course. I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from checking it out for themselves. As noted above, you can get a free copy from Project Gutenberg (I think they even have an audio version). Just be forewarned that it’s a very slow moving book and doesn’t have a lot of appeal for someone in the twenty-first century. If you can get through it, or have read it, please let me know your thoughts on the story. Maybe you can convince me to give it another try.

As for me, well, I’ll have to learn to deal with the guilt of abandoning a book. I hate that feeling. It’s like I’m sending an orphan out into the cold without any gruel. I know that’s a bit hyperbolic, but I can’t help it. To me, books are precious commodities. Each story is unique, has something to tell us or teach us. With Jude, well, I guess the lesson is “don’t write like this.”

Lesson learned.

Now on to something more interesting.


2 thoughts on “Giving Up on Jude the Obscure

  1. At least you gave it a fair chance. That says alot. 🙂 You’re right also that others will still like it. Different people have different tastes.

    Your comments about it moving WAY too slow remind me of similar complaints about TV shows, movies and books. Technology and social media are reprogramming brains to need constant stimulation. As an example, watch the old 80s version of Dallas and the newer one. What used to take a season to reveal or resolve is pushed though in 2 or 3 episodes in the new version. Books and movies tend to have much faster pacing now also. I wonder if it will ultimately be the death of classic literature because people just won’t be able to quiet their mind long enough to read it.

    1. That’s a good assessment. I think our attention spans are partly to blame, but our tastes have changed, as well.

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